Good People on Both Sides—The Truth About Charlottesville
By: David Rhodes
For my friend, Bug.
I started writing this book, or whatever it turns out to be on September 12th 2020. That was the day that the Johnny Reb, aka “At Ready” statue was removed from in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse. The courthouse lies in downtown Charlottesville Virginia, on county land that was never annexed by the city. This statue honors the men from Charlottesville and Albemarle County who enlisted and fought for the Confederate Army. These types of statues are often called “common soldier” monuments, since they serve to remember common citizens who stepped forward. This is only one event in the ongoing saga of how part of history is to be retold. There is much that led up to this, and more to come. The thoughts here will be mine alone, and this text will reveal my knowledge and authority to do so.
For a lot of reasons, many that I don’t even remember, I decided to return to school at an advanced age. Maybe to ease a midlife crisis but also to simply prove I could do it. Actually, I have considered returning my degree for some actions the university has taken over the last couple of years, but that’s another story for later. Anyway, I graduated from Thomas Jefferson’s own University of Virginia at the age of 59 in 2017. A hurdle I had to clear in order to graduate was called a capstone project. You pick a topic, and after it’s approved you spend an entire semester doing research. The next semester you write your thesis type paper, and then do an oral presentation. Being a son of the South and somewhat of a Civil War buff, I decided to do my paper on the growing controversy in Charlottesville over what to do with all of our Confederate memorials. Thus began my journey and borderline obsession.
I decided that as part of my research, I would attend, or at least follow closely every event involving the subject. There was no shortage of information, as the city first proposed to do away with its Robert E. Lee monument, followed by Stonewall Jackson’s, it soon became a hot button emotional issue. A local African American high school student had started a petition to remove the Lee statue, which was championed by a Charlottesville City Counselor by the name of Wes Bellamy. Bellamy’s name will be at the forefront of much of this writing, because he contributed to the unrest in Charlottesville more than any other single individual. In fairness to Bellamy, he was not the first counselor to bring up the subject of what to do with Confederate memorials. Another city counselor by the name of Kristin Szakos had already expressed her desire to see them gone. None of the councilors that were seated at the beginning of the controversy remain, and for good reason. In my humble opinion, the Charlottesville City Council, along with the higher ups in both local and state law enforcement, were the reason Charlottesville became infamous for what happened in the summer of 2017. Although I consider myself a man of faith, some blame has to be placed on local and visiting clergy. They felt it necessary to physically block a legally permitted rally that was dubbed *Unite the Right.” Their rallying cry, as with other counter protesters was that they could not allow this type of hate in Charlottesville. Certainly, there were hateful people there, but I’m saying they were not all hateful people. Of course, that is all the media would wish to show for sensationalism and ratings. Hate is hate. If there is a protest let’s say against the police, I’m sure there are people there that may have even organized the event that hate police. Common sense would tell me also that there would be people in attendance that simply desired some type of change.
Before you set this book aside, and label me a white supremacist, at least finish reading this paragraph. Jason Kessler, a self-proclaimed white nationalist was the main organizer of Unite the Right. I don’t know the man, but I have corresponded with him via email, and I don’t agree with many of his methods or philosophies. He did however have a legal permit and a first amendment right to do what he attempted. Granted, my sympathies strongly coincide with his on Confederate monuments, but I’m thinking we would have little else in common. My point being, if Kessler and his group had been left alone to have their legal rally and go away, that would have been it, and Charlottesville maybe could have retained more of what it once was: a welcoming community where for the most part everyone had found a way to peacefully coexist. Not to say that there isn’t a lot still to be done concerning race relations, but instead of moving forward as we once were, we are now moving backwards.
The events of the summer of 2017 in Charlottesville cannot be discussed without mentioning the tragedies that occurred. Heather Heyer being run down and killed by a known white supremacist, James Fields, was a heinous crime. Others were seriously injured in that incident, along with those that suffered from other violence during the rally and the night before. What is often forgotten is that two Virginia State Troopers lost their lives that day in a helicopter crash. The troopers were providing aerial surveillance of the rally that never actually happened. The rally didn’t happen because an “unlawful assembly” was declared because of the violence that happened before it could get started. There was speculation as to whether the police were told to ignore the violence until an unlawful assembly could be declared, which would and did allow the authorities to close down the rally. We may never know if this was the case.
Once again, the rally was to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from what was then known as Lee Park. Since then, the park’s name has been changed to Market Street Park. Stonewall Jackson’s memorial a couple of blocks away next to the courthouse had not yet come into play. Anyone who followed these events in Charlottesville, knows that President Trump made the statement that, “There were good people on both sides “ there that day. I took this statement to mean that there were good people there protesting and supportive of both sides of the Confederate memorial issue. This was a true statement. There were hundreds or maybe thousands of people there, and not all of them were either Neo-Nazis. White supremacists or Antifa. I was there, and I consider myself good people, and I know of acquaintances there that want the memorials gone that are decent people, so that alone proves Trump’s comment to be true.
Charlottesville is run by members of the Democratic Party. Every member of the city council during the unrest that summer was a Democrat. Their arrogance and unbelievably unruly council meetings left little room for opposing views. I know because I tried along with others and were met with abuse from Wes Bellamy in particular, along with constant jeers and interruptions from audience members. At one point there was a local movement to recall every member of the council that garnered a lot of support. As much as the thought of losing the Lee and Jackson monuments bothered me, what bothered me almost as much was the total disregard for other points of view. I would not even begin to pretend that I understand the thoughts that run through some African American minds when they view Confederate memorials, but I’m willing to listen and sympathize. That is what is missing in today’s politics. Those that were once oppressed, are now the oppressors. You can’t fight racism with racism.
There are smarter people in Charlottesville than I. There are those that know more about history, and government and the law. I know of very few that have studied and followed this issue more than myself. I was fighting for the monuments long before the summer of 2017, and continue to do so. I have attended nearly every rally and meeting I could on both sides. I extensively researched the benefactor of the memorials, Paul Goodloe McIntire, and their creation. Few newspaper articles or media reports about the controversy escaped me. There is a notebook in my home full of letters to the editor I sent to the local paper, many of which were published. I have guarded the monuments from vandals and offered reward money to arrest those that did damage. I was not only at the Unite the Right rally, but also at a church service the night before, almost across the street from the UVA Rotunda. This is where of course the infamous tiki torch march ended that night, which sent images of white supremacists around the world. I was there for it all, and I know the truth, and I’m going to tell it.
It may help to understand how I and others like me feel the way we do about Confederate monuments, if you learn about who we are. I was never told as a child growing up in the 1960’s in rural Virginia that blacks were inferior to whites. It was apparent even as a child that there was some sort of societal structure that separated us in many ways. It wasn’t hard to figure out on my own that a lot of what went on around me was wrong. I heard someone once associate racism with BO, as in body odor. All of us have a little racism in us, but some of us stink of it a lot worse than others. That was the case then, and unfortunately will remain the case throughout time. It can get better, and in the 60’s it seemed to be headed that way.
But as little southern white boys, especially in Virginia, we were taught that men like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson approached godly status. My first reaction to someone even considering removing their monuments amounted to unbelievable blasphemy. As a child, I ranked these men along with Superman and Batman as untouchable symbols of goodness and virtue. I vaguely remember as a very young child, my father pointing out the Jackson statue and saying that he fought in the only war America lost. America lost a war? It never occurred to me that a Confederate was anything other than an American. Of course, another war that we ended up losing was going on at the time, Vietnam. Many of the men who returned from that war were treated with disrespect, and if you don’t learn from history you repeat it, and we do.
The black men and women I knew growing up worked on the many surrounding farms in the area. Many of these farms were plantations back in the day. I can’t say that I ever met a black person when I was young that was unkind. Maybe that had something to do with what was expected, but I had no way of knowing that at the time. Actually, it was these black farm workers that took the time to speak and show some interest in a little white boy, and I grew to respect what they knew and who they were. It was a time that children were to be seen and not heard, especially with older white people. There was an older black woman that I always looked forward to visiting with my father, since she always seemed to have a candy bar or some kind of treat for me. Yet even without being told, I knew that there was some kind of imaginary line that was not to be crossed. For some reason that I didn’t fully understand, there was a separation when it was time to play, at social gatherings, and when it was time to go to church on Sundays.
I guess you would have to say that most of the older whites when I was a child were racist by today’s standards. Of course, some private clubs and organizations were blatantly so. There were country clubs and hunt clubs in the area that didn’t even let blacks in the door unless they were serving the members. That didn’t enter into my world, because that was in the world of the wealthy, and there was a larger divide between classes than races. It was much more likely for me to have a friend that was a person of color than to have a wealthy friend. When I say that older whites were racist at the time, there is something to be clarified about this statement. They talked more like racists than they acted like racists. This comes only from my personal experience, but the older white people I grew up around treated everyone the way they deserved to be treated. Sure, looking back there was a lot wrong, I’m just saying that in my community, black and white people had learned to at least coexist in peace. That may have something to do with the fact that they had lived and worked together in this area of Virginia for hundreds of years already. I guess the bottom line here is that I knew as a little boy that there was some type of separation between races, but I didn’t quite realize the extent of the inequalities. It was never part of me that felt it was proper for me to look down on anyone.
I did learn a little more about racism when I started school. I had heard the n word before, but I can’t remember it being used to single out anyone. I did know that word referred to black people. Brazil nuts were n toes, because well, they were black. I probably had heard something similar to something being n rigged, as in being done halfway, and even at a young age I suppose I knew that was a derogatory statement. That didn’t mean that I had to agree with it. People didn’t always agree with what their elders said in the 1960s, I know I didn’t. Oh yeah, and since I have always considered myself somewhat of a fisherman, I had heard about n fishing. This involved keeping fish that were too small, that should have been thrown back. I probably didn’t give this much thought, since I did it myself. Before I get too off track, it was a rhyme using the n word that gave me one of my first lessons in racism.
It had to be either the first or second grade. There was no kindergarten when I started elementary school. My mother had packed a generous lunch for me, and I had an extra sandwich to share. More than one of my classmates hoped to obtain my leftovers. Thinking myself a fair little boy, I decided to choose with a rhyme I had heard many times. “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo, catch a n word by his toe.” All of a sudden, I feared for my physical health. All the young black boys at the lunch table had taken strong offense. It is one of my clearest grade school memories. I had immediately learned that the n word was a word not to be used any longer. One of my black classmates asked me where I had learned this. I lied and used the name of a black farm worker that I knew. I honestly can’t remember using that word ever again. Why would I? It was a terrifying experience.
The most significant event concerning race relations at the time I started elementary school, I was not even aware of. There is now a historical marker outside of my elementary school celebrating “The Albemarle 26.” The 26 African American children that integrated 3 Albemarle County schools on September 3rd 1963. One of those schools was mine. I started first grade September 3rd 1963. If I didn’t know this was happening, somebody must have done something right. If there was upheaval, I didn’t see it. It must not have bothered my parents too much, but it was expected for me to figure some things out for myself. I’m not saying these new arrivals didn’t have their problems, but personally I wasn’t aware of anything amiss, they were just my classmates. Maybe I was just clueless, but I did have the advantage of interacting and learning with people that weren’t like me in a lot of different ways. Perhaps that is why today I take offense at those that scream of how I am to act about something that I began to try and understand over 50 years ago. I get it that young children can be more colorblind, but being lucky enough to be involved in school segregation at its beginnings, had to allow me to have a clearer perspective and vice versa. One of the Albemarle 26 was in the crowd with me when the statue in front of the courthouse came down. I’m sure we were going through different emotions, but we still spoke to each other like the friends we always were. That’s what is missing today.
