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Education, history central to plan to repurpose downtown Market House

Fayetteville City Council approves plan drafted with public feedback


The historic, but controversial, Market House in downtown Fayetteville would be used for education and history exhibits and programs under a repurposing plan approved unanimously by the City Council on Monday evening.

The Fayetteville-Cumberland County Human Relations Commission would continue to be the lead agency on the project, the council decided.

Semone Pemberton, chairwoman of the Human Relations Commission, and Milette Harris, the commission’s vice chairwoman, presented the plan to the council. Pemberton said it was “2½ years in the making.”

Based on community feedback, she said, a committee chaired by Harris determined that education and history are vital components of the building's repurposing.

“Who can tell our history better than those who live here in Fayetteville? …” she asked.

The history of the 1838 building would be told through multiple media concepts, Pemberton said.

“If we don’t get the history right, we’ll be right back up here,” she said.

The next step in the repurposing plan, Pemberton said, will be for the city to have historians, sociologists and economists review the history of Fayetteville and how minorities were affected by slavery.

Pemberton said the Human Relations Commission is trying to get an accurate account of the city’s history.

“We don’t plan on leaving anyone out on what we plan to do,” she said.

Harris said spoken-word presentations and artwork will be used in the storytelling.

Pemberton said members of the Human Relations Commission sought residents’ feedback through an online survey, brainstorming sessions, moderated forums and consulting experts from the U.S. Department of Justice on an issue that has long divided Fayetteville residents. The online survey closed in June.

The building is controversial because slaves were sold there in the 1800s.

“This wasn’t just a quick resolution,” Pemberton told the council. “This wasn’t casually undertaken. It has been a commitment of hundreds of hours of discussion and labor. This was not a slow process or fast process. It deserves forward motion, and the community is ready for it to move forward.”

Mayor Mitch Colvin said he appreciates the commission members’ work.

“To get us to the next step — I know you’ve been working on that for a long time,” Colvin said. “I think y’all have a nice grasp of the situation.”

Initially, the commission partnered with the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service to facilitate dialogue in the community and seek consensus on how to repurpose the Market House.

At that time, 80 people were interviewed about their perspectives on the building and its future.

In March, the City Council voted to hear from more residents before making any decisions. In all, the commission has now gathered the opinions of about 500 people.

Those included the old and the young, Pemberton said.

“It was important to give voice to the youth,” she said.

On May 30, 2020, protesters gathered downtown in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Though it was a largely peaceful protest, someone broke into the Market House and tried to set it on fire

After months of debate, including some calls to demolish the building, the City Council voted 9-1 in April to repurpose the structure.

The Human Relations Commission suggested that some wording on a plaque on the building be changed and that it be accessible to the disabled.

Councilwoman Yvonne Kinston asked Monday what the time frame for the repurposing would be.

“We would like to have the history part immediately,” Pemberton responded, adding that scholars from local universities will be vital in the project.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, City Council, Market House, downtown