World War II was one of the darkest periods in human history. Upon his rise to power in February 1933, Adolf Hitler and the ruling Nazi party began building the first of the Holocaust concentration camps. The original camps housed and tortured around 45,000 political prisoners and union officials by the end of that first year. Hitler turned over control of these camps to Heinrich Himmler and the SS in 1934, instructing them to purge Germany of those people he thought were racially undesirable. In addition to the political prisoners, these groups included criminals, homosexuals, Gypsies and Jews.
Here, millions of people were held, tortured and murdered including more than 6.25 million Jews. Although the Nazis attempted to cover up these atrocities by destroying the camps, seven stand at least partially preserved as museums.
Why? Why do places of such horror and inhumanity remain standing today? Why are they visited by thousands of people annually. Why is their evil allowed to continue on this earth? Why, at the end of the war, were they not plowed under, the ground consecrated? Because with all that is going on in the world today, they stand both as witnesses to the atrocities of what man can do to his fellow man, but also as sobering reminders of the horrors that can befall us when evil is left unchecked.
Just as the Concentration Camps speak to the evil of the Holocaust, hundreds of battlefields across the North and the South speak to the evil that gripped the United States during the Civil War and the evil that allowed men to enslave their fellow man. In the Cape Fear Region, a number of battlefields attest to the horror of that time. In Fayetteville, the skeletal remains of the Arsenal tell that story as well. And, in the center of Hay Street, the Market House stands sentinel — over our city. It has thousands of stories to tell, all of which are important and historic — one of which is indeed tied to slavery.
The original building which stood where the Market House now stands was constructed in 1788. It was one of many birthplaces of freedom in this nation. In 1789, it was the site where the North Carolina assembly ratified the Constitution. Later, it was the place where the first university in the new nation was chartered, bringing higher education to the new land, and it was the place where North Carolina ceded the lands to the west to form the state of Tennessee. Up until 1793, it was one of the seats of government for the state. In fact, the building was first constructed as a means of securing Fayetteville as the state capital, which didn’t work.
According to Bruce Daws, the city historian, the old State House served as government offices and as a market until the fire of 1831, which burned much of the city. At that time, the current building was erected. It is “one of the few structures in America that employs the town hall-market scheme found in England. Meat and produce were sold under the open first-floor arcade while the second floor served as the town hall and general meeting place. It served as a town market until 1906, and as Fayetteville Town Hall until 1907. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.”
The Market House was not at any point in its history a slave market. According to Daws, slaves were infrequently sold there as part of estate liquidations. The actual slave market was in front of the court house, which was located at the intersection of Green and Ramsey/Rowan and Grove. Slaves were also sold by slave dealers who had businesses along the market square. And, in fact, the slaves were not sold in the Market House proper, but rather in the town square, which surrounded the Market House and is now the traffic circle.
Through preservation efforts by a group of Fayetteville women at the turn of the century, the Market House was preserved and became a library when its use as a seat of government was complete. It has also served as the Chamber of Commerce, and art museum, the Fayetteville Partnership and today as an annex to The Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum.
Daws said there has been no attempt by anyone to try and hide the history of the Market House, including its relationship to the slave trade. Instead, a marker is installed on the building that honors the memory of individuals “sold as slaves at this place.” Additionally, part of the permanent exhibit at the Market House deals with slavery in the community and its impact.
Daws notes that history is history. It can’t be changed. It can’t be undone. It can be remembered and it can be used to remind us of what we were and what we should never be again. Daws sees the trend to disassociate or get rid of historical reminders of our past as an easy way out.
“There are a lot of stories associated with the Market House, one of which deals with slavery,” he said, noting that it is important to keep those stories alive because they are a part of our collective history.
The Market House narrative is not finished yet. Will the Fayetteville City Council remove it as a symbol of the city? That’s a decision that should be made carefully, and in light of not only its past, but also in light of its present day reality.
In May, hundreds of Cumberland County residents gathered around the Market House to pray for the community as part of the As One Prayer Walk. The prayers, led by African-American ministers, occurred on the Market House steps, where one minister recalled the sale of slaves, but pointed instead to the gathering of the community as one. He told a story of the city’s past, and its future.
On 4th Friday, drum circles play underneath the arches and citizens of all colors enjoy the music and dance — together.
During the International Festival the Parade of Nations flows around it, bringing together our community, which is comprised of people all over
In Fayetteville, the Market House has become a gathering place. A place where people of all walks of life, of all colors and nationalities gather to share their experiences and their lives. It is a place where education occurs and where history is not only honored, but is told honestly.
Is Fayetteville a community that will fall prey to political correctness and fail to remember and to maintain its collective history — both the good and the bad?