I suppose I did have more white friends in elementary and middle school, but as many of us do in high school, I searched for some kind of group or clique to belong to. It was not a tremendous need for me, since I have always tended to be a loner, but there always seems to be some level of longing to belong. I was placed academically with the so-called smarter kids, but I didn’t belong there socially. I tried to play sports, but the jock scene certainly wasn’t my cup of tea either. It was the 70’s, so there was certainly the stoners and party scene that I dabbled in, but there wasn’t a strong attraction there other than the music. Where I finally found acceptance, and at least some measure of belonging was with some black classmates. I have pondered on why this was many times over the years, because there were certainly repercussions, but I think I have come up with some answers.
Probably first and foremost, is the fact that my black classmates were cool, and who doesn’t want to be cool? Later on, I hypothesized that they were cool because they pretty much had to be to get along and survive. Many of the rooms they entered contained someone that automatically didn’t like them, so they had to simply develop an attitude that allowed them to somehow remain in that room. They had to try harder to be cool, and usually achieved it. I watched all of this with interest. People mistook me for being shy. No, I was quiet, and there is a big difference. You can learn a lot by keeping your mouth shut, and watching and listening.
It wasn’t always easy being me. Like I mentioned before, I at least tried to play sports. The only way I could get home after practice many times was to ride the athletic bus. It just so happened that I was the only white person on the bus. It was like Rosa Parks in reverse. There were those on the bus that wouldn’t hesitate to do me bodily harm, but because of my interactions in the past, there were also those that protected me. As with most situations in society, the majority were in the middle, and were ready to join up with whatever side seemed to garner the popular opinion. Looking back, I realized that situations such as this were some of the greatest learning experiences I ever had. Luckily in this situation, the biggest and baddest student on the bus liked me, so the others were instructed to leave me be.
One evening on the ride home on the bus, one of the black athletes decided to test me anyway. There were plenty available seats, but he decided that I should move anyway. I remember his exact words. “All these N***ers on the bus and you ain’t gonna move?” I shook my head no, and braced myself for the blows that miraculously never came.
Not that I didn’t make mistakes concerning my black friends. I did things that I never would do now, but I was young. I left them to go to parties and places where they were forbidden to go. I still believe that a private club or organization can set whatever rules they wish for attendance or membership. It just means that I shouldn’t be a part of it, even if there are women involved, which was of course the reason that I wanted to go to these functions anyway.
Speaking of women, having black friends didn’t always help me on the dating scene. Sure, there was interracial dating at the time, the time being the 70s, but it was not as prevalent as it is today. Our parents for the most part certainly didn’t condone it. Teenagers tend to travel in packs, and half of my pack consisted of black kids. It’s not like I measured up to date the homecoming queen anyway, but I was lucky enough to find a couple girls that didn’t mind my entourage.
Maybe I should be more understanding of those that didn’t have the same experiences as I did. Today’s technology tends to separate us in a variety of ways. As stated earlier, I grew up around black people that I respected. I started school the very year that our schools were segregated. I grew up right in the middle of the civil rights era, and the era where children rebelled against many of their parents’ beliefs. I saw and felt the anger of my black classmates when Dr. King was killed. Through all of this, I suppose I knew I was privileged because I am white, but that is just the way society was and still is to some degree. Even though our local churches remained segregated, what I learned there certainly added to my understanding of how to treat other human beings.
Before I pat myself on the back too much, once again there have been times when I have failed miserably. I have let stereotypes enter into my view of others. Possibly my worst offense was my reaction to my daughter going to her high school prom with someone that was not white as a picket fence. I apologized for my reaction, but I’m not sure that I should have been forgiven for my inexcusable behavior. All we can do as human beings is realize our mistakes, learn from them, and move on. This is one of the things that really bothered me about the events before and after the Unite the Right rally. The local government and officials took no responsibility for what happened in Charlottesville, and to any rational thinking human being, they were the main problem.
So why is this chapter entitled Rebel Blood? How could anyone possibly be proud of their Confederate heritage and at the same time look upon African Americans as equals and not be ashamed? It’s easy. My father died in 1968. That was quite a year. I don’t know if he actually did, but I do remember him talking about voting for George Wallace in that year’s presidential election. He was the one that told me about Bobby Kennedy being killed, so maybe he was just angry about that. Just because my father may have not been as enlightened as others about a certain issue, does that mean that I can’t honor him? The answer is of course that I can honor him. I never saw him treat anyone badly. A lot of the older generation at the time didn’t practice what they preached concerning racism. They may not have looked upon blacks as equals in some instances, but that doesn’t mean that they treated them badly. That was progress for their generation, and I believe that my generation continued that progress.
The paper I wrote for UVA started with an epitaph from Arthur Ashe. Ashe being of course an African American tennis pro and humanitarian from Richmond. He is immortalized on Monument Avenue in Richmond, along with Confederate heroes. Somebody obviously felt the way that I do about addition instead of subtraction when it comes to our memorials and monuments. In other words, add to or contextualize what is already there instead of taking away what my ancestors and many today wish to honor. More on that later.
Anyway, the epitaph quoting Ashe states, “I see nothing inconsistent between being proud of one’s ancestors and, at the same time, seeing oneself as first and foremost a member of the commonwealth of humanity, the commonwealth of all races and creeds.” I don’t see anything inconsistent with it either. I have a hard time convincing people that I can be proud of my Confederate ancestors, and still believe that African Americans are my equal, however this is a fact. I was at the Charlottesville rally in the Summer of 2017 to try and stop the removal of the Lee and Jackson statues, and I’m a good man. This is only a guess, but a highly educated one; if a vote had been taken before 2017, a majority of citizens in Central Virginia would have voted to save the monuments. A lot have happened since then, but at the time, the five Charlottesville City Councilors took it upon themselves to decide who the community should or should not honor. Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that they are all good people. That said, between me and them, that alone proves Trump’s claim of good people on both sides was accurate.
Without a doubt, the main reason that I should defend my Confederate heritage is my great grandfather, Thomas Dabney Rhodes. He was a member of Carrington’s Light Artillery, a battery under the command of Jackson. He, along with his brothers in arms traveled to the very same courthouse to enlist where the statue honoring them was moved. Why he decided to enlist, I can’t say. He certainly didn’t own slaves, so one would logically assume that it could have been something else. I like to think that maybe he heard a lot of the propaganda that slave holding politicians spewed, such as Virginia was to be invaded, and their properties and families were at risk. Of course, all that happened, so that would have been enough for me. Imagine for a second that you had to make that choice.
I won’t relate some of the stories that I heard about my great grandfather, because I don’t know them to be facts. It has been recorded that one of the first times his unit saw action was over the Blue Ridge Mountains close to Staunton. They set up their cannons in a citizen’s yard, and I’m sure nervously awaited the approaching Yankees. Unfortunately, they didn’t raise the cannon barrels high enough to clear the said citizen’s picket fence. When the Yankees arrived and the first cannon was discharged, it blew through the fence. No Yankees were injured, but it was said that the blast scared the hell out of them.
Thomas Rhodes was captured, and ended up in a Yankee Prison at Point Lookout Maryland. One story that I have heard enough times to believe is true happened one cold winter night’s eve. After a cold rain, he knew that his soaked blanket was not going to be of much use in the night ahead. He gave it to a fellow prisoner who was sleeping next to him. During the night, that man froze to death under that blanket. Of course, it is important to understand why wars are fought. The United states has fought more than one questionable war for questionable reasons. There should be however no hesitation to honor, at the very least, ordinary citizens that for whatever reason were caught up in a conflict. The removal of the Common Soldier Monument in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse was a cowardly act by politicians that bent to the will of special interest activists, many of which stunk of racism themselves.
One of the biggest arguments that is presented to assert that Confederate monuments are symbols of white supremacy is that many were erected in the Jim Crow era, and Charlottesville’s are no exception. There is some truth to that, and there is also truth in some of the reasoning that I will propose in this book. More than one thing can be true. It is a fact that the South was economically devastated after the Civil War, and didn’t have the means to spend on lavish monuments until later. The same can be said about the present economic situation. Community budgets are tight, and there aren’t the extra millions lying around to take the statues down. Anyway, I think this would be a good time to write a little about Charlottesville’s statues, and how they came to be.
I am going to refer to Lee and Jackson Park as Lee and Jackson Park throughout this book, because that is always what they will be to me. City Council officially renamed the parks, but I see no need to mention these names here, the city actually asked for citizens input in an online and mail in survey for renaming purposes, and although the original names were the clear winners, these wishes were ignored.
Lee and Jackson Parks were established due to the generosity of Paul Goodloe McIntire. Mr. McIntire’s philanthropy not only benefited the city of Charlottesville, but the surrounding Albemarle County and the University of Virginia. His father was the mayor of Charlottesville during the Civil War, and was instrumental in saving both the town and university from destruction from the invading Union Army. Lee Park was dedicated by Paul McIntire to his parents. If there were personal reasons for creating the parks it would be hard to document, as most of McIntire’s personal papers were destroyed upon his death. It can’t be verified, but some believed that Lee Park was dedicated to his parents since his father surrendered the town, and the dedication may have eased the tensions between his family and Confederate sympathizers.
There is a story McIntire often told about his youth, that turns out to be a metaphor for the way Southerners view the Civil War. Although Union General Phil Sheridan left Charlottesville undisturbed for the most part, his troops did go door to door looking for food and supplies that might be sent to General Lee who was bogged down in Petersburg. When troops arrived at the McIntire home, the then four-year-old Paul informed the Yankees that there were indeed hams in the attic. Paul was sent to his mother for discipline, and couldn’t understand this since he told the truth as he was taught. His mother informed him that in dealing with Yankees, “one tells the truth with discretion.”
Truth with discretion is a good way to describe how the South chose to memorialize the Civil War. Slavery without a doubt ended up being a major cause, however as imoral as it was, the South could have laid down its arms before the Emancipation Proclamation and kept its slaves. Lincoln wanted to save the Union much more than he wanted to abolish slavery. Few monuments addressed slavery. Instead, monuments were erected with inscriptions that extolled values such as patriotism, state’s rights, and local self-government. The legacy that the Confederacy wanted to invoke was not that they fought a war to try and maintain slavery, but they fought to repel invaders from their homes. Once again, truth with discretion. Lincoln would be a racist by today’s standards, but so far, most Americans still celebrate all that he did for the country. I agree with those that argue that we shouldn’t judge historical figures as they would relate to today’s society.
If the Charlottesville statues were erected in the spirit of racism, I find it odd that through extensive research, I could not find evidence of racist acts by their benefactor. If you look into Paul McIntire’s life, an impression is given that leads one to believe he was a more liberal thinker than many of his Southern contemporaries. He made most of his fortune on the Chicago, and the New York Stock Exchanges. He was Presbyterian by faith, and around the time of the Civil War the denomination separated into Northern and Southern branches. Southern churches were more concervative on religious and social issues, and Mr. McIntire was uncomfortable with this and preferred the more liberal ideologies of the Northern churches. It may also tell us something about his beliefs that he chose to live the last twenty years of his life in New York.
While McIntire amassed his fortune in New York, he became impressed with the philanthropic efforts of men such as Morgan, Rockefeller, and Carnegie. When he returned to Charlottesville, it became his dream to enhance his hometown in the same manner. His philanthropy had to follow a different set of rules in the South. His gifts basically fell into four major categories, that being schools, scholarships, parks and a library. He established Charlottesville’s first public library, but because of local laws it only benefited white patrons. When we look back at history, we shouldn’t confuse the laws with the people. Charlottesville City Council enacted a segregation ordinance. Just because there may have been racists on the council, it doesn’t mean everybody agreed with these policies any more than we agree with some of today’s policies. Mr. McIntire donated large chunks of land for public parks, one for whites and another for blacks. If he was a racist, why would he bother to create a park for the black population? Whether it was his personal wish for this separation or not didn’t come into play, as Jim Crow laws prevented any other option.
