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Georgia city will remove downtown slavery relic

The Louisville structure is state's last known slave market site.

LOUISVILLE, Ga. — The city council in Louisville, Georgia decided this week to remove what historians describe as one of the most historic monuments in the state. The city is located near Augusta.  

The monument appears to be unlike any other in the state. It's been downtown for more than 220 years. It could be gone by the end of 2020.

James Ivery said he has lobbied authorities in Louisville (pronounced Lewis-ville) for decades to remove the open-air wood frame building described blandly in a historical marker as the “Market House.”

"Hundreds of slaves were sold here," Ivery said Friday, while seated outside the Market House. "Every time I think about it, it almost brings a tear to my eye."

Ivery grew up in Louisville, moved to Augusta, but has returned to lobby anew.

"You got all these White folks, the sheriff and everybody," Ivery said Friday, describing scenes from the 18th and early 19th centuries in downtown Louisville at the Market House. "You got Black folks standing up here in chains, mothers with their little babies. Torn from their arms. And sold to the highest bidder."

The Market House dates to when Louisville was briefly the capital of Georgia, decades before Atlanta was founded. Another marker – placed here 84 years ago – says this “early slave market is probably the only such market standing in Georgia."  

The structure is the centerpiece of downtown Louisville, occupying a prominent spot within a grassy strip that bisects the oncoming lanes of the central business district's main drag - Peachtree Street - overlooking one of its main intersections.

There are few spots like it left in America, said Georgia historian and DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond.  

"I've visited the site several times," Thurmond told 11Alive Friday.  "It's extremely historic and rare, literally sacred ground, when you consider that thousands of Africans - later to be African-Americans - were sold like cattle" at the site.

Ivery acknowledged the history but said the pain blunts its value. 

"This is not our history," said Ivery, who is African-American. "The White racist – this is their heritage."

Ivery said he wants it relocated away from Louisville and Jefferson County.

"I drive by and see it. You know, what it’s telling me? That Black people are no more than three-fifths of a man," Ivery said, referring to census calculations made when the US was in its early years.

But Thurmond said the market tells a broader story – when given proper context. 

"What it really represents to me, in proper context, is the courage and determination of enslaved people to maintain their humanity, to continue to fight for family unity," Thurmond said, "(who) were able to create an entire society on the cinder blocks of American slavery."

The structure’s final destination is yet-to-be determined. Insiders say there is a strong contingent of folks who do want to keep it somewhere in Louisville, Georgia.