Monday, December 8, 2008
Marking a Slave Market in Washington, Georgia
Here’s a sign on a wall by the town square in Washington, Georgia, pointing to the “Site of Lewis Prudhomme’s Slave Market, 1795-1808.” My understanding is that Prudhomme came to Washington, along with other Santo Domingo planters (and some of their slaves) in the wake of the Haitian Revolution, and that he ran a profitable slave trading business, based in the town’s west square.
Beyond the historical specifics (which I haven’t seriously researched yet) I’m fascinated by the wall itself: the juxtaposition of the historical markers about the slave market and about “Lindsay Chevrolet Company, 1930-1985), above the larger “Parking” sign. The square itself is heavily narrativized with extensive historical signage, since it was the last location of an official meeting the Confederate government, on May 4, 1865, shortly before Jefferson Davis was captured by Union troops. A large stone tablet, an several other memorials, records that story, along with a state historical sign about Jefferson Davis. But the slave market itself, associated with years of unfathomable human suffering, only has this tiny sign. (To be sure, even that sign constitutes a more thorough marking than most slave markets in the American South.) The Georgia state historic marker of course has no mention of slavery, only noting that with Jefferson Davis's capture, "his hopes for a new nation in which easth could exercise without interference its cherished constitutional rights [were] forever dead."
What might an appropriate memorial at the site of the old slave market in Washington, Georgia look like? The adjacent court house's probate and deeds offices are filled with old documents
listing the names of enslaved person in Wilkes County (I'm drawing on these for a book I'm writing on narratives of slavery in the region). One could probably determine with confidence the names of persons sold in the market. Would a simple tablet of names suffice, along with an inscription honoring all those whose names are unknown? Or would this site call for a more complex work of public art, developed through a process that actively engaged the descendants of enslaved persons and slave owners alike?