It has already been stated that Mr. McIntire’s motives in establishing Lee Park was to honor his parents. As the country came back together after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee became somewhat of a national hero. The North and South achieved a considerable amount of reconciliation as they joined together for the Spanish American War. After that the Federal government returned captured battle flags, and Confederate bodies were moved to Arlington. Many citizens of the North looked upon General Lee as a rebel and a traitor after the war. As he was mythologized in the South for his values of chivalry, honor, and masculinity, the North began to concede to the facts of his greatness. When the statue of Lee was unveiled in Richmond the New York Times wrote, “Lee’s memory is a possession of the American people.
In a 1936 biography, Douglas Southhall Freeman wrote a biography of the man that Charlottesville City Council and its supporters wish to remove from our memory. “Robert E. Lee was one of the small company of great men in whom there is no inconsistency to explain, no enigma to be solved. What he seemed to be he was-a wholly human gentleman, the essential elements of whose positive character were two and only two, simplicity and spirituality.” History has recorded his surrender with dignity. Yes, he was a reluctant inheritor of slaves and freed them. After the war he entered academics at what was to become Washington and Lee University, and promoted healing for the country.
The only Southern leader to come close to Lee’s fame was Stonewall Jackson. He too epitomized the ideal of a Southern gentleman that the South wished to promote. Like Lee, it was unthinkable for him to take up arms against his native state. His military genius became revered around the world. Jackson was a devout Christian, and his faith guided his every action. Before the war, he was a professor at Virginia Military Institute. Unbelievably, a statue honoring him has already been removed from the institute. Slavery should never be romanticized, but few in his position did more for the enslaved. While he was a professor at VMI, Jackson began a Sunday School for black children. Needless to say, this was not a popular move at the time. It was against the law to educate African Americans before the war, but that didn’t stop Jackson and his wife. Once again, don’t confuse the government with the people. Jackson would remark that only God knew why these people were enslaved, but since they were God’s children they deserved to be treated accordingly.
A window into some of the white citizen’s romantic views of the Civil War during McIntire’s time, can be seen in the development of Jackson Park. The park is adjacent to Court Square, and by the 1910s black residents came to occupy every building on the west side of the square. This area was known as McKee Block. Paul McIntire quietly and systematically bought all of these buildings. Charlottesville’s local newspaper, The Daily Progress, aided in suppressing any concerns about these buildings being demolished to make room for the park by writing of their poor condition. This may have not been the case, as demolition crews had to take some of the buildings apart brick by brick because of their strength. The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors donated the street next to McKee Block for the project. Black presence on Court Square was entirely eliminated. This certainly doesn’t look good, and one does wonder at McIntire’s motives. Once again, Mr. McIntire had to abide by the rules of the day. As can be true today, the government and media of the time provided the scenario for Jackson Park to be accepted without dissent. One would wonder why McIntire was not present at the dedication.
Jackson Park was dedicated on May 5, 1909. It was a holiday for white Charlottesville. White children were excused from school and joined in the parade and festivities. Few black residents were invited, as the day’s program stated, “The colored men, who faithfully served as cooks and body servants during the war are invited to join in the procession and participate in the exercises.” The African American residents of Charlottesville simply did not have a voice in the civic structure of Charlottesville in the early 20th century. Thankfully that is no longer the case as Charlottesville has an African American mayor, police chief, city manager, fire chief, and on and on. Whoever is in power at the time makes the rules, and good and bad decisions are made no matter who is in charge. There is no difference in black resident’s concerns being ignored back then, as it is for my concerns to be ignored and even face ridicule today.
Paul McIntire was not on hand for the dedication, but Edwin Alderman who was the current president of the University gave the dedication address. His words echoed what many of the white residents of Charlottesville wanted to remember about the Confederacy. “Two generations ago a war fell out in this land. No war in human history was a sincerer conflict than this war. It was a war between brothers fate driven to the defense of two majestic ideals—the idea of local self-government and the idea of a federal union. To call it a rebellion is to speak ignorantly; to call it treason is to add viciousness to stupidity. It was a war of ideas, principles, political contentions, and of loyalty to ancient ideals of English freedom. I am not in the mood, nor is the world in the mood to praise war or to exalt force as an agent of human discipline, but I may justly claim that out of the flame and fire of this brothers’ war issued some of the noblest sanctities of human life and few undying names which the world will forever cherish for the enrichment of the spirit of mankind. We are gathered here in this central spot of an historic city, within the state which gave him birth, to set in place an equestrian statue of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, one of the greatest of the statured men, who passed without dispute in the glory of unconquerable youth, into the inner circle of the soldier-saints and heroes of the English race.” These words were the types of sentiments that the youth of the South were taught concerning the leaders of the Confederacy. This is why the taking down or moving their statues, or besmirching their memories in any way evokes intense passion. Many want these monuments not only taken away but destroyed. There are intelligent solutions to the problem out there, but with the fervor of the hate that some have for these statues, the situation has deteriorated to where some kind of compromise seems unlikely.
Times change, and with the changing of time comes other voices that can and should be heard. African Americans and other races that have not been as indoctrinated in the manner of Southern whites, may not look upon Lee and Jackson Parks with reverence. Many see them as symbols of slavery and oppression. I am not going to pretend that I understand everything that goes through these people’s minds when they see monuments to the Confederacy, but I am willing to listen. This is the problem that I encountered with many of the liberals in Charlottesville, they weren’t remotely interested in any other point of view other than to get rid of the statues. I use the word liberal because it’s an easy word to use, but I don’t like labels. I have been labeled many things from conservative to even a white supremacist because of my views on Confederate monuments, but I am neither. Most rational people tend to be more liberal on some issues, and more conservative towards others.
Charlottesville is a unique place to discuss race relations because of our favorite, or not so favorite son to some now, Thomas Jefferson. The contradiction there of course being that the author of the Declaration of Independence was a slaveholder. When his home Monticello was preserved as a national shrine in the 1920s, few might have thought it would become a place where slavery would be scrutinized. The link between Jefferson and a slave, Sally Hemmings, opened up a whole new chapter in how Jefferson and Monticello were portrayed. Hemming’s ancestors are now welcomed with open arms at Monticello, and there has been more effort there to depict the lives of slaves. Adding instead of subtraction is the way to go. Cancel culture only enrages those that are to be written off.
Another true statement that Trump made, was that the far left won’t be satisfied with only getting rid of Confederate images, that they would go after historical figures such as Jefferson and Washington. They have. Jefferson’s birthday was once celebrated as a holiday in Charlottesville. It was replaced as a city holiday to commemorate the day that Union troops arrived. At one city council meeting, I heard one activist call Jefferson a racist and a rapist. Then vice-mayor Wes Bellamy proclaimed that there was no way that Jefferson could have had a romantic relationship with Sally Hemmings. How does he know? I don’t think it impossible that he could have loved her.
I did have one of my goes at City Council when I learned of their plan to replace Jefferson’s birthday with a holiday celebrating the day when Union troops entered Charlottesville. The activist who called Jefferson a racist and a rapist gave me the idea. It didn’t go very well, because I didn’t present it very well, so maybe I can make it clearer now. It may also help to understand some of the white people’s mindsets when the monuments went up in Charlottesville. An unpublished memoir of Richard T. W. Duke, who was Albemarle’s County’s commonwealth attorney from 1916 to 1920, includes an account of Union troops raiding his home when he was 11. Paul McIntire was 11 at the time also. He wrote, “I am not, as a general rule, malicious or unforgiving, but to my dying day I shall hate and despise the miserable wretch that caught hold of my mother. I think I would know his brutal mean face today. I would like to kill him now-42 years after the event-and I would like to do it slowly and with deliberation.” Many residents of the Charlottesville and Albemarle County area, as well as others all over the South, saw Lee and Jackson as men who were trying to save their homes and families. Yes, there are contradictions in honoring Jefferson, but his contributions far exceeded his faults. The same is true of Lee and Jackson.
I truly believe that some people might think that the Confederacy was fighting against black people. We were fighting Yankees. Part of the disagreements between North and South arose from our westward expansions, as in would new territories become free or slave states. Many Northerners wanted free states not to keep slavery out, but to keep blacks out altogether. Lincoln thought one answer might be to colonize blacks on some offshore island. If some thought Jefferson a racist and a rapist, then “Liberation Day” as the new holiday is called celebrates other racists and rapists.
After Charlottesville did away with Jefferson’s birthday as a holiday, I tried to organize some sort of protest the next time his actual birthday rolled around. Because of the COVID problem, that turned out to be impossible. Once again, as with some of my other proposals, there didn’t seem to be much interest anyway. I had to be satisfied with going to City Hall alone, and placing a bouquet of flowers in front at his likeness on the side of the building. As I walked back to my car, I passed the headquarters of one of the local television stations. Just on the spur of the moment, I stopped and asked if they were interested in what I had done. Just some kind of acknowledgement for the man’s birthday who put Charlottesville on the map. They weren’t rude, but they were not interested.
Since the Civil War, there have been few memorials dedicated to recognizing slavery and the African American experience. During the short time of Reconstruction, when the rights of blacks were better enforced, there were celebrations of emancipation. New Years Day, and especially July 4th, were set apart by African Americans to celebrate their freedom. Certain parts of Southern towns were ceded to the black population on these days for parades, speeches, and celebrations. As Reconstruction ended, and the South spiraled back to its old ways of discrimination, these celebrations were repressed and faded away.
The powers that be, meaning white America, many times tried to paint a different picture of slavery. There was no lack of prejudice in the North, as well as the South. A mammy monument almost came to fruition during the 1920s in Washington D.C. Many whites in the North and South wanted to paint a picture where blacks were a simple people and needed Christian help. Slaves were often portrayed as being extremely loyal to their masters, and masters were often portrayed as being kind to their slaves. This was of course many times far from the truth, but it helped with the guilt, and made it easier to honor Confederate heroes. It also made it easier that slavery is mentioned many times in the Bible, and not always with condemnation.
Probably the best example of a monument to slavery is west of New Orleans, at the site of an old sugar cane plantation. John Cummings, a Louisiana trial lawyer, was a leader in this effort. He spearheaded the project that includes period buildings, sculpted figures, and commissioned artwork that depicts the lives, suffering, and revolt of Louisiana slaves. Toni Morrison, the author of Beloved, tells the story of a woman that kills her child rather than it become a slave. She started a road and bench project in Mississippi, which points out areas that were important to black history in that state. The University Of Virginia in Charlottesville has recently dedicated a monument to enslaved labor, since it was slaves that did much of the work in building the university. They get no award from me however, because they also removed plaques that honored the students who fought for the Confederacy. Being a student of the University, I know what they teach, and it’s not conciliatory to all views.
African Americans made strides in the 1960s, at least legally through civil rights legislation, and the efforts of people like Dr. King. I do not want to make light in any way the struggles of the black population, but until recently the situation seemed to be improving. In the 1980s Virginia was the first state in the country to elect an African American governor in Douglas Wilder. He tried to establish an U.S. slavery museum in Fredericksburg, but that effort ended in bankruptcy and failure. That showed we still had more work to do. There has also been an effort in Richmond to place a slavery museum in the Shockoe Bottom area of the city, where one of the largest slave markets in the United States was located. This would be a good addition to Monument Avenue in Richmond if there was much of a Monument Avenue any longer.
