Slave auction block vigil honors enslaved ancestors as Liberation and Freedom Day celebrations begin

Updated: Mar. 1, 2020 at 9:31 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Dozens gathered in downtown Charlottesville for a night of prayer and solemn reflection before the more joyous celebrations to come for Liberation and Freedom Day.

Beloved Community CVille hosted a vigil at the site of the former slave auction block. They came together to remember the lives of the 14,000 people freed from slavery when Union troops arrive in Charlottesville on March 3, 1865, as well as the lives of all of those who died in bondage before that day.

“We need to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of the ancestors, many of whom were sold into bondage at this very area," community activist Don Gathers said.

The event featured speeches, singing, prayer, and a brief walking tour of Court Square and the sites that played a part in the buying and selling of human beings there just over a century and a half ago.

“This was the seat of law, your courthouse in Albemarle County, and just across the corner was where the slave block was,” Cauline Yates, a descendant of Sally Hemmings, one of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves, said.

The experience of the descendants, and their enslaved ancestors, was at the forefront of the event. At one stop on the walking tour, an audio recording was played of a former slave who had lived in Charlottesville recounting his time in chains. At another, a list of names was read of every slave sold at the largest auction in the site’s history: Thomas Jefferson’s estate sale.

“It’s important when the opportunity arises, or when it doesn’t arise to make an opportunity, to honor where I’ve come from and the people who paved the way for me, and not just for me," Pastor Brenda Brown-Grooms said. "They’re actually the shoulders on which all of us stand.”

Liberation and Freedom Day celebrations continue throughout the week, ending on March 9.

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