News and Articles

Charlottesville, August 11-12: Healing and Moving Forward Through Remembering, Not Ignoring, a Past of Slavery and Racism

amy luce blog 2 photo 2
August 12, 2019

“I’m tired. Let me tell you why I’m tired. I’m tired because the world acts like one white girl dying is the end of the world. The last month, the last month, I have put in 14-hour days dealing with press. ‘Can we have an interview?’ ‘Can we have an interview?’ ‘Can we have an interview?’ […] Did Treyvon Martin’s mother get that? […] Not all of us, but many of us, would struggle, struggle, to come up with these names of young men and women, older men and women, who have died, died for civil rights. Died to be treated as equals. Died to not be three fifths. Died to be treated as men and women ought to be treated […] I’m not saying don’t remember Heather. I’m saying remember why she was who she was. Why her death should count, and I’m asking you to make that life count.”

Photo taken by author at the C’ville Sing Out! location, IX Art Park in Charlottesville

These were the words of Susan Bro exactly one year after her daughter, Heather Heyer, was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia. While Heather was speaking out against the deplorable Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017, a white nationalist drove his car into the group of counter protesters. He killed Heather and left 19 other people injured.  The night before Heather’s death, white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia (UVA) with tiki torches and chanted: “Jews will not replace us!” “Blood and soil!” “White lives matter!” “Whose streets? Our streets!” This was undoubtedly “an incident of domestic terror.”

Susan was one of several powerful speakers in a forum organized by the Albemarle-Charlottesville National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on August 12, 2018, titled “A Time for Reflections and Healing.”

Photo taken by author at Zion Union Baptist Church during the NAACP forum as the First Union Baptist Church Male Chorus performed

During the forum, Dr. M. Rick Turner (immediate Past President of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP) explained that “the impact of August 12th has been devastating, producing extreme anxiety, fear, sadness, and confusion.”  Nonetheless, as touched on by many of the speakers, it should not have come as a shock that the Unite the Right rally took place in Charlottesville, or that it took place at all. Leslie Scott Jones, an actress and author who is local to Charlottesville, realized that the white nationalists chose Charlottesville because “this was their home. This was one of the last bastions of the confederacy, this was the last state to desegregate school systems.”

The speakers also pointed out that Charlottesville and more specifically UVA has a history entrenched in racism. Thomas Jefferson, founder of the school, was a slave owner. Slaves built the most of Grounds. “Some scholars see a clear threat of white supremacist thought in much of the university’s history.”

Yet, rather than being overwhelmed with hate and hostility, the church was full of love and hope. The speakers urged listeners to learn from history in order to move forward, heal, and better society. UVA is already taking important steps, as demonstrated by the creation of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. This article will end with critical advice from Leslie, which I hope you will read with reflection on your own community. Make an effort to learn about the nuanced history of your community and those who came before you. Identify areas in your community that continue to feel the impact of this history: enhance the good parts, and recognize, learn from, and actively work to change the bad parts. We can make this world a better place, and it can start with just one person speaking up. Do not underestimate the power of your own voice. Be an agent of positive change.

Leslie provided:

“Instead of telling the story about how Vinegar Hill was destroyed, let’s tell the story of how it was created […] We need to be transparent about this history. This is not to shame anyone, but to give proper place to the stories that have been ignored […] This town began as stolen land, worked by stolen people […] This is the place to challenge the pristine view of Thomas Jefferson. Not to tear it down, but to make him human. He was a man. He was a slave owner. He was a gifted writer. He was a rapist. He was one of the Founding Fathers of our country. He was all of those things, and here we should be able to contextualize all of those things. Not to demonize, but to humanize. To afford him, the very thing he deprived so many of during his ownership of them. In this way, Charlottesville can use what was perpetrated against her to make herself anew. Our town can be a beacon to other cities with similar history. We can lead the charge of tackling this complicated history, instead of following the status quo. And by doing so, we can begin to heal.”