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Fredericksburg Area Museum to exhibit city's slave auction block in November
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Fredericksburg Area Museum to exhibit city's slave auction block in November

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Fredericksburg’s controversial slave auction block has been professionally cleaned and will be loaned to the Fredericksburg Area Museum early next month.

It will go on display there by mid-November at the earliest, with graffiti spray painted during several protests last summer intact.

“Temporarily, the block will be located in a manner that is accessible but with clear signage that indicates the tone of the graffiti. It will be the visitors’ option to ‘see’ it firsthand, or see it as an image,” said Sara Poore, FAM’s president and CEO.

The roughly 800-pound stone block was removed from the corner of William and Charles streets June 5 after nearly three years of debate and discussion, including community-wide sessions conducted by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

City Council had voted to remove it last December and loan it to FAM, where it could be exhibited with more detail about its history than the simple brass plaque that had identified it as “Fredericksburg’s principal auction site in pre-Civil War days for slaves and property.” That process was delayed by two unsuccessful lawsuits to keep it in place and concerns about city staff tackling the project during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The auction block was still in the spot where it had been since 1843 when protests began in downtown Fredericksburg last May following the death of George Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis. It served as a way stop along processions, with some protesters standing on top of the stone and others spray painting it with graffiti.

Fredericksburg officials finally had it excavated, and Dovetail Cultural Resources Group began the delicate work of hand cleaning the stone’s surface to remove years of dirt. It is being stored in a temperature-controlled space while FAM prepares a temporary exhibit for it in what is currently its River Gallery. The permanent exhibit isn’t expected to open until 2022.

In the meantime, the museum continues to research both the block and the community’s Black history, and a community committee is being organized to guide the themes that will be used in the permanent exhibit.

“We will also discuss the recent events and the impact the stone has/had on the conversation,” Poore said. “It is our goal to use the stone as a springboard for community conversations.”

The city of Fredericksburg also consulted with its Memorials Advisory Commission to design a temporary panel called “A Witness to History” that will be installed at the auction block’s original site. It includes a 1910 photo of a Black man standing next to the block and a photo of the stone as it was being removed in June.

The panel is being fabricated now, and could be installed within a few weeks. It’s expected to remain in place until plans for the permanent interpretation of the site are finalized and installed.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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A new temporary panel will be on display at the slave block site in Fredericksburg.

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