On Fredericksburg Removing the Slave Auction Block

After the killing of George Floyd, the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia removed the historical slave auction block from the sidewalk on the corner of William St. and Princess Anne St. outside of Hyperion Espresso.

The slave auction block on a street corner in Fredericksburg, VA
By Sarah Stierch – originally posted to Flickr as Slave Auction Block, Fredericksburg, VA, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10596228

At first, I was surprised by the decision. When I visited Fredericksburg, I saw the auction block and it reminded me of atrocious events in American History and how we overcame them. The blocks placement in the middle of a highly-trafficked sidewalk strengthens the point: Hundreds (maybe even thousands) of slaves were stripped of their humanity and traded hands at this very spot. This was part of everyday life in pre Civil War Fredericksburg. Why would th ecity choose to remove such a good reminder of the past and the great progress we’ve since made?

White Fragility and Tears We Cannot Stop gave me insight: Have we made as much progress as I previously thought? When I first appreciated the auction block, was I viewing the events of history through my white-privilege-tinted glasses? What does the auction block mean for a black person in America today? I imagine their life – struggling everyday with systemic racism and discrimination. Every time they walk by this auction block, they are reminded that only 200 years ago black folk were auctioned off to whites in this very neighborhood. That’s the reason they are treated poorly today. That’s the reason 1 in 3 black folks are sent to jail in their lifetime. That’s the reason that innocent blacks are shot down by police.

Black Americans are forced to remember this every time they walk this street or sit down to drink a cup of coffee. Meanwhile, white folk look at the block and remind themselves of how great things are today.

I didn’t understand the burden that the auction block might impose on Black Americans. I now believe that the city’s choice to remove the block was a good one. The block did not represent great progress or achievement. Instead, it only reminded us of why there is such great racism in American today. Removing it from the streets gives black folk the opportunity to walk around this particular corner without being reminded of the immense historical baggage and systemic racism that black folk face every day in America.

That said, the auction block surely still belongs in a museum where people can see it and be reminded while they are in the right mindset and surrounded by historical context.

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