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Anchorage NAACP calls for Sitka bar to change name of 'slave auction' event

The Anchorage chapter of the NAACP has asked the organizers of a long-running charity event in Sitka billed as a "slave auction" to change the name, calling it "inflammatory and insensitive."

The event's organizer, Sitka bartender Rita Ledbetter, says she has no intention of doing so and doesn't see the problem.

NAACP Anchorage chapter president Wanda Laws said she had become aware of the event's existence early Sunday, when someone e-mailed the organization about it.

The group issued a press release Sunday morning asking for the Alaska Day Festival to "immediately retract and remove" the event from its calendar. The event was scheduled for Sunday night.

The auction is held yearly during the Alaska Day Festival, which commemorates the transfer of the state from Russian to American control on Oct. 18, 1867, at Sitka, and "celebrates the diversity of cultures and historical perspective of our people," according to the Alaska Day Festival website.

Other items on the festival schedule include a parade, musical performances, folk dancing, historical tours and a luncheon featuring salmon pie, among other happenings.

Laws said she could appreciate that the event raises money for charity but that the name is unacceptable in "light of our country's history of slavery in relation to African-Americans."

"The connotation of buying and selling people against their will into slavery -- that's nothing to glorify," Laws said in a phone interview. "I'd like them to change the name, I'm not asking them to cancel the event."

Ledbetter said the event has been happening for almost 30 years and is held at the Pioneer Bar, the well-known Sitka watering hole where she works. People auction off two hours of their time to do yard work or other chores, she said.

The proceeds go to causes such as breast cancer charities and the event has raised as much as $7,000 in the past, Ledbetter said. This year, the money is slated to benefit the Sitka Fire Department. Between 150-200 people typically attend.

The bartender said she organizes it "on her own," though the committee that puts together the Alaska Day Festival is aware of it.

A media contact with the festival didn't immediately respond to questions Sunday.

Ledbetter said she didn't know what the NAACP was but was "floored" by the objection and caught off-guard by news that a press release condemning the event had been issued Sunday.

"Tell them to stick their nose back in their own business and leave us alone," she said.

The "slave auction" replaced another Alaska Day Festival fundraiser, Ledbetter said.

"We had to get rid of the wet T-shirt contest," Ledbetter said. "Because of the insurance. And it got wild."

As of Sunday afternoon, Ledbetter and Laws hadn't spoken directly.

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