Some people might question naming a charity event a “slavery auction.” But those people do not live in Sitka, Alaska, and they are not the organizers of the city’s annual Alaska Day Festival.
The perennial charity sensation in Sitka, population 9,020, drew the ire of the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP this weekend for calling one of the events on its schedule a “slavery auction.” The event was not planned as a historical reenactment but a contest of sorts in which people bid to win a volunteer’s time to do menial tasks like mowing lawns.
Wanda Laws of the NAACP’s Anchorage chapter requested that the festival, which commemorates the acquisition of Alaska from Russia in 1867, “immediately retract and remove” the event, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 18. It went on as planned, however, raising some $3,000 for the local fire department. Going forward, though, it will be referred to as the “Alaska Day Auction.”
Still, bartender Rita Ledbetter, who organized the event, failed to see why Laws took exception to the event’s name.
“It’s a local, local thing, and I don’t know why it’s such a big deal,” she told the Associated Press. “Why I wasn’t called by the NAACP and say, ‘Hey,’ instead of slamming us for a word that just means squat now? I mean, how long has that been? 150? Almost 200 years? It’s like, ‘C’mon.’”
Some would argue the word “slavery” does not just mean “squat” in 2015. Ledbetter argued that the questionably named auction had been around for 31 years.
Before being emailed about it, Laws had never heard of the event but told Alaska Dispatch News: “The connotation of buying and selling people against their will into slavery—that’s nothing to glorify.”
Neither Laws nor the festival organizers responded to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
Despite Ledbetter relenting to commonly held norms about not naming things after a centuries-long human-rights violation, she did not go quietly into that Sitka night.
“Tell them to stick their nose back in their own business and leave us alone,” she said of the NAACP.
God bless Alaska.