ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Organizers have dropped the name “slave auction” from an annual charity event in Alaska, after the NAACP complained that the term was offensive.
The Sunday night auction in the town of Sitka involved people bidding in an auction on volunteers’ time, with the winning bidders putting the volunteers to work doing odd jobs, like mowing lawns or cleaning gutters. It’s part of Sitka’s Alaska Day festivities, which commemorate the state’s transfer of ownership from Russia to the U.S.
The organizer on Monday said the name would be changed to “Alaska Day Auction” after the president of the Anchorage NAACP chapter complained.
Wanda Laws, the chapter president, was pleased with the change, but found it astounding that some people couldn’t understand why the use would be offensive.
Laws said that “that’s a tone deafness” that she hasn’t run into in a long time.
The auction event is not officially sanctioned by the Alaska Day committee.
Ted Allio, the chairman of the Alaska Day celebration, said the name of the event was “not offensive to anybody around here. We have a lot of different nationalities here in Sitka.”
He said the entire situation was blown out of proportion, and the Alaska Day event promotes diversity of cultures.
Rita Ledbetter is a bartender at the Pioneer Bar, which organizes the charity event.
She said the auction has been held for 31 years and has had no problems other than a phone complaint during each of the past two years. She also noted no one contacted her directly about the name.
“It’s a local, local thing, and I don’t know why it’s such a big deal,” Ledbetter said by telephone Monday.
“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 ,'” Ledbetter said.
Allio also noted Russians enslaved Natives living in Sitka before the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867. But he says, “You don’t hear them yelling” about the name.
But Lawrence SpottedBird, general manager of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, said calling the event a slavery auction wasn’t OK and Allio “overstepped on his comments.”
The event is well-intentioned but affected the black community, SpottedBird said.
“I stand with them,” he said. “There should be basically an apology for using that term.”
Laws told The Associated Press she wanted to shine a spotlight on the auction name because it was “extremely inflammatory and insensitive.”
“You do not glorify the selling of another human being. You just don’t do that,” she said. “It’s horrific.”
Twenty to 25 people volunteered to have their labor sold at the auction, which raised $3,000 for the local volunteer fire department, Ledbetter said. Previous beneficiaries included Special Olympics and charities fighting multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.
Sitka Fire Chief Dave Miller said the auction money will be put into the training fund for volunteers. He said after Law’s comments and all the online complaints, he asked the auctioneer not to use the world “slavery” during the actual auction.
(Photo Source: Alaska Twitter)