It will be hard for me to totally avoid what happened after the George Floyd killing and the Black Lives Matter movement that followed, but this book is about what happened in Charlottesville and what happened leading up to the summer of 2017. I do believe that the Black Lives movement has actually increased racism in the hearts of many. It has further divided people, much the same way that Charlottesville divided the local community. In trying to learn as much as possible about our local situation, I have attended a couple of Black Lives Matter rallies. Although the organizers were black, the majority of the participants were white. I am sure that there were various reasons for their presence, but I believe the overriding reason was guilt, and that is dangerous. Guilt is too easily exploited, and if you would like to read why from someone smarter than me, I would suggest White Guilt by Shelby Steele.
But once again, I want to focus on Charlottesville and what led up to the Unite the Right rally and the debacles before, during, and after. There has always been some undercurrent of resentment by some of Confederate imagery and monuments. Nationally, a flashpoint occurred on June 17, 2015. A young white man, Dylan Roof, murdered nine African American worshippers at Emanuel AME Church. The murderer touted white supremacy, and was pictured online with a Confederate flag. The governor of South Carolina ordered that the Confederate flag be removed from the State Capitol Grounds within weeks, and the discussions concerning Confederate memorials intensified all over the country.
In the Beginning
Back in March of 2016, then vice-mayor of the Charlottesville City Council Wes Bellamy, reportedly acting on a Charlottesville High School student’s petition to remove the Lee Statue, held a press conference in the park itself. With another councilor by his side, Kristin Szakos, Bellamy announced the city’s plan to tackle the issue. Szakos was actually the first councilor to publicly declare her desire to see the Confederate statues gone, she just didn’t possess the audacity of Bellamy. Among the speakers was Rick Turner, the former head of the local NAACP and also former Dean of African American Studies at UVA. Mr. Turner repeatedly referred to the statues as “trash.” There was equal passion from those gathered that opposed the statue removal, as the speakers were routinely harassed and shouted down. This type of disrespectful rhetoric was to dominate the controversy from that day forward. There was never any room for thoughtful discussion.
Not too long after this Lee Park press conference, I decided that the growing controversy might be a good pick for my Capstone Project for UVA. It was certainly a subject I was interested in, and there would be no shortage of information to draw from. It had quickly become a hot button topic in the community, and many people were discussing it. My intentions were to attend the first council meeting that dealt with the subject and take notes. Little did I know that I was setting myself up for months of anguish. In the beginning I was naive enough to believe that the community would never allow the removal of these monuments. The sentiments similar to mine were certainly there, but it turns out that those sentiments weren’t strong enough for many people to do much more than talk.
The evening of the first scheduled council meeting to discuss General Lee’s fate, the Virginia Flaggers held a rally in support of the monument. They are primarily known for erecting Confederate battle flags across the state. Their mission statement makes their position very clear. “We are citizens of the Commonwealth who stand against those that would desecrate our Confederate monuments and for our Confederate veterans.” It goes without saying that I support this statement, and I have financially supported them also, but I am not the type of person who would join such an organization. Openly waving a Confederate battle flag in public spaces is not a good idea, knowing there are those who will be strongly offended. This is only a personal opinion as I don’t like others in my face with their political and religious views, no matter if I agree or disagree. I do support their right to go about their own business as they see fit. One might argue that the Confederate monuments are in public spaces and offend, but these are inanimate objects that can be avoided and or brought into context. Most cities have multiple parks, and you can choose according to your taste.
I was eager to attend both the Flagger’s rally and the City Council meeting. Parking in Downtown Charlottesville is always a challenge, and I remember wondering how everyone would fit. Surely with all the talk around town there would be masses of humanity at Lee Park where the rally was to be held. It was more than disappointing to arrive and see that there were few in attendance other than the Flaggers themselves. Where were all the outraged citizens that I had seen and heard about? The rally passed fairly quietly, but it was the first time I heard the phrase black lives matter expressed, which was yelled from outside the park. When the leader of the Flaggers spoke, she did make the statement that as long as she has blood in her body that the statues will remain. I remember feeling comforted that there were those that felt as deeply.
The crowd at City Hall for the council meeting was a different story. Some of the overflowing crowd was seated in another room. There were Flaggers at the rally in period costume, and of course there was someone representing Lee, and he was there in the council chambers in full uniform. Mike Signer was the mayor at the time and I remember him smiling while making a remark about the crowd. You didn’t see many smiles from him in later meetings. I honestly think that the members of council had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They certainly didn’t seem to know that what they were preparing to do was against state law. A local television station had run a viewer poll that showed over 80% of responders favored leaving the parks alone. I’m sure those numbers have decreased from the recent onslaught by liberal media and Black Lives Matter movement, but at the time those numbers never showed up in council chambers. The brave souls that did show up to challenge City Hall were increasingly harassed by the crowd and sometimes by some members of the council themselves. Their numbers dwindled as the inexcusable treatment increased. There were time limits set for citizens to speak, and those that favored statue removal were routinely allowed to go over their time. It was hard for monument supporters to speak at all over the noise and interruptions, plus when their time was up, it was up. It didn’t take long for the often heard and well deserved nickname “city clowncil” to emerge. None of those city councilors remain in government to my knowledge. They either had the good sense not to run again, or after the events of the summer of 2017, were voted out.
At the beginning of the controversy, there were three schools of thought circulating as possible solutions. One answer was to simply do nothing. Another was to move the statues to another possibly less prominent location. McIntire Park was often heard as an option, since it bore the statue’s benefactors name, and the park is certainly large enough for the monuments to be out of plain sight. The third option was to somehow add something to the parks that promoted a more inclusive society, along with promoting African American heritage and history in other parts of the city. This last proposal seemed to me to be the common-sense solution. There was nothing even remotely linked to common sense in the way the local government addressed the issue.
During my research, I found a website from the Atlanta History Center that offers suggestions on how to contextualize Confederate monuments. In a kind of template, they offered the following wording for plaques and signs for the modern viewer. “This monument was created to recognize the dedication and sacrifice of Americans who fought to establish the Confederate slaveholding republic. Yet this monument must now remind us that their loss actually meant liberty, justice, and freedom for millions of people.” That’s all that was needed. I’m not going to pretend that I know how much it would have cost to erect these plaques in Lee Park, Jackson Park, and in front of the Albemarle Courthouse, but it would be considerably less than the fortune in legal fees, statue removal costs, and loss of life that occurred from what is actually happening.
What the council decided to do was what most government agencies do, which is to study the problem for a while. They appointed a nine-member blue ribbon commission to study the problem and come up with some recommendations. There were immediate murmurs from the community that the members of the commission were not a balanced representation of citizens. The deck seemed to be stacked with people that wanted the monuments gone.
Bellamy vs. Kessler
After six months of study and deliberations, which did include public forums, the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces came up with their recommendations. Before any suggestions were proposed, a commission member implored the council to make its decision on three principles that he called a “preamble” to the recommendations. “The Lee and Jackson statues belong in no public space unless their history and symbols of white supremacy are revealed, and their respective parks are transformed in ways that promote freedom and equity in our community.” Kind of sounds like the plaque idea from the previous chapter doesn’t it? Their proposal went on to say that, “Neither statue should be removed without keeping either of them accessible to view in Charlottesville,” “Neither statue should be moved without the vacated space being redesigned such that the history of the statues’ design, erection, existence and reason for removal are made highly visible so that this history isn’t hidden.” The Charlottesville City Council inevitably ignored all of the commission’s well thought out proposals. Whatever taxpayer money involved in the commission was wasted, with more waste to come.
I haven’t written much yet of the artistic value of the statues. The commission must have taken this into consideration in looking at the language of their proposals. The Lee statue was a collaboration between two of the most eminent sculptors of their times, Henry Merwin Shrady and Leo Lentelli. Shrady died before the sculpture was completed. On his deathbed, he instructed the doctors and nurses that someone had to keep the canvas wet over his clay model. The staff thought him delirious and ignored his rants. When Lentelli took over the project, he found the model almost ruined. Lentelli traveled to museums in Washington and Richmond and measured General Lee’s clothes and equipment to assure accuracy. The skeleton of Lee’s horse, Traveler was also measured for this same purpose. One of Shrady’s ancestors was listed as a plaintiff in the initial lawsuit against moving the Lee statue, and is to be applauded for his actions.
I have already stated that the Jackson statue is considered to be one of the finest examples of equestrian art in the world. It has also received the most attention from vandals. Undoubtedly the city has an insurance policy covering these statues, but haven’t bothered to file a claim. The vandals who were caught red handed chiseling chunks from Jackson’s statue have yet to be punished. More will be written later about the illegal tarp covering of the statues after the Unite the Right Rally. Those that I consider more heroic received swifter justice for removing these illegal tarps than statue vandals. Bottom line is that those in power make the rules. Back when the statues were erected, a different set of people made the rules. The liberal government now in place locally and statewide in Virginia has caused just as much division among its citizens with their holier than thou agenda.
In between the Blue-Ribbon Commission’s recommendations and the council’s first vote on the fate of the Lee statue, a new controversy arose. Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, who was always on the front line of the push to remove the statues became embroiled in a scandal. Jason Kessler, who would later become infamous as the main organizer of the Unite the Right Rally, revealed tweets from Mr. Bellamy that were racist, homophobic and sexist. Some of the more memorable ones were that he didn’t even like snow since it was white, and if a woman moans it can’t be rape. I can’t imagine what would happen to a white government official in today’s climate if the roles were reversed. Kessler argued that Bellamy dedicated himself, “almost exclusively to his Afro-centric racial agenda, running roughshod over the effete white liberals making up the Charlottesville Democratic Party,” I believe this to be a true statement, as I also believe that Kessler was pushing his own personal agenda, with his ties to right wing and white nationalist groups. Having the statue controversy tied to certain politicians or political party is not helpful. It becomes hard if not impossible to come up with a popular or sensible solution in the midst of partisan political squabbles.
Mr. Bellamy apologized for his statements, but made no denials. In response, then Governor Terry McAuliffe removed him from his appointed position on the Virginia Board of Education, and Bellamy voluntarily resigned his position as a teacher at Albemarle High School. I am an alumnus of AHS, and have heard more than one story of his favoritism to African American students. This of course is only hearsay, but his other public endeavors do point in that same direction. Not that being president of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, and Young Black Professional Network among others is a, no pun intended, black mark on your character, there needs to be at least somewhat of a balance as a public figure. Being Vice- Mayor of Charlottesville means that you represent all the citizens of Charlottesville. There is no difference in his mind set of the time, as when old white men dominated local politics in the past.
Mr. Bellamy’s credibility in the community certainly was damaged with much of the community, but the far left still viewed him as a champion. Jason Kessler’s petition to have him removed from council was thrown out of court over some type of technicality with the number of signatures it required. It seemed to be no stopping Charlottesville’s Confederate monument controversy from joining in on the recent national trend of passionately divided politics. A republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart, with ties to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, joined Kessler at several rallies in support. There wasn’t much sympathy in the community for the extremes of either side, and the majority that fell somewhere in the middle could only shake their heads and wait for what happened next.
