The Feb. 12 Metro article “Man who says he took slave-auction plaque arrested” reported on the arrest of a man who said he stole a slave auction plaque in Charlottesville. He said his objection was that it had been where “people could stand on it with their dirty shoes.” I have always felt that was the brilliance of that plaque.

When you finally notice the plaque, maybe after you’ve walked right by it — or right on top of it — who knows how many times, you are struck by its simple clarity: “On this site slaves were bought and sold.” Right there in the lovely little town of Charlottesville, people were sold as though they were little more than livestock. 

Across the street from the sidewalk plaque, there’s another historical marker, maybe one you saw in passing but didn’t pay a lot of attention to: It recounts, again with unemotional clarity, the lynchings of African Americans who had been hauled out of the nearby jail to be murdered by mobs of whites during the ascendancy of the Ku Klux Klan from the late 1890s through the early 1900s. Finally, then, lift your gaze and look west, across the well-tended courthouse lawn, and see what you’ve always seen: the larger-than-life-size statue of the Confederate soldier and a 25-foot-high bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

Now look down again at that little plaque in the sidewalk, the plaque you probably walked on more than once “with your dirty shoes,” and tell me how you could possibly convey a clearer, more thought-provoking and more heartbreaking message.

Michael Moriarty, McLean