A New August Anniversity

As August winds to a close there is the bittersweet realization that summer will end leaving us with memories both joyous and less so. The following article describes a new August anniversary, that of Charlottesville one year later.
(from The Washington Post, August 6, by Joe Helm)
CHARLOTTESVILLE—There are no visible scars on Charlottesville. It remains a beautiful, leafy town of 50,0000 residents with a thriving core, great restaurants, a bustling nightlife, and the cultural and intellectual amenities of being home to the state’s signature university and a major hospital.
But if the outward appearance is unchanged, those who live here know how injured the city is and how strained the recovery has been. On Aug. 12, the city will mark one year since racial hatred bared its fangs here, menacing a community and a country. There will be prayer services and music and tributes to the injured and the dead. It is being billed as a day to remember and to heal after a tumultuous and often painful year.
Charlottesville has spent the better part of the past 12 months remembering and recovering. It also has been taking stock and placing blame. There has been plenty of that to go around. Blame for law enforcement that didn’t protect its citizens. Blame for the city council and the local and state government that planned ineffectively. Blame for the university that didn’t communicate the danger to the community. Blame for President Trump for not speaking out unequivocally to condemn the marchers who had spewed racial views.
The real damage has been to the city’s psyche and the sense of itself, residents say. They realize Charlottesville is now known as the site of America’s largest white-supremacy gathering in decades. And they know their community is defined to some extent by the racial violence that erupted downtown Aug. 12 during the “Unite the Right” rally and the night before, when 200 self-proclaimed white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia campus chanting “Our blood, our soil,” and “”Jews will not replace us!”
Coming to terms with that has meant different things to different people. Some people want to put it in the past and focus on reclaiming the city’s reputation. Others want residents to engage in difficult conversations about race and the city’s history with slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation.
“A lot of people here were uncomfortable with what happened on Aug. 12 and said ’Let’s just unite and move forward,’” said 17-year-old Zyahna Bryant, a student activist about to enter her senior year at Charlottesville High School. “But there hasn’t been the work to go back and reckon with white supremacy. Before we can move on and heal as a community, we have to reckon with that.”
For Bryant and others, that means addressing gentrification and the paucity of affordable housing in the city, ending stop and frisk policing, improving educational opportunities, and importantly, Bryant said, “amplifying the voices and experiences of people of color who are disproportionately affected by racial violence.
It also means acknowledging that institutional racism exists as a potent force here. The more outspoken critics say that while modern
Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair
Charlottesville prides itself on being a progressive and liberal city, it has never reconciled its present with its racist past. They say the city and university have not come to terms with their history of being built, enriched and sustained by enslaved people and remaining, for much of the 20th century, segregated institutions that celebrated the vestiges of the Confederacy rather than casting them aside.
The violence of last August shattered the conceptions some here had of their home. There was a desire to look at the white supremacists as invaders and outsiders, even though two of the organizers, Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, were UVA graduates and Kessler lives in the city. The city had to more closely examine what it represented.
“We lost our naivete,” said Kathy Galvin, 62, a city councilwoman who has lived in Charlottesville since 1983. “it is easy to kind of kind of take comfort in all the accolades we got up until that point. ‘Most innovative city, the happiest city.’ But there were many of us who knew that we had entrenched pockets of poverty that were also aligned by race and were legacies of Jim Crow.”
While the process has been difficult, it has also been illuminating, Galvin said.
“We can’t presume to think that we have turned a corner or that we are beyond blame,” she said. “So it gave rise to introspection and soul searching.” It also gave rise to anger and protests. Fallout from Aug. 12 is everywhere. The city’s police chief resigned. The city manager’s contract was not extended. Scathing reports criticized the response by the city and the university. In November, a leading city council critic, Nikuyah Walker, was elected to the body and chosen by other members as the city’s first black female mayor.
The tension ebbs and flows, but it does not let go.
City council sessions have been repeatedly disrupted by those who believe that their concerns aren’t being addressed. Residents report warnings that the white supremacists are planning a return. Kessler tried to obtain a permit for an anniversary rally. He withdrew that request and is hoping to hold one in Washington that day. There was widespread relief in Charlottesville that he abandoned a plan for a rally here, but a residue of uncertainty and fear lingers.
Charlottesville can’t rewrite its history of last year any more than it can of the past 250 years. But people who live here say they have learned lessons, had their eyes opened to truths they previously weren’t forced to face.
Wes Bellamy said he hopes the discussions and awareness borne by last year’s violence will be transformative for the city. “We took a punch to the face, but we weren’t knocked out,” he said. We’re going to win this fight. But we have to be resilient.”
Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee
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