On January 17th, 2017 Charlottesville City Council voted on motions concerning the fate of Lee and Jackson Park. Jackson park had been added to the agenda in a prior meeting. Many citizens were outraged when they were left without an answer. First came a vote on one of the motions that the commission had recommended, which was moving the statues to McIntire Park. Mayor Mike Signor and Councilor Kathy Galvin voted against the measure, citing public outrage, the cost, and legal and ethical concerns. So, in the beginning, two of the councilors at least had some kind of idea what kind of hornets’ nest they were playing with. That’s a good analogy for the whole debacle. If you get stung by a bee, you blame the bee until you realize there is somebody over there hitting the nest with a stick. Not to necessarily limit the blame of the white supremacists and Antifa types who later actually carried out the violence at the later rally, but these councilors and their cohorts were stirring their nest. Bellamy and Szakos as expected voted for the measure. The deciding vote was in the hands of Councilor Bob Fenwick.
Mr. Fenwick abstained from voting, saying the city should prioritize other issues. Mayor Signor struggled to keep order as shouts of ‘coward” and “shame” rang out. There was another vote on a motion to keep the statues in place, but that motion failed on a 3-2 vote. After the meeting Mayor Signor commented, “The question will be whether there will be an appetite among my colleagues for revisiting the pain and chaos that attended Mr. Fenwick’s actions and statements.” Of course, the Unite the Right Rally whetted that appetite, but at the time all I can remember thinking was who do these people think they are. How can these five people, who mostly if not totally don’t even come from this area, feel that they can decide for the entire community who and who not to honor. There should have been a public referendum. Other localities in Virginia have voted on whether or not to move their Confederate monuments. It is my personal opinion that if a vote of the community had been taken before the Unite the Right rally, the majority would have preferred the monuments remain and local polls backed this view. These councilors opened a wound and caused division that continues to this day.
Many were surprised when only days later Mr. Fenwick had a change of heart. At a press conference on January 26, Fenwick stated, “At the next council meeting on Feb. 6th, the motion to move the statue will be made again, and I will support the motion with a yes vote.” Fenwick went on to say that the council should ask state Attorney General Mark Herring about legal challenges the city might face. This would be something that a group with any common sense at all would have done before the issue was even debated. What they were trying to accomplish was against state law. This debate started in earnest in 2016, and as of this writing, it is now the beginning of 2021. The Virginia Supreme Court has just recently issued a ruling clearing the way for removal. The new Democratic majority in the state capital changed the law allowing localities to deal with their own monuments, but there are still hurdles for Charlottesville to clear in order to comply with requirements in the new state stature.
When the City Council reconvened on Feb. 6th, the expected 3-2 vote to move Lee’s statue came to fruition. After the Summer rally, that vote turned into a unanimous vote to not only move the statue, but to actually sell it to the highest bidder. I knew another unanimous vote to get rid of Stonewall Jackson’s statue was coming, and with seemingly no hope to save the monuments in sight, I decided to quit being a bystander.
Even if you like Donald Trump or not, or anyone else for that matter, there is something a lot of us need to learn. Even a bad person can be right about some things. This country is so divided at this point, if you don’t have the exact political ideologies as someone else, you run the risk of not being heard at all. By the time you read this book there will likely be another president, and I hope that when you disagree with him about one issue, you will not totally dismiss everything else the man has to say. Trump was right about some things. In addition to being right about there being good people on both sides in Charlottesville, he was borderline prophetic about the media. Much of mainstream media has always had a liberal slant, but after Trump’s election, much of the media simply turned into a mouthpiece for the left. Trump called this “fake news.” Just report the news and let us take from it what we will, and stop trying to tell us how to think.
Even the local news in Charlottesville was affected. When a situation arose, the reporters went out in search of activists. I don’t know how many headlines I have seen, and continue to see, start with the words “local activists say.” God bless some of these activists for their passion and diligence, but if you ask an activist something, there is a good chance that you are going to get an extreme answer. It is easy to see how those that don’t take the time, or lack the ability to think for themselves are persuaded with this extremism. If you are constantly told that if you support Confederate monuments, you are a bigoted, racist, white supremacist, there is a good chance that you will one day believe it. As stated before, most of us fall somewhere in the middle politically. If you were in the middle, or seeking a compromise in the Charlottesville situation, you had no voice whatsoever.
Speaking of extremism, in between the vote to remove Lee’s statue and the events of the Summer of 2017, there were a couple of extremist rallies. In May, Richard Spencer, who has been listed as a co-organizer along with Kessler of the Unite the Right Rally, held a protest in Lee Park. It was in the evening, and was illuminated by participants holding the now infamous tiki torches. It was reported that there was also the now familiar chant of, “Jews will not replace us,” and “Russians are our friends.” Apparently, they approved of Trump’s genial relationship with Putin. This type of behavior doesn’t help a cause any more than the destruction and looting of some Black Lives Matter protesters. Of course, it goes without saying that there were good people at those rallies also.
I was not aware of any counter protesters at this rally, probably because it wasn’t common knowledge that it was happening. I’m sure it was an intimidating sight, and probably meant to be. There was a candlelight vigil the next night designed to counteract this extreme level of hate. It continued to bother me that many people couldn’t separate the multitude of others that were opposed to the statue’s removal for their history, heritage, and artistic value. In comparison, if some antiabortionist is twisted enough to want to murder a doctor, it has little to do with sensible people that feel it is wrong. Why many people can no longer separate these types of personalities remains a mystery to me.
The Ku Klux Klan rally that occurred in July was a different story. A small group of Klan members from North Carolina was met with a large group of protesters, because it was known that they were coming. Some of the protesters got a little rowdy, and tear gas was deployed by the police. Many in the community were upset such a thing happened to demonstrations against a hate group. The simple answer is that breaking the law is breaking the law, no matter where the heart lies. This type of policing was relaxed in Charlottesville after the George Floyd killing and resulting demonstrations. Traffic was routinely blocked, and public rallies were held without any sort of required permits.
It was difficult for Kessler to obtain a permit for his rally, and he had to take legal action to acquire it. In the end, the first amendment prevailed as it should. The city however could have put limits on what could occur and it didn’t. It was suggested that certain types of weapons could have been banned, and that would have allowed the police to detain those with clubs and sticks and shields for example. There couldn’t have been any type of realization beforehand of the magnitude of the event, but nonetheless, the city seemed like they were taking a kind of flying by the seat of their pants approach. One of the reasons that I attended the rally, even though local residents were discouraged to do so, is that I had a feeling that for some reason history was being made. I wanted to see it.
I somehow became aware that there was to be a multi-denominational, come one come all church service on the eve of the rally. An opportunity for people of faith to come together and try to figure out what was going on and how to respond. By this time, I was ready and eager to be a part of anything related to what was happening. Personally, I knew that Kessler and his cronies were not my kind of people, but they were there to protest the removal of Lee’s statue, and by this time I had become more than passionate to this cause. The church where this event was to be held is within sight of UVA’s Rotunda, where on the same night, the tiki torch march ended.
I arrived early for the church service, and as I waited to enter, I occupied myself with one of my favorite pastimes of people watching. There were all types of people entering the church, and I remember thinking that some kind of lunatic could easily cause trouble. The city was on edge, and who knows what types of elements were wandering around. People were coming in from all parts of the country. By the looks of some of the people going in, I think they were just happy to be able to go inside an air-conditioned building on a summer night.
After I entered the church and found a seat, I continued to survey the crowd. I noticed Mayor Mike Signor in the front pew. There was an attractive woman standing along the wall that looked like UVA alumnus Katie Couric, and I suppose it was as I learned later that she was in town that weekend. One of the featured guests was Cornel West, and I had seen him multiple times on the Bill Maher show, and was interested in what he had to say.
It was for the most part, a quiet and reflective service. Many different speakers and performers of many different beliefs had their moment. One of the featured speakers continues to stand out in my memory. She taught me something that I never learned in all my years of Sunday School, that after David killed Goliath, he cut his head off. The reason she brought this up, is that she followed it up by saying that is what should have been done already to the Klan and others similar already. That got the crowd going. It has been said many times that the extreme right has incited violence, and sometimes this is true. On the other hand, it was surprising to me that violence would be incited in a church. It wasn’t direct, but as direct as some of the incitements to violence that Trump has been accused of.
I don’t remember if I left the service early, or as soon as I thought it was over. I found out later that people still there were told to stay inside for safety, as the tiki torch march was only steps away. It was a frightening sight no doubt, but as with the rally, it seemed that the best course of action was to stay away from the main action. Some people confronted the marchers and there was violence. There is in my view accepted violence, as in self-defense and, protecting loved ones for example. I see no reason for violence on either side of this particular issue. I would like to think I feel this way because I’m older and wiser, and know right from wrong. It is understandable that people who feel ignored and oppressed, for whatever cause or reason, get caught up in a situation and make mistakes. I would not have gone to any of the meetings or rallies I attended, if I thought it possible that I would become aggressive, and I was mad. The best course of action always was to allow these people to have their legal rally without incident and go away. Not even the clergy assembled shared my opinion.
Against all advice from pretty much everyone, I decided to attend the next day’s rally that actually never happened. I used to listen to other people more than I do now, many times resulting in bad results, so I have ended up relying increasingly on my own judgement. It has worked out pretty well overall. We would be better off if more people developed critical thinking skills. Anyway, my plan of action was to monitor the situation, and try to slip into Lee Park when I felt the coast was clear.
The coast wasn’t clear for a while. I didn’t make it through the crowd until after the rally was declared an unlawful assembly, and the damage was done. All I really saw was an empty and littered Lee Park guarded by police. Jackson Park was a different story, and was inhabited by militia types. I must admit that I was comfortable mingling with white people carrying assault rifles. Next, I walked down to the pedestrian Downtown Mall, and encountered a strong line of police stretched all the way across the width of the mall, and probably preventing anyone from getting close to City Hall. There were a few outbursts from those who were still milling around the mall, and a few water bottles thrown, but the situation had deescalated considerably. I saw no reason to be in the thick of it in the beginning, and didn’t know the extent of the violence until later.
As I made my way back to Lee Park, I noticed a young girl sitting alone on the corner across from the park. She seemed approachable, and I asked her permission to sit beside her. I didn’t ask, but she appeared to be of mixed race. I asked why she was there, and she shrugged saying that she was from Richmond and came because she thought something big was going to happen. She asked me why this happened. I did my best to explain to her all that I had seen leading up to this, and she like many others thought the blame was one sided, and lay on the right wing activists. After we talked, she knew there was plenty of blame to go around. Just that one conversation made it worthwhile for me to be there. I wish that I had taken a selfie of us, and there would have been documented proof of good people on both sides.
All Over but the Shouting
In putting this book together, I thought that maybe I should have spent more time describing what happened before the rally ended, but everybody knows what happened. That’s pretty much all most people know. Like everyone else, I had to find out from the media about all of the violence that occurred before I arrived. It quickly became a worldwide story, and part of me didn’t quite understand why. Sure, people died and many were hurt, which shouldn’t be downplayed at all, but there are occurrences that end up being much more violent and destructive than what happened in Charlottesville. What was it about this particular event that shocked everyone so deeply, and became such a force that it even inspired our next president to enter the race? We already knew that the Confederate monument issue was a hot topic, but mostly because the media chose to portray it in the earth-shaking fashion that it did. Before the media was finished with the story, those that didn’t know any better were led to believe that anyone who supported Confederate monuments were evil racists, when in fact there are liberal democrats that do not want the statues gone. As I noted earlier, two Democrats on Charlottesville City Council voted against moving the statues before the rally. Another one was on the fence. After the rally, many didn’t have the fortitude to stay with their convictions.
