Statement about the Fayetteville Market House

Through the years, preservationists have worked to repurpose scores of buildings – and to share their full histories.

The Fayetteville Market House is an important building with a varied and complex history. We recognize its painful connection to slavery and condemn the white supremacists who labeled it the ‘old slave market’ for the purpose of threatening and demeaning the African-American community. At the same time, we also recognize the free and enslaved Black builders and artisans who built it. And, as a municipal building with a merchant market below, we celebrate its role for many decades as a place of community gathering by people of all races, including African American merchants and festival goers.

As preservationists and proponents of using the power of place to find common ground and reconciliation, we believe the Fayetteville Market House is in need of extreme repurposing. Its new use needs to advance the cause of social justice for future generations.

Former school buildings have become affordable senior housing or community centers. Decrepit textile mills have been converted into centers for high-tech jobs or craft breweries. Vacant churches have been transformed into community arts centers. The examples of repurposed buildings across North Carolina are widespread and diverse.

What might be some good new uses for the Market House?

What about creating the NC Center for Racial Reconciliation?

An African-American cultural center for Fayetteville?

How about an education center about the history of slavery in North Carolina? The painful fact that slaves were sold on the site would make that museum especially powerful.

A place that celebrates Black builders and architects in North Carolina? There are truly inspiring stories to be told.

Or some use by Fayetteville State University?

Perhaps its new use could be dedicated to the memory of Fayetteville native George Floyd?

As preservationists, we ask for a conversation about these ideas and many others. Let’s come to the table to find a solution. With a few months of community input and fundraising, the market house could be transformed into a proud asset for all the citizens of Fayetteville for the 21st century. A great outcome would be for the whole community to reclaim it for community use once again. What a model this could be for so many communities across America who are struggling with similar buildings.

When a building is lost, its history is lost, too. To destroy the physical evidence of slavery eliminates the opportunities for future generations to learn about how slavery has continued to impact people of color to this day – psychologically, financially, emotionally, etc. Places such as the market house where that shared history can be discussed are so needed to overcome the racial barriers which haunt us now.

It’s especially inspiring when a building can be repurposed from being hated to being celebrated. The Fayetteville Market House needs that now. Imagine the city’s most prominent building, one of North Carolina’s few National Historic Landmarks, becoming a place where the cause of social justice is enhanced – and a place where visitors to our state stop and learn about North Carolina’s African-American Heritage.

Wouldn’t it be sweet justice to overthrow the Market House’s White Supremacist past and make it a building that serves the cause of racial and social justice for the future?

Valerie Ann Johnson
Chair, North Carolina African-American Heritage Commission
Dean, Arts, Sciences and Humanities, Shaw University

Myrick Howard
President, Preservation North Carolina
July 2, 2020