Students for Leadership and Social Justice group call for change to downtown slave post plaque
By KELSEY SHEFFER
On Apr. 11, UMW students attended a forum about the slave post located in Downtown Fredericksburg.
The event took place at the Thurman-Brisben Center, where two students from Professor Kim Gower’s Leadership and Social Justice class spoke on the subject of the slave post, which has been a source of controversy in the Fredericksburg community for the past few years. The students who attended and spoke during the forum were junior Zack Johnson and senior Matt Skiba, both business majors.
While the Leadership and Social Justice class has over twenty students, seven decided to form a group to engage in advocacy efforts in the community.
The Students for Leadership and Social Justice (SLSJ) , as the group calls themselves, attended the meeting to argue for an update of the plaque in front of the slave post that currently reads “Auction Block, Fredericksburg Principle Auction Site, in Pre Civil War Days for slaves and property.”
The students argued that the new message should incorporate a message of progress for the city and their efforts in memorializing the atrocities of slavery.
In a statement released by SLSJ, students expressed their dissatisfaction with some of the rhetoric at the forum.
“A member of city council expressed that it is important to remember the history ‘so that it is not repeated,’” the statement read. “However, this intent is never expressed on the block and its plaque. It simply states that slaves were sold there. [There are] no mentions of regret, or shame, or unity.”
The students from SLSJ also felt that the current placement of the slave auction block was inappropriate.
“As it is currently represented, the block is defaced on a weekly basis and has become an eyesore,” their statement said.
While the group felt that the auction block “is a key element of the history of the town,” they disagreed that it belonged in the center of downtown. “While that history might be palatable for the members of city council, it creates a gut-wrenching reaction for people of color,” they said.
When attending the meeting, the group felt that it was more of an echo chamber of City Council ideologies since the majority in attendance were either City Council Members themselves or employees of the City of Fredericksburg.
“We found out about the meeting by accident because we contacted the mayor’s office directly about the block,” said the members of SLSJ. “A room of 30 people where 15 are part of local government does not strike us as a full community communication.”
The students also referenced a powerful story from “an older African-American gentleman” and lifelong resident of Fredericksburg named Thomas, who also attended the forum. “When he was a young boy, locals would pay Thomas a quarter to take a picture of him standing on the block. As white college students, there is no way for us to understand what that feels like. We only know that we can’t understand what that is like.”
As a result of this forum, a decision has been made to keep the block located downtown. As for the plaque, there has been no further discussions.