It made my skin crawl to see Charlottesville political leaders on national media denouncing the rally, when they were as responsible as anyone for Charlottesville’s troubles. Actions have consequences, and I can’t remember one city official taking any responsibility. Their decision to remove the Lee statue was breaking a state law. Never mind that five members of a council took it upon themselves to decide for everyone else who to honor, but anyone that dared to speak against their actions were treated with disrespect. Of course, there was no way for the country to realize the ineptitude of the Charlottesville city government unless they were told. When I visited other localities and people realized that I was from Charlottesville. They would shake their heads. For all they knew, Charlottesville was a place filled with racists and bigots. In reality, many of the rally instigators, and most of City Council are from outside the area. I don’t care if you lived in Central Virginia for fifty years, if you don’t have roots here, you think differently. Charlottesville was once a community to be proud of, where most of its residents lived and worked together. That is rapidly going away.
What mattered to me the most after the rally, was whether or not the Charlottesville police were given a stand down order so the violence that occurred would allow the rally to become an unlawful assembly. We may never know all the facts, but either way law enforcement messed up on this one. It has been said that they weren’t prepared, but they were there. You heard stories where protesters asked for help, and the police just stood by. The intersection where Heather Heyer was killed was supposed to be manned and it wasn’t. The State Police were there, but there was no coordination between them and local police. When the rally was declared an unlawful assembly, it appeared that the state cops pushed the rally participants out of the park straight into the face of the counter protesters. The Charlottesville Chief of Police did resign later, but the public continues to be kept in the dark about much of law enforcement’s strategy that day.
The criminal justice system didn’t do itself proud after some of the violent offenders were rounded up. One instance in particular left me scratching my head. There was a young African American beaten by a group of whites in a parking garage close to Lee Park. Those that did the beating were arrested, and of course should have been. Video was released of what led up to this. The young black man had grabbed a Confederate flag and tried to wrest it away from its owner. In the scuffle, the video showed the assailant clearly hitting the flag bearer with a large flashlight. That’s assault any way you look at it, plus why do you need a large metal flashlight in the middle of a warm August afternoon? There was also a gun discharged in the ground near a counter protester. The counter protester was aiming an improvised flamethrower at a rally participant. I just described four crimes, not two. The punishments were one sided.
In addition to the local police chief’s resignation, later the city manager resigned to take a job in another area. Jason Kessler has filed lawsuits against the city and the city manager over first amendment rights. He asked for phone records of the city manager for evidence, and was told that none exist. Just recently it was discovered that the manager’s phone is indeed available, but who knows if anything will be released. Now even four years later, the city government is in disarray. The Summer of 2017 is still being blamed for the dysfunction in the city. Frankly that’s bullshit. For some reason today’s society chooses to wallow in past and present miseries, and it seems to them an almost hopeless endeavor to move on. Prior generations have moved on from much greater horrors. Celebrating and or recognizing the anniversaries of bad events is a fairly recent phenomenon. Many World War Two veterans for example don’t like talking about their experiences. They came home and moved on. That’s what monuments are for, to honor the sacrifices of veterans no matter the cause.
The Charlottesville City Council in its continuing wisdom decided to cover the Lee and Jackson monuments with large tarps. Their claim was that it was to mourn the death of Heather Heyer. I don’t believe this. There is a period of grief, and once again one has to move on. The tarps would probably still be there if the city weren’t forced by a court decision to take them down. All they signified to most people was a reminder of the riots, and to the statue supporters, provocation for further anger. The tarps were illegally removed on many occasions, but they were illegally there. A couple of men were eventually caught removing the tarps, and it was a crime, however I felt no shame contributing to their legal fund. The statues had been defaced many times, and finally two people were arrested for this but there was no punishment to speak of. More on this later. The city wanted the statues gone, so why should they care if they were ruined?
Through all of this year of turmoil, there was still no answer to the fate of the two statues. I had come to realize however, that after the rally, the city government would have a clearer path for their removal. There was a city council vote coming on the Jackson statue, and I knew from the current rhetoric that it would likely be a unanimous vote this time to remove the statue. So far all I had done to try and save the statues was to attend all the rallies and meetings, and written a few letters to the editor stating my position. I hadn’t done enough, and now felt beaten. Just to be able to live with myself, I decided to go to the meeting when the vote was to be made, and somehow say something and then let it go.
Take Your Hat and Compromise and Go
The Charlottesville City Council meets on Mondays. After a full day of work, I had scheduled a music lesson. I have always been cursed with not being very good at things that I have had a passion for, such as music and athletics. Not that I was horrible at them, I just wasn’t good as I wanted to be, and it’s hard for me to not be good at something that I really care about. Anyway, I was going to try again with my guitar after work and then go to the council meeting. My first guitar lesson didn’t go well because I was already tired from work and couldn’t concentrate. I remember sitting on the side of the road with a cup of coffee afterwards, trying to be awake enough to drive downtown for the meeting.
Council chambers was packed again when I arrived. This had usually been the case ever since the Confederate monument issue had arisen. The meetings that I didn’t personally attend, I tried to at least follow them online and in the media. I knew that I would be facing a hostile crowd, but I still wasn’t aware of just how much these meetings had deteriorated into chaos. People were routinely allowed to shout down speakers that they didn’t agree with and little order was enforced. There was a limit of three minutes per speaker for public comment. If you were expressing any kind of conservative viewpoint, in addition to being shouted down, the time limit was enforced. If you were expressing a more liberal point of view, you were allowed to go over your time. I can remember one gentleman in particular that repeatedly used his time to call for civility. The crowd did their best to humiliate him every time. It was bad enough before the Unite the Right Rally, but afterwards nobody in authority had the courage to even attempt to entertain any consideration of anything but a leftist view.
It goes without saying that I’m not a public speaker. I much prefer writing down my thoughts. I did have some note cards with me with some points that I wanted to make, but I knew that once I got started that I would probably get lost. I have spoken at two or three council meetings, and at times anger has given me the courage, but my stomach was churning for this one. You are supposed to sign up for public comment beforehand, but I can’t remember if I did on this occasion. They usually asked if anyone else wished to speak after the people who had signed up finished, so I still had the option of speaking or backing out. I’m proud that I stood up and walked to the podium when my chance came.
The guy who used to stand up and ask for civility was probably taught manners as I was. A man is supposed to remove his hat indoors. I had gotten used to wearing a hat to cover up my balding, and struggled with the etiquette in these situations against my vanity. I had decided that I should still respect these councilors, so I removed my hat and placed it on the podium before I spoke. It was a daunting experience standing there, since you are on a lower level, looking up at these people as you would a judge in court.
Somewhere in one of my public speaking classes, I remember learning to start off with a joke, or to somehow lighten up a tough situation. I started off by saying that to ease a midlife crisis, I had returned to school, and explained about my thesis on the subject. I remember praising Mayor Signer on some of his stances before the rally. The council meetings are televised, and I have seen footage of my speech, but I haven’t looked at it in a long time and don’t wish to. It’s in the past, and I’m not fond of revisiting bad memories. Suffice it to say, that I spoke of political compromise. I wanted the council to consider what the majority of citizens wanted, and not just what the extreme left and right were proposing. I have always wanted the middle to have some kind of voice, but unfortunately in today’s society only extremism sells.
Anyway, the fight was over. I had lost, but I had at least said my piece. Time to go home and try and put it all behind me. As I walked away, I heard a voice say that I had forgotten my hat. It was Wes Bellamy. As I walked back and retrieved my hat, I heard the words that I have heard many times since. Bellamy said, “Take your hat, and your compromise with you.” The place went wild. The audience erupted with shouts, and started hurling insults my way. The only one that I remember making out was someone telling me that I had lost the war. I suppose they meant the Civil War, and the only response that I could think of was that we lost Vietnam too, but what has that got to do with anything. Like I said, I prefer writing, and thinking about what I say before I say it. Being taken aback and confused, I still had my head about me enough to know that I had to respond to Bellamy in some way. All that I could think to say to him was that I was going to take the tarps off the statues. I was planning on leaving after I spoke anyway, and now I knew that I would. Walking up the aisle to the exit among more jeering, I remember thinking that now I have to remove the tarps since I said it. Thankfully, others did that for me. I turned and looked back over my shoulder when I reached the door, and saw that Bellamy had risen out of his chair and was giving the black power salute. Instead of closure, I was determined at that moment to fight harder.
Time to Kick it Up a Notch
My appearance that night did create a little sensation around town. I didn’t know until I was told later, that local media had picked up the story. All it really accomplished was to make people that already disliked Bellamy and his like-minded associates dislike him more, and for those that thought he was some kind of a champion for the black community like him more. He was kind of like Trump in reverse. Trump seemed to be getting away with murder, and treating others with disrespect for liberal beliefs, and Bellamy was doing the same to the right. There is an attraction for that kind of personality, one that is bold and brazen enough to just put it out there and take the heat. At least you know what you’re dealing with. If you’re an ass, then be an ass, it’s easier to deal with those that are and show it, than those that are and double talk.
In my personal experience, as I went around Charlottesville it seemed to me that people were making an effort to be friendlier. Many of the instigators of the trouble that Summer had come from out of town. Residents of Charlottesville were embarrassed that this had happened in their community. Of course, the town was never perfect, as none are or ever will be. A neighborhood that was predominately black near downtown called Vinegar Hill had been razed in the past for development, which was a travesty. This incident was brought up over and over for evidence of Charlottesville’s racist past. Once again, this is something that the powers that be did, not the people. But as far as the people went, I always felt that everyone in the community had found a way to work and live together in relative harmony. There had undoubtedly been improvement anyway. This Confederate monument controversy was threatening to overturn decades of improved race relations. To me and many other locals, the main fault for this lay at the feet of the local government.
When people study history, they often learn about what the elites of a certain period were up to and their governments. For example, back in the early 20th century, the Charlottesville City Council enacted a segregation ordinance. The people didn’t. Before the Civil War, I’m sure the elites in state government were worried about losing their slaves, but the poor farmer who had his home and barn burned wasn’t. If he fought, he fought because of an invasion. If you were defending your home from the government, you shouldn’t be labeled a traitor. People want to combine everyone into one little neat package in order to make it easier to hate, but there were many reasons to fight. It seems that many feel all the Old South was nothing more than a bunch of people running around that looked like Colonel Sanders oppressing others. They were a minority. Now in Charlottesville, the local government along with a few very vocal supporters, who are also a minority, were trying to shove something else down the people’s throat that we didn’t want. Of course, looking at Charlottesville from the outside, most were too lazy to look at the intricacies of the situation. National and world media led people to think that Charlottesville was a home to racists and bigots.
I was mad, and because of the publicity of what had happened to me at the council meeting, I now had somewhat of a voice. I decided to try and use it. It had occurred to me that one of the only things that may get these people’s attention was money, or rather the loss of it. A boycott of the businesses in Charlottesville on a large scale would put some pressure on them. Because of letters I had written to the local paper, along with my new notoriety, I felt the paper may be willing to help me. After contacting a reporter, they seemed willing and able to come with a camera crew, and we set up a time to meet downtown.
As I was getting ready to leave, I got the unexpected news that my uncle had passed away. I canceled my meeting with the press and headed home. When I got there all worked up, I was pretty much instructed to cool my jets. Going home can be a humbling experience. My mother in particular wanted me to shut up, as she was worried that I would come to some harm for being too vocal. So for a while I just sat and simmered. Writing turned into a kind of therapy. The editor of the local paper was kind enough to print many of the thoughts that constantly entered my mind.
