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Residents want old slave marketplace removed from NC town

By HAYLEY FOWLER

The Charlotte Observer

FAYETTEVILLE — The U.S. Constitution was ratified in North Carolina at the Market House in downtown Fayetteville, and the University of North Carolina, the oldest public university in the country, received its charter there in 1789.

It’s also where slaves were “occasionally” sold, according to city officials and historians.

The Market House — an English-inspired building perched at a busy intersection in Fayetteville, about 50 miles south of Raleigh — has been at the center of controversy for decades.

Now, as Confederate monuments across the South face removal in the wake of George Floyd’s death, hundreds of thousands want the Market House gone as well.

“This has been brought up in City Hall meetings many times over the years and ignored,” a petition on Change.org states. “We have peacefully protested against the building being there. It is very disrespectful and fuels hatred for African-Americans by people who still believe in the values of slavery and racism.”

The petition, started two weeks ago, had more than 118,000 signatures as of June 19 — just shy of its 150,000 goal.

In Fayetteville, recent protests calling for an end to racism and police brutality have been centered in part around the Market House. On May 30, multiple people tried to set fire to the building, which “sustained charring and mass wood loss to the second story floor,” according to federal prosecutors.

Two men have since been arrested and charged with “maliciously damaging property” — including one who was hospitalized for injuries sustained in the blaze, according to federal prosecutors. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to two other people they say were involved.

Floyd died May 25 after now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Chauvin and three other officers have since been charged with his death.

Floyd was born in Fayetteville before moving to Houston. His sister, Bridgett Floyd, lives in neighboring Hoke County, where more than 500 people paid their respects to the 46-year-old on June 6 during one of three memorial services held across the U.S., The News & Observer reported.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half of Fayetteville’s roughly 211,000 residents — or 41% — are Black.

The Market House was constructed in 1832 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, according to the National Archives catalog. Paperwork filed with its application indicates the building sits on what was once the site of the General Assembly when Fayetteville was the temporary capitol of North Carolina.

Under a “statement of significance,” the Market House is described as “perform(ing) two functions: under its arches meat and produce were sold by local farmers, while the second floor served as the Town Hall.” The paperwork does not, however, mention the buying and selling of slaves.

For many years, residents and officials denied it was ever a “slave market,” the Fayetteville Observer reported in 2016.

But according to a study by Duke University professor John Cavanagh cited by the Observer, the sale of slaves “happened occasionally at the State House and Market House” for about 75 years up until 1865.

“Sales were spaced on the average about two months apart, if that frequently, and in most instances very few slaves were involved in each transaction,” Cavanagh wrote in his study, according to the newspaper. Most of them were reportedly sold “in conjunction with the settlement of estates” and not at a daily auction block.

Still, that amounts to “dozens and dozens (of slaves sold), at least, if you’re considering the period from 1832 to 1865, and many more before that at the State House on the same downtown plot of ground,” the Observer reported.

That “troubled past” is why many of the city’s Black residents take issue with it today, according to the Change.org petition.

“Though it is admired by the city and used as a trophy for the city’s ‘Business of the year’ award, the history of this building and area is lynching and selling of African American slaves,” the petition states. “The City of Fayetteville has known that most African-Americans in the city wish for it to be taken down and replaced with something more positive about African-American history.”