His arrest came a day after Allan told The Washington Post that he had taken the plaque — which was set in the Court Square sidewalk — because he believed it was an insufficient memorial and insulting to slaves and their descendants.
“How would you feel if they put a plaque in the ground to you so people could stand on it with their dirty shoes?” he said, adding that he was trying to atone for the fact that his ancestors had owned slaves.
In the interview, Allan said he was willing to go to jail for his views.
“This is called reparations, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Critics claimed that Allan had done more damage than good.
“These types of stunts do not bring the thoughtful and intentional attention needed to allow us to have a more robust conversation about race relations or slavery in Charlottesville or in the nation,” said Police Chief RaShall Brackney, who is African American.
The plaque’s disappearance in the early hours of Feb. 6 had caused concern in a city already struggling with its history.
After the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, advocates in Charlottesville began pushing to remove the city’s Confederate statues. Two years later, after the city council voted to remove one statue, white supremacists descended on the city for the Unite the Right rally.
Allan said he was one of thousands of protesters who turned out in opposition. But even after the rally ended in deadly violence, the Confederate statues — and the slave auction plaque Allan felt was paltry — remained.
He said his frustrations over the plaque grew until he went to Court Square with a small crowbar and removed the plaque. He then disposed of it in the James River, he said.
After being arrested at his Albemarle County home Tuesday, Allan declined to tell police where they could find the missing plaque, according to Brackney.
“At this point in time, Mr. Allan is refusing to tell us where it is,” she said, adding that police were continuing to investigate to determine if anyone else was involved in the crime.
“It looks like he was trying to bring attention to himself, not the issue, because that is what’s being covered — not the slave auction plaque or the plight of the slaves being sold there,” Brackney said.
Justene Hill Edwards, an assistant professor of the history of slavery at the University of Virginia, disagreed.
“At end of the day, if this brings about meaningful conversation, not only about the city’s history and connection to slavery but also about how slavery and its legacy continues to influence the African American community here, then I think that’s an important conversation,” she said on Monday.