There really didn’t need to be any major movement to boycott Charlottesville anyway. It was rapidly turning into a place where many longtime residents didn’t want to be. The pedestrian mall downtown, which is only a block down from the Confederate monuments, had become a very popular place to be. It was also increasingly becoming a place where the homeless and panhandlers hung out. It goes without saying that we need to be sympathetic to those less fortunate, but one doesn’t wish to be accosted every time they go out shopping or dining. On top of the anger that many felt over the city’s handling of the situation with the statues, the bumbling response to the Unite the Right rally, now downtown was not as safe. People were staying away from Charlottesville. The COVID pandemic of course made this worse, and the city did lose a lot of revenue. Things are bouncing back now, and memories are short.
I can remember being at one council meeting where one of the councilors suggested building a six-figure restroom for the homeless. Parking space downtown has always been a problem, and another genius move was to reinstall parking meters. Even they figured out how dumb that was to further discourage visitors. With all that has happened then and now with the COVID-19 crisis, there are plenty of parking spaces now. Still the newly elected city government has decided to build a multi-million-dollar parking garage.
The parking garage reminds me of another big idea I had. At one point, Albemarle County was thinking about pulling their courts out of the downtown area. As I have stated the courthouse is on county property that was never annexed by the city. It is a historical building that dates back to Colonial times. Jackson’s statue is already there. Lee is only a block or two away. What a great place to have a museum. The slave auction block is close by along with other historical plaques and remembrances. Move Lee over there and give us a block. Just one block. The city could use the old Lee Park to honor whoever they like, nobody would care. Instead, the city and county decided to remodel the existing buildings, and the cities’ contribution to this would be the new parking garage. Of course, the new garage will include demolishing a couple businesses that have been on the site for years.
The University of Virginia once brought a level of stability and credibility to Charlottesville. They have also ruffled some local’s feathers. Plaques honoring UVA alumni that fought for the Confederacy once adorned the school’s Rotunda. The Board of Visitors, like the city, bent to a vocal minority and removed them. I have considered returning my hard-earned UVA degree over this, along with other cowardly acts, and still may. Recently they have decided to remove a monument honoring another local, George Rogers Clark, from Grounds. Apparently, the monument’s supposed depiction of his dominance over American Indians is too much to bear for public viewing. The government sponsored and supported the American military in ravaging the Native Americans. This cannot be forgotten and hidden away.
Not to say that Charlottesville doesn’t remain a somewhat attractive place for people to live. It has just lost most of its small-town charm, and now is losing much of its history. Longtime residents hardly recognize it any longer.
At some point during this mess, it was a cousin of mine that actually stood up and made a stand. Everywhere you went people were talking about Charlottesville, but that’s pretty much all most people did was talk. My cousin Pat started an organization called “Rise Charlottesville.” Its mission was to recall every single member of city council. Her petitions garnered a lot of signatures. On its website. The thoughts of much of the community was expressed. “The Charlottesville we loved, nearly has been ruined by reckless lawmakers. Our city our Charlottesville has become a punchline to a bad joke. An example of what not to be. Irrational decisions and incompetent decisions can have devastating consequences on a community. Charlottesville is living proof of that. City Councilors who have refused to take responsibility of their actions and inaction must be held responsible. Positions of honor should be held by people of honor. Charlottesville can and must do better.
I don’t travel that much, but when I do I hesitate before I respond to the question of where I’m from. Actually, you only have to cross the Charlottesville, and now Albemarle County line before you receive a shake of the head when you mention your hometown. It seems like it took no time at all to turn one of the most attractive places to be in the country into a more unattractive place to be.
Y’all Keep Electing Them Democrats
A lot of people would try and reassure me that there was no way the statues would be taken down because it was against state law to do so. Turns out that was true, but laws can be changed and it was. The 2018 election loaded the Virginia State Legislature with Democrats, and along with Democratic governor Ralph Northam, it took little time to allow localities to do as they wished with their monuments. I once considered myself a moderate democrat, but since they are becoming extinct, one can’t be something that doesn’t exist. In my old age, I agree with more conservative policies, but it’s hard to call myself a Republican, so for now I’ll go with being an Independent. Most Americans lean towards liberalism on some issues, and are more conservative on others, but there is no party that serves them.
Governor Northam became embroiled in a scandal that concerned him wearing blackface while in college. He survived this scandal, but to atone for his sins, he was more than willing to go along with any leftist agenda associated with racism. A group that called themselves the Monument Fund, did step up to try and fight legally, but when the law was changed, it was little that could be done. This group even consisted of one of the ancestors of the sculptor of one of the monuments. The statues probably still stand because of the efforts of this group, but legal decisions from higher courts are just delaying the inevitable. It was disappointing that before the common soldier monument was removed from Court Square, my calls for help to the lawyers associated with this group were ignored.
Over the agonizing time that the fate of the statues was debated, they were defaced and attacked many times in many different ways. From graffiti to splashing paint, to the actual chiseling away at these great works of arts. Little was done by the powers that be in the city, because they wanted them gone anyway. There is an organization in Charlottesville called Crime Stoppers, where cash rewards are offered for information leading to the arrest of some of the more higher profile crimes. I got the idea to call them and see if I could put up a reward for information about whoever was knocking chunks of granite from the monuments. I was received warmly, and the main honcho of this organization was even a sympathizer to the cause. He said that my proposal would be put before their board for approval, and it was approved. A thousand bucks is a pretty substantial sum of money for me, but I was proud and happy that it was going to happen.
Of course, the more money that was available, the more likely it was that someone would step forward with information. I had met Rob Schilling, a local conservative radio host, at a political fundraiser. He was kind enough to allow me to come on his show, tell my story, and ask for contributions. It was a hard thing to do, but it turned out alright. Once again, with all the talk around town, still little help came my way. My cousin who started the Rise Charlottesville movement and her husband were one of the few who helped.
However, as luck would have it, a man was arrested chiseling at Jackson’s statue one night along with his lookout. After many delays, these two finally had their day in court. Felony charges were dropped, and they were given 30 day suspended sentences. Basically, there was no punishment. The commonwealth attorney proclaimed that the closest thing to an owner of the monuments was the city manager, and he felt there was no need for restitution. The damage done was ignored by the city. Finally, through Facebook I believe, I got wind of a group that was actually doing something called the Monument Guards.
The leader of this group was one of the men caught removing the tarps from the statues. I contacted him to offer my services. They watched both the Lee and Jackson Parks at shifts all night. I contacted this group because I still felt like I was not doing enough. We felt like we were just trying to save the statues from any more damage before they were taken away. They are still there, so I will always be grateful for the sacrifice these folks made.
I must admit that I was only on duty a couple of times. There was talk after the Black Lives Matter Movement started that some of these people were armed, and I didn’t want any part of that. I remember guarding the Jackson statue with a radio in one hand, and my cell phone in the other to call the police in case there was trouble. Word was that the Charlottesville police were sympathetic to our cause, and I can remember sitting there in the dark feeling like Barney Fife, hoping nothing would happen. One gentleman pulled up to my position with his car lights off that scared me to death, but he only wanted to offer appreciation.
It wasn’t a game, but at times it seemed to be. Many times, paint was splashed on the statues instead of some type of uniform attack. That was because if you shook a can of spray paint, it could be heard and hopefully be stopped. Defund the police was painted on the ground, and these gentlemen would change it to fund the police. It was thought by some that the monuments were not destroyed because the people of Charlottesville were better than that. The monuments are still standing in large part because these good people stood up against slander and constant adversity. The leader of the group was even assaulted, but once again the courts saw no need to punish someone for doing the city’s business. If and when the Lee and Jackson monuments are ever moved, the monument guards would be on the top of my list to decide their placement.
The Book Signing
Wes Bellamy wrote a book. He professed to do this as a therapeutic exercise, to try and come to terms if you will, with all that he had been through. It sucks when people hate you, but then again you reap what you sow. Mike Signor had also written a book, and since I haven’t read either one, unlike some critics I don’t comment on books I haven’t read. One of the passages that I know was in Bellamy’s book dealt with Bellamy’s confession that he had done a lot of growing up while on Council. Local conservative talk show host Rob Schilling had read on air a letter I wrote stating what I felt was obvious. A person should not run for any office that affects a large number of people until they grow up.
I must say that I was interested in what else Mr. Bellamy had to say in his book. The dilemma I faced was giving money to him. People wondered exactly where Mr. Bellamy got his money. He had a wife and kids which requires money. He dressed nice and had nice jewelry that takes money. He popped up at events around town where other people would be hard pressed to attend if they had jobs. I along with many others felt like he was being bankrolled by some benefactor behind the scenes. There again I only have rumors to rely on for this statement, but something certainly seemed fishy. He had lost his teaching job and that wouldn’t have paid for this lifestyle anyway.
It came to my attention that Mr. Bellamy was to have a book signing downtown, and I decided that I couldn’t miss out on this, even after a tough day at work. Even on the drive there I was still wrestling with whether or not that I was going to buy the book. It was fun though, thinking of how I might ask him to sign. As is my habit, I was running early and decided to stop at a happy hour in a bar close to where the event was to be held. After a couple of bourbon and cokes, I came to the conclusion that I would indeed buy the book. For some reason I was getting into a congenial mood.
Unlike my usual self, as I strolled into the room for the book signing, my mood was still congenial with even a little cockiness to boot. I even had my hat on backwards. Funny thing though; there were no books. Who ever heard of a book signing with no books? Don’t know what the problem was there, but it did seem to be preparations for a show on the stage in the auditorium. In my present state, I had no problems taking a prominent seat to myself up front.
Bellamy did some hand shaking upon his entrance into the room, and at one point came close to where I was seated. I stood up and reached out my hand which he took. I told him that I was going to keep my hat on this time, referring to our altercation in council chambers. I thought I saw a hint of recognition in his face, and he said something about me doing whatever I wanted to do.
At some point, I got up to find a restroom in order to get rid of some of the bourbon, and I spied Mayor Walker. I’m not sure if she recognized me or not, but she sure seemed to be looking at me pretty hard. Earlier in the year, I had attended a film festival that featured the black experience. Mayor Walker was a featured guest along with Charles Barbour. Barbour was the first black mayor back in the 70’s I believe it was, and Walker of course the current black mayor. I had taken the opportunity at the festival to ask both these people the same question. The question was whether or not institutional racism or societal racism was the biggest problem. Walker had said both were a problem, and Barbour had said that cultural racism was the problem because institutions react to what’s going on in society. I disagree. As with the Charlottesville problem, society has become more racist because of the racism coming from our institutions. Whether it be government or academia, the attacks they have made on a large part of the citizenry cannot be received without bitterness.
It didn’t take long to find out that Mr. Bellamy did indeed recognize me when we shook hands. When he started his spiel about mistakes he had made because of his immaturity, he looked at me and used me as an example. He actually apologized to me from the stage. Whether he meant it or was trying to avoid a scene since I was in the front row ready to go who knows? Still feeling all warm and fuzzy I smiled and for some reason raised my fist a bit. He gave me a double take, probably wondering if I was doing some kind of white power salute but I wasn’t.
One thing that Bellamy said that stood out to me was that he had come to realize that there were people who didn’t look like him that wanted the same things that he did. Wow, he must have been really immature starting out if he didn’t know this. There was a limited time for questions after his talk, and to Bellamy’s credit, he did call on me when I raised my hand. My question was along the same lines as the one that I had asked the two mayors. I reminded him that it was Charlottesville City Council that back in the day enacted the segregation ordinance, not the people. I guess that I was trying to have him take some responsibility for the damage done to the city by asking him if the local government was to blame for the actions they had taken. It was against popular opinion to get rid of the statues, at least in the beginning when the decision was made. I got a vague run around answer that I shouldn’t have let go. Leaving the event, it made me feel better when a man of color said he really appreciated my question, and it had.made him think. Some people’s minds will never be changed, and that has to be accepted. When I get frustrated, it gives me some comfort that there might be some people that I might be able to reach with what I say or write.
