Statement on the Future of the Market House from the Cape Fear Committee on African American Heritage
To the City Council of Fayetteville and other local governmental bodies:
We, the members of the Cape Fear Committee on African American Heritage (CFCAAH), have as our primary purpose “to collect, preserve and interpret the history and heritage of African Americans in the Cape Fear Region.” As it relates to the current climate in our nation, the CFCAAH not only condemns and stands against violence directed at African Americans, but also our mandate requires that we stand for a widespread awareness about such violence and suffering in our shared past.
The CFCAAH realizes that the truth of our past often involves deep pain and discomfort. Yet, if we keep our attention on how we treat each other today, disturbing abuses from the past can be discussed openly and truthfully with the lessons we learn becoming a foundation for a more inclusive and authentic future.
That said, in the light of recent events at the Market House, our city council desires to get input from citizens. We have decided to weigh in on this matter. The CFCAAH stands committed to educating the public on African American heritage so we offer the following about the Market House:
1. It is true that enslaved African Americans were auctioned (sold and bought) at the Market House. The Fayetteville Observer produced several articles verifying this truth that can be easily accessed. This history is not hidden, and it is not merely local. It is national and international. As it relates to it being a historical point of auction for the enslaved, we desire to preserve this site as a warning for future generations to “never forget.”
2. Expanding the idea of “never forget,” the Market House is a physical site that represents part of the enslaved experience. With a deep respect for the strength and ingenuity of African American enslaved ancestors, we desire to document and preserve the full range of the enslavement experience with the auctions at the Market House being one experience among many.
3. Records show that a free Black man named Thomas Grimes and a free Black brick-mason and carpenter named John Patterson, in addition to other free and enslaved Black tradesmen, were the likely builders of the Market House. This fact needs to be documented and we desire to preserve the structure which represents the craftsmanship of those Black artisans.
4. Another atrocity occurred at the Market House in 1867 with the assassination of Archibald Bebee, a local African American drayman. This event is the “only recorded outrage” against African Americans in Fayetteville during the Congressional investigation after the Civil War. This history needs to be thoroughly documented and preserved for all to understand.
5. Considering the recent surge of interest in Juneteenth, it is important to note that the Market House was part of the route for “Emancipation Day” parades in Fayetteville celebrating the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. This history needs to be better documented and shared with the whole community and beyond.
6. After the “Civil War,” there were mixed local governments with Blacks like Matthew N. Leary and Andrew J. Chesnutt holding public office. We still know very little about this history. The Market House as a historic site is part of the narrative about this omitted part of our past.
7. During the 1789 Constitutional Convention, several more significant points for the State of North Carolina can be identified, yet less reverence is given to them by some African Americans due to how shamefully the group has been treated in this state throughout our shared past.
As it currently stands, the Market House is on the National Register of Historic Places because of the significant events that occurred there. It is already an attraction for tourists. With this fact in mind, the CFCAAH makes the following recommendations:
I. We recommend transforming the Market House into an interactive platform for Historical Truth that is maintained like each “Door of No Return” and each “Enslavement Fortress/Slave Castle” along the West Coast of Africa. To give increased dimension to the enslavement experience and the “African Holocaust,” we can share the details of individuals auctioned at the site so that we can truly grapple with the reality as a community and state today. All of America is in the process of reclaiming our truth, our humanity, and our respect for every contributor of our Nation’s construction which includes the often minimized or omitted African American experience. Instead of removing physical evidence of the past, we suggest telling a more complete history instead.
II. We recommend resurrecting Emancipation Day celebrations on January 1st of each year as it is already an observed national holiday. This practice will allow for a community and state conversation about emancipation, constitutional equality before the law, birthright citizenship and the right to vote, battles still being fought today. We want our schools and the community at large involved by submitting videos to be selectively shown to visitors to the new facility.
III. We recommend that the City, County and other local governments show their commitment to healing, truth, and equality for our whole community during this key movement for change. As we work to reclaim our collective humanity, we visibly see that all lives do not matter unless and until the African American community is safe and protected equally under the law. Our local governments’ unwavering support for the African American community is most easily shown at this time by each contributing to a fund to repurpose the Market House as indicated.
IV. We recommend discontinuing the use of the Market House on the City Seal and other official representations of the City of Fayetteville immediately. Due to the despicable nature of chattel slavery, the Market House as a symbol is tainted by human trafficking. Thus, it must not be celebrated or honored as an official symbol of our city.
V. We recommend removing and preserving the current plaque at the Market House and mounting a new one that restates its 30 year old message by replacing “sold as slaves” with “enslaved and sold,” the word “shame” with the word “strength,” and the word “responsible” with “recognized as.” The words “slaves” and “shame” support a false narrative about African American ancestors which must not be perpetuated forward.
IN MEMORY AND HONOR OF THOSE INDOMITABLE / PEOPLE WHO WERE STRIPPED OF THEIR DIGNITY / WHEN [ENSLAVED AND]
SOLD AS SLAVES AT THIS PLACE. THEIR / COURAGE IN THAT TIME IS A PROUD HERITAGE / OF ALL TIMES. THEY ENDURED THE PAST SO THE / FUTURE COULD BE WON FOR FREEDOM AND / JUSTICE. THEIR SUFFERING AND [STRENGTH] SHAME / AFFORDED THE OPPORTUNITY FOR FUTURE / GENERATIONS TO BE [RECOGNIZED AS] RESPONSIBLE CITIZENS, FREE TO LIVE, WORK, AND WORSHIP IN THE / PURSUIT OF THE BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY TO / OURSELVES AND POSTERITY. /
REVISED BY CITY COUNCIL OF FAYETTEVILLE 2020
In closing, this committee is about preserving the past to promote understanding. While the Market House is a symbol of our racial division, the building itself is not what divided us in the past or what continues to divide us in the present. False narratives about each other and our past are what weaken our capacity to live and work together. The lack of honest and accurate portrayals of the social dynamics of the past leave us vulnerable to all sorts of distortions that jeopardize the current and future state of race relations and community cohesiveness. Tell the truth and most people will respect it.
Respectfully submitted for your consideration.