Why Charlottesville? How a Facebook comment, an unknown blogger, and some old tweets inflamed a debate about race and monuments

By David McNair

On October 4 last year the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia hosted a free event featuring Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, for which local best-selling author John Grisham was the emcee. There was a packed house for the event, “Rooting Out Injustice: Poverty, Race and the Role of Legal Aid,” and Garza got the kind of welcome you’d expect in a liberal town like Charlottesville. She spoke about combating the concept of white supremacy and how institutional racism affects people of color in our justice and educational systems.

At the time, if you told people in Charlottesville that hundreds of angry white supremacists and neo-nazis would rally in a park just steps away from the theater the following summer, they’d have thought you were crazy.

“We have to be courageous enough to face what whiteness means and what the impact is on our everyday lives,” Garza told the audience, at a beautifully restored old theater that still has what was a “blacks only” entrance on the side of the building. “For white people who want to help, the first and best thing you can do is to face what whiteness means. We cannot win justice on our own — we cannot continue to be the inspiration for justice without the full participation of everyone in our society.”

During the event, a local real estate broker, Roger Voisinet, posted a photo and comment on is his Facebook page: “Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter now at the Paramount working for dignity for everyone. If you want peace work for justice,” he wrote.

Voisinet, a long-time resident of Charlottesville with close to 1,800 Facebook friends, received various supportive comments on his post, but one would stick out. Douglas Muir, a local restaurant owner and adjunct lecturer at the engineering school and the Darden School of Business, decided to post this comment: “‘Black lives matter is the biggest rasist [sic] organisation [sic] since the clan [sic]. Are you kidding me. Disgusting!!!’” he wrote.

muir post

Wes Bellamy, Charlottesville’s 30-year old Vice Mayor, had been making headlines as a young black leader in our community by calling for the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee near the Downtown Mall, along with with a 15-year old Charlottesville student named Zyahna Bryant, who petitioned City Council to remove the statue, and whom Bellamy presented as a “warrior” for the cause at a March press conference in front of the statue. “When people come to this park, they should never feel uncomfortable,” Bryany told the crowd. “We are in 2016. Things have changed, and they are going to change.” Read more…

Activism History People Politics UVA

David McNair View All →

writer. journalist. editor

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I find this narrative incredibly helpful, seeing the roots of violence in the ways we casually share our opinions at immature reactive moments in our lives, not taking into account the way our language hurts others. I found myself treasuring the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication as I read your article. In Marshall Rosenberg’s work, he tries to teach us how are words hurt, but how are basic needs that underlie the communication, yearn to be understood. When people are tweeting distructive messages about people they disrespect, there is harm being created. The fight is being spurred on. I only imagine as I read this article what it might have been like if the two gentlemen in the Twitter and tweeting dialogues might have had a mediated conversation to get some understanding, instead of simply protesting each other through judgment and shaming.

  2. Great summary of our very recent unpleasant past. Our street strongly held views about race and society need to be delivered respectfully– especially to those who we disagree with. Don’t post or tweet something you wouldn’t say face-to-face, and don’t say anything face-to-face to someone you disagree with in way different from how you would speak to someone whose opinion you care about.

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