Charlottesville Man Steals Slave Plaque
(CHARLOTTESVILLE, DAVINCI) - A man accused of stealing a marker referencing the Court Square slave auction block appeared in court on February 13th, where, if convicted, he could face up to 21 years in prison.
The plaque, a nine by twelve inch memorial, reads “Slave Auction Block. On this site slaves were bought and sold.” It disappeared in the early hours of February 7th, and authorities were notified later that morning. The plaque was located on a prehistoric enslaved persons trading site, in front of one of the many buildings facing the Charlottesville-Albemarle General District Court. The marker was also within view of the Stonewall Jackson memorial outside of the courthouse. The statue has recently received a lot of controversy in the city.
On February 11th, Richard Allen III, a 74 year old white man, was arrested for the theft after he publicly confessed on C-Ville.com: “I did not remove the metal slave plaque in the ground [...] with the intention to offend anyone in our great town or our historic county. I want it to be clear that there was no harm intended.” Allen said that he moved on ‘years of built up frustration’ that nothing larger had been used to honor the people that were bought and sold on the sight.
Police Chief RaShall Brackney has another viewpoint on the crime: “Is that the position that we want to find ourselves in again, where someone else is controlling the narrative of Charlottesville, its residents and those persons impacted — particularly the enslaved persons who were auctioned off at that very site?” She pointed out that Allen is a descendant of slave owners. In this interview Allen also details the crime. He headed to the square around 2:45 am, when the streets were empty, and used a ‘kitchen knife and a wonder bar’ to remove the plaque. “It took about 15 minutes,” he said. Allen replaced the plaque with a handmade one of his own, which read: “HUMAN AUCTION SITE. In 1619 the first African kidnap victims arrived in VA. Buying and selling of humans ended in 1865. For 246 years this barbaric trade took place on sites like this.”
Responses to the theft circulated in the city for several days. “[The auction block] is, in fact, a sight where something actually occurred that was devastating to people whose descendants actually live here.” says Dr. Andrea Douglas, director of the local African American Heritage Center. When asked whether she would like to see something larger and more permanent to prevent future theft, Dr. Douglas replied that “Decidedly, ‘cause people are just walking over it, right. That in and of itself is disrespectful.”
The theft marks another incident in the history of the auction block: In 2014, a larger sign was removed from the sight due to complaints that tourists frequently questioned nearby residents about the events and meaning behind the plaque. An editorial in the Daily Progress, written by local civil rights leader Eugene Williams, criticized the removal of the larger marker and it’s replacement with an “unobtrusive marker set into the sidewalk”.
Allen was arrested February 11th on two felony charges of grand larceny and possession of burglarious tools. He confessed in court Thursday that he removed the plaque and consequently threw it in the James River, although he did not give a precise location. He says that if he is convicted, he will ‘write to the governor and ask that his sentence does not affect his voting rights.’ A verdict is forthcoming, and Allen is projected to appear in court again on March 12.