The Historic City of Charlottesville Erupts in Violence Because of a Historical Relic


KKK and other white supremacist groups protest in Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia is not just any American city; it is a city full of history that makes it unique. Its history and uniqueness come from the following three things: it was the home of two presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; it was part of the region occupied by the Monacan Native American Indians; and Thomas Jefferson had a large plantation, Monticello (located on the outskirts of Charlottesville) where he owned many slaves.

In Charlottesville, the life of Thomas Jefferson is immortalized for several reasons. Perhaps the most significant ones are, he was not just a president but also the founding father of the Republic; he founded the University of Virginia; and his Monticello plantation where he owned slaves is a tourist attraction.

Most places in America that are not associated with slavery seem to have a normal life – other than some residual lingering racial conflicts. When you think about slavery though and the atrocities that occurred under this pernicious system, those places that were associated with slavery are probably cursed in a way or still have unresolved issues from that history. In such a case, it could be presumed that the spirit of victims and the perpetrators of slavery do not rest in peace.

White Supremacists march with Confederate Flags in Charlottesville

The unresolved issue of slavery and the hatred and racism it spawned manifested itself in Charlottesville this past weekend. White supremacist groups (white nationalists, neo-Nazis, members of the “alt-right” and the KKK) marched in Charlottesville to protest the proposed removal of the Robert E. Lee statue.They were met by counter protesters which led to a violent clash. One alleged Nazi sympathizer, Alex Fields, Jr. from Ohio drove his car in a group of protesters killing Heather D. Heyer a 32-year-old resident of Charlottesville and injuring several people.

Alex Fields, Jr. mug shot

White supremacists use the argument that the removal of statues or symbols like the Confederate Flag that hold historical significance to the Confederacy is an erosion of their cherished history. What they are not willing to accept or care about is that these statues and symbols create racial conflict. At times it even seems that these symbols and statues are used to promote racism and terrorize people.

Undeniably, Robert E. Lee is a historical figure as he was the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War.  Despite his historical stature, we must recognize that if the outcome of the civil war was different, America would not be the country it is today – it would be a divided country without the wealth it has today and it would not be a superpower. And it should be understood that it is full-time that America transcends the negative history that resulted from slavery and the civil war.

In my book, Racism in America (Outskirts Press,2016), I wrote about why racism has persisted from the beginning of the republic to the present time,

Racism in America is like a volcano that is sometimes active and sometimes dormant. Similar to how a volcano maintains a permanent physical form in the landscape, racism to has its permanent characteristics in the social landscape of America.The volcano can remain dormant for decades with some slight rumblings that signal an impending corruption. When this corruption occurs, it creates destruction and death for those who are within the reach of the ashes and lava that it discharges. Racism too rumbles from the social injustices that blacks experience and sometimes interrupts into a riot like that which occurred in Ferguson and Baltimore. [p. 197]

Some white Americans like to dismiss slavery and past injustices against blacks as something of the distant past and therefore they should move on. Contrary to this, white supremacists don’t seem like they want to move on from the Confederacy era. They also use the excuse that because slavery happened before they were born they are not responsible for the problems that blacks experience today.

The problem with whites denying responsibility for the sins of their fathers is if they use the same tools their ancestors used (hatred, superiority, racism, and racial discrimination) including the symbolism (historical statues and flags) to antagonize black people, then they are perpetuating the same evil their ancestors did. And because they do this they cannot absolve themselves from not been responsible.

The best way to deal with historical artifacts, especially those that remind blacks of an era when their ancestors were oppressed and dehumanized is to put them in a museum. By having them in public spaces, they serve to promote antagonism and other race-related vices rather than ameliorating racial problems. Had this been done a long time ago, Charlottesville would have been spared what happened there this past weekend. A young woman would be alive and a young man would not be facing a lengthy prison time or essentially destroying his life because of hatred.

Two things that we should recognize and understand are that our lives on this planet are short and our fulfillment and happiness in life depend on how we treat others. If we allow hatred to consume our lives we cannot be happy. The answer to our happiness and fulfillment of life then is to care for others – we are our brother’s keepers. In my book, Racism In America I talk about the CARE (Cultural Awareness and Racial Enlightenment) program as a way to overcome hatred and racism.

The principle of the CARE program embodies the idea that all humans have a moral and spiritual responsibility to care for each other, regardless of race, culture, or creed. Any society that does not follow this principle of caring will experience conflict, disorder, and a host of negative vices. All of the major religions point to this principle of caring are loving others. [p. 333]