As the sun began to set on March 1, more than 100 people gathered in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse. At an event coordinated by Beloved Community Cville and opened and closed by University of Virginia professor Jalane Schmidt and community organizer Don Gathers, the crowd traveled from the courthouse to three sites around Court Square where people were sold.
The event, along with one earlier in the day at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center that featured Bree Newsome and Zyahna Bryant, began eight days of commemoration for Liberation and Freedom.
March 3, which this year became a city holiday that replaced Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, marks when U.S. troops arrived in Charlottesville in 1865 and the emancipation of the area’s 14,000 slaves — 53.3% of the population — began.
“We thought it would be important to reflect tonight on the experience of trauma, on who had the most to gain and to lose from Liberation and Freedom Day,” Schmidt said. “Before we get to Tuesday, the beginnings of emancipation, we first have to reflect on what happened here.”
Attendees moved from the courthouse to sites were slave auctions occurred: 300 Court Square, the former site of the Eagle Tavern; 0 Court Square, the Number Nothing building, the site of the slave auction block; and the site of the Swan Tavern, 300 Park Street. They then returned to the courthouse for a libation ceremony.
“We’re acknowledging and honoring the ancestors of our city and of our county. This solemn event is a reminder of the pain and trauma of an enslaved community who were the majority of area residents. Tonight, we descend to the depths of pain before we celebrate … the beginnings of emancipation.”