CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville police are looking into a missing historic marker in Court Square.
The slave auction marker on East Jefferson Street was reported missing early Thursday, February 6. A second marker in the area is with the city for safekeeping. Now the city says “1619” was found written in dirt on a lamp post early on Thursday, potentially tying the crime to more vandalism.
The city put up the markers in Court Square to denote the history that once happened there: the place where enslaved people once had their families ripped apart as they were sold at auction.
Andrea Douglas, executive director of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, leads tours detailing the history of the area. She says the city should have done more to protect the markers to the enslaved after it has added measures protecting the Confederate monuments.
“It was a shock. It was unexpected. Although in some ways we should have expected it,” Douglas said. “Even in Court Square, when you think about what we are making, you’re either going to tell a true narrative or not. The placement of a plaque that suggests that there was a slave auction here is a fact. Alright, the placement of a Confederate statue of people who had no history in Charlottesville is a construction."
Jalane Schmidt, a Historical Resources Committee member, says there is a bigger issue than a missing marker.
“Given the fact that the enslaved were the majority of the local population at the time of the Civil War, it just kind of brings to the fore, you know how we are not prioritizing black history here.” Schmidt said.
Chief of Police RaShall Brackney says CPD is investigating all leads but says the charges are larceny and vandalism at this point.
“It is a travesty that it has been removed. It dishonors those slaves who have been, who were sold in auction off in this very space, and we’re going to do everything that we can do to bring honor back,” the police chief said.
Douglas wants the city to push the General Assembly to pass legislation giving localities local control over monuments. She also wants the city to create and raise funds for monuments honoring the enslaved.
“I am hopeful that we’ve done the work that has caused the city, its population, to be much more aware of the histories of those monuments and this plaque. I’m hopeful that those people who have come to the tours will also stand behind us and make a call to the city to be more proactive than they have been,” Douglas said.
A statue of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson sits in a public park on the other side of Court Square. Both it and the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee have been repeatedly vandalized, resulting in the city and police taking additional measures.
The city asks that you call CrimeStoppers with any information about the missing marker - the number is 434-977-4000.
02/06/2020 Release from the Charlottesville Police Department:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - On February 6, 2020, at approximately 9 a.m., the Charlottesville Police Department was notified by a local media outlet that a historical slave auction plaque in Court Square was missing. Charlottesville Police Department officers responded soon after to file a report for a larceny.
Officers determined a bronze slave auction plaque in the bricks had been removed. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that “1619” was inscribed on a light pole with what appears to be dirt from beneath the location of the marker, similar to recent vandalism cases in city-owned parks.
It is unknown at this time whether the plaque was taken for protection, or if it was stolen, however, this marker is of great value to the Charlottesville community, and CPD will work vigorously to locate it and return it to the City’s possession, and to locate the individual(s) responsible.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Charlottesville Police Department at 434-970-3280 or Crime Stoppers at 434-977-4000. A reward of up to $1,000 is available for information leading to an arrest.
Statement from City Manager Tarron Richardson
The City is very disappointed that a bronze historic plaque in Court Square related to the slave auction block appears to have been stolen from its location in a city sidewalk. This is one of two memorials to the slave auction block at that location. The missing plaque was located in the sidewalk at the east corner of Park Street and East Jefferson Street.
The City’s Historic Resources Committee has been discussing broader community engagement related to these memorials including changes to the black granite marker on the wall to add more historical context. That marker's mount was compromised and was removed this morning by the building’s tenants for safekeeping.
The replacement and augmentation of the marker was among the recommendations in the December 2016 report from the City’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. Draft language reviewed by the Historic Resources Committee for new wall markers seeks to more fully address the history of slavery in Charlottesville and to explain that humans were auctioned at locations throughout the square, not just adjacent to the “Number Nothing” building.
The City had planned to include the marker as part of a Downtown Parks, Phase I Interim Master Plan. That RFP was cancelled in 2018. As recently as January 17, 2020, the majority of the Historic Resources Committee expressed opposition to removing the existing plaque and marker until there was agreement on the next steps.
From the December 2016 report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces
Court Square Slave Auction Block
The plaque memorializing one of several slave auction blocks around the Court Square area is located at a building labeled “Number Nothing.” This building was erected as a mercantile store in the 1820s. A stone block that once sat outside the building’s southwest corner was used for auctioning both goods and people until slavery was abolished in 1865. Slave auctions frequently took place on plantations, but enslaved people were sometimes traded in town on court days, when auctions for many types of goods were sold at auction houses or in front of public buildings. It was common to sell people at the Courthouse to settle debts owed to Albemarle County and for estate probates. Other locations, such as a tree stump near the court, functioned as auction blocks.
The slave auction block was memorialized with a building-mounted plaque and a plaque set into the sidewalk near the Number Nothing building. Today, the plaque is virtually illegible.
Concept—the commission voted unanimously to support a two-phased process for interpreting the slave auction block and memorializing those who were enslaved in the Charlottesville area: first, to install a proper, visible historic marker to replace the current illegible marker, and second, to commission a new memorial through a competitive RFP process. The commission suggests that the memorial be located on or near Court Square.