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Race & Demographics

The debate about Fayetteville’s Market House goes beyond brick and mortar

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Charlie Shelton-Ormond
/
WUNC

In the center of downtown Fayetteville, the Market House stands as a nearly 200-year-old historical landmark and icon to the city.

But controversy has consistently surrounded the building, as residents condemn its history as a space where enslaved people were sold. Fayetteville's city council voted in April 2021 to repurpose the Market House, but what exactly the building will turn into remains unclear.

Tested producer Charlie Shelton-Ormond recently spoke with Kristen Johnson, investigative reporter for The Fayetteville Observer, about her latest series about the past, present and future of the Market House.

Parts of this conversation have been edited for brevity. Listen to the podcast here.


In your series, you focus on the past, present, and future of the Market House in Fayetteville. What sparked this series for you and why’d you feel it necessary to lay out its history over multiple parts?

"It’s really because they are having new conversations in the city council and I thought it was time for a new conversation with The Fayetteville Observer because it played a pretty essential role in the Market House. It always covered the Market House, photographers would write columns in the newspaper and feature the sunset behind the Market House. You know, we had a duty, I think, as a newspaper to continue the conversation about this contentious building. Now the city council voted to repurpose it instead of tearing it down. And people are upset about it. So we can't just ignore that, and I think having the idea for a series was kind of more powerful than just one story."

It feels like the legacy of the Market House carries a different meaning depending on who you ask in the city.

"Yeah. I think that people who lived in Fayetteville, who grew up here, they pass by Market House, don't always think about it. But it's different when you are a person of color or Black person living in Fayetteville. You will see the Market House and think about how heavy you know the ghosts are circling around Market House — they're still kind of there. And I think that was part of what I felt needed to be reiterated, because it was — in some of people's ideas — about slavery not really being a big deal in Fayetteville or slave auctions not taking place at the Market House. People have very different perspectives, like you said, and it just made more sense I think to do a past, present, and what a market house in the future could look like with city council repurposing it and what that repurposed building, a rebranding of this kind of painful history can mean for Fayetteville.

"I think that when you talk about the history of the Market House, I think that it gets lost for a lot of people that — at the core of all of this — people were sold here. It was not built for that purpose. But it's kind of a very interesting argument for people to make that, 'Yeah, people were sold, but so were corn and lettuce and people came here to protest.' And you know, it’s making it so that people who had no autonomy at the Market House were being sold off, being split up from their families, that that part of the history is not as significant as why the Market House was built, or who built it or why it should still be standing.

"And I think that I was really kind of keeping that in the back of my mind when I did this series. Because I think that people need to see and really feel that the argument about the Market House is not just about whether or not it should be standing up, it should be about the truth of it — and the truth is that enslaved Africans and African Americans were sold, and it wasn't just about Market House, but about the culture of racism that it kind of helped solidify in the city."

A focus in your series is emphasizing parts of market houses history that have often gone overlooked, and that includes that of Archie Beebe in the late 1860s. Can you tell me more about Archie Beebe?

"Yes, Archie Beebe was a Black man and — what I assume and other historians assume — was probably enslaved in the Fayetteville area. And in 1867, he was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. So he was arrested, didn't really have much of a trial. But he was thrown in jail. There was a jail right on Gillespie Street, which is where one of the intersections where the Market House sits, they marched Archie from this jail to the second floor of the Market House, which also served as like a magistrate's court and a town hall sometimes, but he was just a regular man in the community. He drove a wagon, he transported goods, probably at Market House, you know, kind of like a trader, that was his job.

"But because he was accused of this crime, a mob met him outside of Market House, and they were ready to just lynch him. That's what they were there for. When they saw him coming out of the Market House... and William Talor — he was a Confederate army captain — was one of the people who attacked Archie. He ended up shooting Archie in the head. And the three men who attacked him were, of course, arrested and tried. But they were given a pardon by then President Andrew Johnson. So they didn't really see any kind of consequences for that murder. But Archie Beebe is kind of one of the more graphic images of the violence surrounding the Market House and I think that not a lot of people know about him, because of course, in telling the story about the Market House all of the really kind of ugly, violent parts that happened get overlooked."

What are your personal reflections coming away from reporting on the series?

"I think that I felt a deep responsibility to tell the truth about this building. And when I was going through the microfilm, the archives in the newsroom and kind of looking at the old newspapers that we have, and seeing the countless advertisements for enslaved people for the sale of enslaved people and for rewards for enslaved people who ran away in surrounding cities, I think it really kind of brought it home for me. Because you talk about repurposing, you talk about how controversial the building is, you talk about the protests that happened there. But really, this is a building where people who look like me, and a lot of people in the city were sold. They were right next to corn, they were right next to jewelry, they were right next to horses, and pigs, and they were so like any other kind of commodity, and seeing the names of people and their ages and stuff, really, it was overwhelming.

"I had to take a step back, because I almost would get emotional, you know, just kind of looking at the archives and the history and the argument that, you know, slaves were sold, but it was just for a brief period of history. I mean, I was looking at archives from 1816 to the end of the Civil War, it wasn't just a brief, you know, part of the Market House history, it was almost all of it. So, yeah, I think just thinking about it, I haven't gotten a chance to really kind of sit after it's all published and really kind of think about the impact that it had on me personally, but thinking about the people that were once being sold in front of the Market House is really what makes me more excited to tell the story because it has to be told."

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