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Bill Kirby Jr.: Let’s look beyond the Market House’s past and imagine its future

Fayetteville leaders seek broader input for repurposing of downtown landmark


Here’s the truth of it:

The Market House at the center of downtown Fayetteville already has been repurposed.

No slave ever will be sold there again.

No one, no matter the color of their skin. We as a community and a nation will not stand for that kind of conduct and discrimination.

That said, Mayor Mitch Colvin and members of the Fayetteville City Council want to hear more from their constituents about the future of the historic landmark, where slaves once were sold before slavery was abolished in 1865. So the council asked the U.S. Department of Justice and Fayetteville-Cumberland Human Relations Commission to solicit more input about just what should be done. Or, better said, what you believe should be done.

“It’s somewhat disheartening to hear the lack of community input,” Councilman Antonio Jones told Dion Lyons, Yamile Nazar and Semone Pemberton on March 29 after they presented a report about an in-person community survey that summed up responses from a mere 80 people.
Lyons is a conciliation specialist with the Department of Justice. Nazar is director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Human Relations Commission, and Pemberton is chairwoman of the commission.

“We need the community involved a little more,” said Jones, who has been a council member only since January. Jones had the support of  the mayor, Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen, and council members D.J. Haire, Yvonne Kinston, Larry Wright, Chris Davis, Shakeyla Ingram and Courtney Banks-McLaughlin. Only Councilman Johnny Dawkins was skeptical, saying Lyons, Nazar and Pemberton had done their jobs. But Dawkins, too, went along with his fellow council members.

In fairness to Lyons, Nazar and Pemberton, Lyons did tell the council that COVID-19 had hindered getting more residents involved and kept attendance at public forums low. But council members said they wanted to hear from a greater sampling of residents, and they were right.

“From what I’m hearing from council, we want citizen input,” Colvin said. “We need more diversity. We want to make sure (to hear from) those for it, against it and those with other opinions.”

Fair enough.

The Fayetteville-Cumberland Human Relations Commission did its part to follow the council’s directive on April 21 by staging two opportunities for residents to weigh in at the Kiwanis Recreation Center at 352 Devers St., just off Fort Bragg Road. The first session was from noon to 1 p.m., and the second from 6 to 7 p.m.

“The City Council has already voted on repurposing the Market House,” Pemberton told about 40 residents who turned out for the noon session.

Residents could offer suggestions to use the building for art displays, a Black culture and history exhibit, a marketplace for Black vendors or an educational venue. They also could offer thoughts on redesigning traffic lanes at the busy intersection.

Small turnout at public forums

We’re doing all of this because the Market House, circa 1838, has become a source of controversy, particularly within much of the African American community. The issue has been all the more polarizing since May 30, 2020, when protesters damaged the landmark to the tune of $84,000, including attempted arson. The protest came in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

For all the good intentions, there’s an apparent problem on the part of the Human Relations Commission: timing. You don’t hold a meeting like this at noon when most people are working. Or even at 6 p.m., when many people are leaving work after a long day and trying to get home.

Only about 40 more residents showed up for the April 21 evening session. That’s just poor planning. And one hour is a short window to hear a range of opinions.

According to Nazar, two more meetings are scheduled for people to voice their suggestions. One will be at 8 a.m. Saturday at Solid Rock Bible Church, 5464 Muscat Road in Hope Mills. Another is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. May 21 at Cliffdale Recreation Center.

If there is a glimmer of success in all of this, there had been 387 comments submitted online as of Monday, Nazar said.

All of this seems like an exercise in futility. There are 206,000 city residents, and only about 500 seem to be concerned. You can include Nancy Kutulas among them.

“I believe that the Market House should be used for educational as well as historical purposes,” says Kutulas, a retired librarian who attended the noon meeting at Kiwanis Recreation Center. “A brief history of the many uses - both positive and negative - that have been made of the site should serve historical and educational purposes. Although slaves were sold there along with other estate business, an (African-American) artisan is said to have helped build the building.

“The Market House also housed an early library for Fayetteville, as well as commemorating the establishment of the first state university. I believe many people only hear about the negative aspects and know very little about the full story. 

“Our community is a destination for people from all over the U.S, as well as other countries,” Kutulas says. “For that reason, many never hear the full story. Since the Market House is the only site listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Cumberland County, history is definitely a good option for the building.”


I’m with Nancy Kutulas.

Let the Market House be a place of education for all, and tell its story tried and true. Just as the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners has earmarked $450,000 for a proposed African American museum that will tell the story of Black community leaders past and present, according to Dauv Evans, associate director for the planned museum.

And should the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center become a part of this community, all the more of the story can be told.

There’s a bottom line for all of this.

The Market House, just a structure of brick and mortar and wood, already has been repurposed.

No man or woman ever will be sold into bondage there again, and that is the story to be told.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Market House, City Council, Fayetteville