Sacagawea and the Slave Auction Block
A book chronicling Charlottesville’s mishandling of historical monuments has to include the continuing debate over what is to be the fate of the city’s other memorials. We have covered the Confederate monuments and those owned by UVA, but the high and mighty city council was not yet done. First there is the Lewis and Clark statue that stands in the middle of a busy intersection. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were both local residents. Jefferson of course directed these men to explore the country’s new Louisiana Purchase. Once again, it was the generosity of Paul McIntire that allowed the city to enjoy this magnificent statue for decades.
One might wonder what could possibly be the problem with a memorial honoring these remarkable explorers. Well Sacagawea, their Native American guide and translator is also depicted in the statue. She was so critical to the expedition, that no less than the sculptor himself insisted on her inclusion. So, it was decided by God knows who, that Sacagawea is portrayed in a subservient position to Lewis and Clark. She is kneeling behind them in what the distractors claim is a cowering posture. Common sense would tell most that the sculptor probably didn’t insist on including her, only to make fun of her.
Others have said that she was bent over as if tracking, or searching for the best route. Some have suggested that the statue is showing Lewis and Clark’s first view of the Pacific Ocean, and Sacagawea is awed by the sight. Who knows? Once again it doesn’t make any sense to include her in the monument to only ridicule her.
City council decided they needed some input from other Native Americans. The idea made sense, but the way they went about it was ridiculous. There is this device called a telephone, where you can contact others for little cost for their opinions. The council used taxpayer money for an all-expense paid trip for whatever Native Americans they dug up to come to Charlottesville, view the statue, and give their opinion. If somebody gave me a free trip, I might even tend to agree with some of my host’s opinions, and of course they did.
So the Lewis and Clark monument needs to go. There is to be some type of street reconfiguration at the intersection where the statue sits, and removing it is part of the plan. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this new streetscape project makes about as much sense as the new parking garage Downtown for nobody. The problem has arisen however of a tighter budget, and how much the taxpayers will have to fork over for the project. The council’s answer to this, is their announcement that whoever wants it, and can afford to remove it, can come and get it.
Back at Court Square, on the other side of the courthouse from the Jackson monument, there was a plaque in the sidewalk that shows where there was a slave auction block. I am not even going to attempt to describe what this place means to some African Americans, any more than they can say what is in my heart. Without a doubt, the memory of this place needs to be honored by more than just a plaque in the sidewalk. There is no memorial there at the present time, because it was stolen, and that is another interesting story.
One evening, in the dead of night, someone dug up the plaque and took it away. The authorities were understandably upset, and called the crime an outrage. This public statement was more pronounced of course than after any of the attacks on the Confederate monuments, as in there usually wasn’t any from the Charlottesville police. They felt of course that it was probably the work of some evil white supremacist, when it turned out that the perpetrator was actually on their side. The criminal was in fact an elderly man who felt that the plaque was indeed insufficient in honoring the African Americans sold there, and it needed to be replaced. Whole new ballgame. It’s a wonder they didn’t give him a medal.
So, whenever there is a new monument at the slave auction block site, as with the Sacagawea situation, descendants of local slaves will have a say in what will go into the new memorial. This makes sense, I just wish that the city would have asked the opinion of some Confederate descendants how they felt about their monuments.
I have written about how many states began serious discussions about what was to become of their Confederate imagery back in 2015. In the summer of that year, a young white man, Dylan Roof murdered nine African American worshippers in a Charleston South Carolina church. The reaction to that incident however paled in comparison to what happened to the mood of the country after the death of George Floyd.
There was a Black Lives Matter Movement before Floyd’s death, but afterwards it jumped to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Pretty much everyone walking around, except perhaps the most radical bigot and racist, realize that black lives matter. In my opinion, the organization itself is racist. It continues to amaze me how many people just follow. Whatever the woke crowd is into must be the thing to go along with. If people would just take a minute to stop and think, and maybe look into other points of view, it may reduce a lot of trouble. The old argument of there not being enough time just doesn’t fly. If you have time to sit in front of a television or computer screen for hours, you have time to think before you speak or act, or especially vote. Sometimes the popular opinion is flat out wrong.
I dare to say that the black lives movement is racist, because I took the time to attend several rallies, and followed those that I did not attend. In the first place, anything that separates us by color is racist. The government asks you what race you are. When you are filling out an application for a job, they ask you. Black student unions, and black history studies are racist. Imagine if there were white student unions. The leaders of the BLM protests at the rallies I attended only asked if there were any black participants who would like to speak. The fallout from this movement did however turn the tide of popular opinions from a majority of residents of Charlottesville and surrounding areas wanting the Confederate monuments to stay, to getting rid of the monuments being the least that could be done.
Funny thing about the BLM rallies in Charlottesville. They turned into a predominately white event. I went to one in Court Square that was easily 80% white. The reasons for these white people’s guilt escape me. There is no one alive that is either a slave or a slave holder. Even back in the day, it was the elites that owned slaves, but to hear them talk we are all guilty, and every Southerner that sacrificed so much are guilty. That’s what I mean about hoping that people would just stop and think for a minute. If you group all whites, blacks, Asians, Native Americans together at any point in history and condemn them all for some transgression is absurd.
No matter what you think of Jason Kessler and his Unite the Right Rally, he had a legal permit to do what he did, or attempted. The authorities in Charlottesville gave BLM activists free rein to do whatever they wished. They blocked traffic in busy intersections. They harassed diners on the downtown mall. I remember one rally on what was Father’s Day, where those who were minding their own business trying to have a nice meal endured bullhorns in their ears.
Of course, along with the attack on us no slaveholders, the movement was predominantly focused on the police. The Charlottesville police actually allowed a protest directly outside of their headquarters, where once again traffic was blocked and the streets defaced. No matter how noble you think your cause is, if you break the law there are usually consequences. I have no problem with civil unrest for a cause, but this was totally ignored. If you feel that strongly about a cause, then you shouldn’t have any problem being locked up when you break the law because of it. Many civil rights activists back in the 60s suffered much worse.
The BLM movement was all it took to basically destroy Monument Avenue in Richmond. You can’t fight racism with racism. There is room to erect monuments to honor whoever. I would not even presume that I would have the arrogance to tell another person, race or ethnic group who they should set apart to pay homage to. The Black Lives Movement is divisive and has only reversed many years of progress. When I try to talk with BLM activists, or antifa supporters, and I try to say that race relations were better before all this nonsense happened, I always get the same response. That being that maybe things were better for me. Maybe, but it can’t be disputed that race relations have been set back many years by far-left people attacking white people. Those that were already racist, are more so. Those that had questions about people that don’t look like them are more apt to buy into old stereotypes.
I don’t know if this will be the last chapter or not. The saga that is Charlottesville goes on and on. When I started writing this, the Albemarle County statue was coming down. The issue had already been agonizingly debated for years. As I write this chapter, there is news that the Virginia Supreme Court has sided with the city, and they can proceed with the removals. There are good and not so good people celebrating this news, as I and others would be if the decision had gone another way.
To assure that there is always some bone of contention in Charlottesville, the current mayor has put herself on the hot seat again. In addition to questionable spending of public funds, she now is undergoing scrutiny for a poem that she posted on Facebook. It compares Charlottesville to a rapist that wraps you in cum stained sheets, and wants you to keep its secrets. I am personally not offended by vulgar language, but this seems a bit much to be publicly coming out of an elected official’s mouth. I think you can tell people just about anything, if you know how to say it, but I don’t think the mayor has that particular ability. One argument from her defenders was that Trump also used vulgar language. That is childish logic, as in this person did something bad, so I can do it too.
There is another present city councilor that I am friends with on Facebook. We disagree with many things political, but from what I can tell he is a well informed and decent man. I use him as an example of the “good people on both sides” argument. He butts heads with the mayor a lot, as she of course feels that many of his thoughts and ideas come from white privilege. I reminded those that were debating a post on his Facebook page that the mayor had called him a white supremacist, and the mayor joined in the discussion denying it. Both statements came from the horse’s mouth, so both can’t be right. I know that the mayor told me that my idea of achieving unity came from roots of racism and oppression. Maybe that’s not flat out calling me a racist, but that is what I got out of it.
It is nearly impossible to be on the side of preserving Confederate history, and not being labeled a white supremacist or racist. I don’t know everything about the people I argue against, and they certainly don’t know what is in my heart. It has been well documented what kind of people Lee and Jackson were. How could Jackson, while fighting for the Confederacy, still contribute money for the spiritual and academic education of black children? The same reason I can honor my ancestors and still believe in the equality of all people.
The Lee and Jackson monuments still stand in Charlottesville as I finish this up. Barring a miracle, that won’t be the case for very much longer. I just hope that they are not destroyed. There is a small town just outside of the Charlottesville and Albemarle area called Gordonsville. It has a museum there that once was a Confederate hospital. I have proposed that this would be an excellent place for one or both of the monuments to be placed. Although it would be in another county, it would still be close enough for those of us that hold these statues dear to view them.
A combination of events occurred in Charlottesville that almost got me. A conservative political candidate had a rally in Charlottesville, and having some free time I decided to attend. There were more Black Lives Matter and Antifa types there than those that wanted to get to know this new candidate. There were bullhorns and protest signs shoved in his face. I found myself defending him very loudly. They had gotten to me. I was acting like them. I excused myself before I totally lost it.
About the same time, the verdict came down concerning the men that were arrested defacing the Jackson statue. I was further enraged. There is a monument dedicated to freedom of speech outside of City Hall. It consists mainly of a chalkboard where people can express whatever they like. I got to thinking that in Charlottesville, a freedom of speech monument was becoming as irrelevant as the Confederate monument detractors feel the statues are. Only one side of the story is usually told, and that is the liberal side. I was so enraged, that I was seriously thinking about taking a sledgehammer to the freedom of speech monument. After calming down, once again I realized that the far left had gotten me. They were dragging me down to their level, and would have been delighted if I had done something so stupid. On top of that, I’m sure that I would have received a much higher sentence for defacing that monument than those that damaged the Confederate statues. I had to do something however to once again ease my frustrations, and all I could think of was to contact Rob Schilling again and ask him for some time on his radio show.
I went on the show after one of the men who were arrested for taking the tarps off the statues, and was assaulted by leftists. He was also the man who started the monument guards. During his time on air, he explained how he had spent almost a month in jail for his so-called crimes. He also told about being assaulted, and the perpetrators of this were excused from any punishment in court. He ended by saying that justice is dead in Charlottesville. Hard to argue with that assessment with the left getting away with everything they have tried so far. If there is no punishment for their illegal actions, their crimes against the community will escalate if not given what they want. They can already block streets, deface property, and assault those that stand against them at their pleasure.
When it was my turn at the microphone, I relayed my experiences at the political rally, and my anger over the verdict from the statue vandal’s trial. How enraged I had become, and if a fairly mild-mannered person like me can feel this way, what must be going through more radical minds. I suppose it was a type of cautionary tale, as in like-minded individuals as me can’t be dragged down to the level of some of these leftist activists. I also expressed the basic fact that the Confederate monuments will be leaving Charlottesville, and I just hoped that they won’t be destroyed and placed somewhere they will be appreciated.
I will end this writing with something that I should have been saying all along. There has to be somebody out there with the resources and the courage to step forward on these monuments’ behalf. I have the courage, but not the resources to save these priceless monuments from an ugly fate. If I did, I would buy them tomorrow. If someone would only step forward with a common-sense plan, all of my efforts would be more than rewarded.