Charlottesville’s downtown mall has an image problem. Long upheld by boastful city officials as a family friendly shopping, entertainment, and dining destination, reality speaks otherwise as those with young children increasingly are seeking alternate venues.

The downtown mall has weathered its share of controversy—pedophiles congregating at the children’s museum, violent teen-mob assaults, and reportedly random mayhem (reluctantly) have been covered by local media—yet the area remains “vibrant” and continues to attract core, teen and young adult constituencies.

What is the real image problem of the city’s “urban park,” a problem conveniently overlooked despite ongoing patent offense? Charlottesville’s Community Chalkboard: A Monument to the First Amendment.

A joint project of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the City of Charlottesville, the controversial slate slab, touted as an homage to free speech, instead has become an unmolested harbor for vile invective, personal threats, base profanity, and ugly racial epithets. The wall’s unfortunate proximity to the Virginia Discovery Museum compounds the city’s quandary.

While such problems were foreseen by project critics, objections fell on deaf ears. Star struck city councilors who coveted a nationally recognized “monument” for their downtown pedestrian experiment, enthusiastically embraced the concept, simultaneously dismissing detractors’ fears. Years later, the critics have been vindicated, but there are no winners here.

Most recently, Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones faced harsh criticism for ordering city work crews to remove “lewd” images from the monument. Instead of public scorn being heaped on those who profane the public square, the city’s self-designated gatekeeper himself has been profaned by guardians of “free expression.”

Has Charlottesville City Government ceded its vaunted downtown mall to purveyors of free speech pornography? Is the Charlottesville downtown mall now appropriate only for NC-17 audiences? Can a family safely walk young children past the Community Chalkboard without facing embarrassing questions or risking loss of innocence?

How will we deal, if at all, with Charlottesville’s dirty downtown mall?

See the photo essay of graphic pictures taken at or near Charlottesville’s Free Speech Monument on the downtown mall (photos courtesy of Kevin Cox). Warning: contains adult content; no children, please.

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Rob Schilling is founder of the multi-award-winning Schilling Show Blog and News, proprietor of Schilling Show Media; host of both the Schilling Show Unleashed Podcast and WINA's The Schilling Show heard weekdays at noon; husband; father; worship leader, Christian recording artist and Community Watchdog.


  1. I wonder who specified the covering of the free speech wall? About 490 million years ago in the Ordovician Period the world made a material called slate. Schools used slate for blackboards. It was easy to write on.
    The material facing the current “free speech wall” is really rough. It eats chalk. It’s a surface that is suited for 4 letter words.
    Reface the monument with a better writing surface, you’ll get better writing.

  2. The downtown mall has always been “dirty”- due to the politicians who that claim it is there because of them, and the liberal continuum of the 1960’s that you find there.

    I never send visitors to the mall due to what you read in this essay….and never take family or friends there.

    I cannot believe that there is no outcry from the “rich and famous” of this city, who support the “artsy” adventure that you find there.

    Your own little “Greenwich Village”.

    Strange that the local TV stations cannot even show you what they find there- “seven dirty words”.

  3. Rob, remember that your radio friend John Whitehead was one of the proponents of the wall. At the time I worried about exactly the problem you write about here. And I thought and still think that in this Internet age, we don’t exactly lack forums for free speech. So what did we need a wall for? (Oh, I know, it was an ego booster for liberal city councilors. It wouldn’t be a Schilling post if it didn’t impute bad motives to liberals).

    Still, your post here would have a lot more force if you told us that these photos were taken in a short timespan. If they actually have been taken over the lifespan of the wall, well, I was wrong you don’t have much of a case today.

    Skip, you sound like Archie Bunker.

  4. Dear Rob, It is my understanding that expressions on the
    free speech monument can be erased by concerned citizens.
    Would it be better for government officials to be assigned
    that task than someone taking personal responsibility for
    erasing offensive material?

  5. Skip, it’s your association of “dirty” with “artsy,” “Greenwich Village” and “liberal,” and your sad, ideologically driven avoidance of one of the most interesting and picturesque areas of Charlottesville.

    Is all art liberal now? What about fine food, fun food, good music, cobblestoned streets and bookstores?

    Racist, no. Bigoted towards liberals . . . sure sounds like it.

  6. Aw shucks, if we had only had a choice between wi-fi then in addition to slate, we might’ve ended up with a tower instead of a wall on the downtown mall.

  7. Sorry Ken- you associated my “dirty” with “artsy”- especially when the sentences I used them in were not connected. Even though many may consider the “Charlottesville’s Community Chalkboard” an “artsy” contribution to the mall, it indeed has covered the “seven dirty words” for sure….and then some.

    Oh well- don’t take offence Ken.

    By the way, some of my best friendfs are liberals…..

    Perhaps “you can’t handle the truth”……

  8. you associated my “dirty” with “artsy”- especially when the sentences I used them in were not connected.

    Aha! So you associate “dirty” with “liberal,” but not liberal with the other two things you put down, “artsy” and “Greenwich Village.” Do you also have a bridge you think I’ll buy?

  9. Ken- do you remember or know of the ’60’s? Muc of todays difficulties are the result of that ilk-

    Yes, I do, but I wore a military uniform…….”all guts, no glory”

  10. Skip, I agree that a lot of harm came out of the Sixties. A lot of good too, and one could argue that both really began in the Fifties. In any case, it’s a little late to be avoiding a whole swath of town because of the Sixties.

    Thank you very much for your service.

  11. Thank goodness the writers did not use spray paint as was once used profusely under the Belmont Bridge.
    Some of the postings do show that what is usually called “racism” is alive and well in “post racial” Charlottesville. It seems, no matter how Charlottesville attempts to project itself to the world, somehow a little bit of the truth occasionally is revealed.

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