David McNair

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Lee Statue in Charlottesville: from Tulips to Terror in a few short years

In Activism, History, People, Politics on October 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Occupy Charlottesville protesters occupied Lee Park in 2011, and while that created a lot of local controversy, the Lee statue loomed quietly over the affair. photo: Dave McNair/The Hook

By David McNair

Now that the symbolism of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia has literally exploded into our consciousness, it’s easy to forget how blind we were to it just a short time ago. The truth is, only a few years before the idea of removing the Lee statue became an issue, you’d have been hard pressed to find many people in town, especially white people, who thought of the statue as being even remotely controversial. In fact, if you’d of made an argument that it was controversial you’d have likely been causally dismissed. Even worse, you might have even been confronted with bigotry and ignorance. For example, take a look at some of the public comments at a City Council meeting in February 2015 that were politely allowed during a debate on whether or not to celebrate Lee/Jackson Day:

“Liberals impose their opinions to change history. Lee/Jackson holiday was only recently subverted as a racist holiday by liberals. We cannot erase history.”

“This was a war about money, not slavery.”

“Im tired of people asking to be treated specially without working for it. Me and my family worked hard for what we have.”

“This sets a dangerous precedent and is a slight to all veterans.”

“I’m ashamed of those in this room [who are] not giving everyone respect. Gen. Lee was against slavery and released his slaves before the war. He said the south was not fighting against slavery, but about an overbearing government.”

Eugene Williams, a local civil rights activist and icon, argued for years that the statues, and other monuments like the slave block plaque at Court Square, needed to be historically repurposed to better, and more acurately commemorate the dark past associated with them.  And while there were certainly thoughtful people here who agreed with him, there was neither the political will or popular concern to do anything about it.

Remember when Occupy Charlottesville, our local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement, occupied Lee Park in 2011? Right beneath the Lee statue I remember talking to people who were as mad as hell about the widening gap between rich and poor, and with the predatory practices of the government bailed-out banking industry, but I don’t remember hearing even a casual reference to the symbolism of the Lee statue.

Likewise, in 2009, the City responded to concerns that Sacajawea’s representation on the Lewis & Clark monument, crouched beneath the two men in bronze, underplayed her importance to the expedition, by commissioning a special plaque to her, and invited two of Sacajawea’s descendent to author the text. The city also invited several of Sacajawea’s descendants from Idaho to an afternoon dedication ceremony for the plaque. But I don’t recall anyone expressing any concern about the Lee statue just a few blocks away.

On an April day in 2012, The Hook’s only concern about the Lee statue was that the tulips planted around it were coming up earlier: “When we photographed General Robert E. Lee two years ago at tulip time, that picture was taken on April 20,” said a Snap-o-the-Day feature. “ This year, General Lee’s tulips are at peak April 2, lending some credence to observations that blooms are about three weeks earlier this spring.”

Seriously, the absence of any kind of controversy surrounding the statue, just five years ago, was profound and deeply rooted. Indeed, so deeply rooted that there are people who still don’t understand what all the fuss is about it now.

But what a fuss there has been. Events already detailed by The DTM inflamed what had been a pretty civil debate about what to do about our Confederate statues, once a 15-year old African-American student and a 30-year old African-American Vice Mayor made the idea of removing or repurposing the statues and issue — nearly 100 years after they went up, we might add. But by the time the weekend of August 12, 2017 rolled around the tensions surrounding the decision by City Council to remove the Lee statue had already reached a fever pitch.

How —when just five years ago our only concern about the Lee statue was the fact that the tulips planted around it had come up early — did we get to a point where people would be killed over it?

Ira Bashkow, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at UVA, recently wrote a smart analysis of what happened in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, and what we might learn from it.

“And to many Charlottesville locals, the statue they were defending is itself a relic of racial intimidation,” he writes. “It was erected in a year, 1924, when the Ku Klux Klan held open parades in Charlottesville and burned at least 10 crosses, some near historically black neighborhoods, and when Virginia enacted its infamous Racial Integrity Act, prohibiting interracial marriage by the “one drop rule.” The statue is in fact an artifact of that resurgent white supremacy movement, which invented the idealized vision of the Confederate “lost cause” while subjecting blacks to tightened Jim Crow legal restrictions, segregation, disenfranchisement, and racial terror.”

All true about the origins of the statue, but as we already mentioned, “many Charlottesville locals” had not bothered to really see the statue for what it was, to feel what it was, and instead intellectualized its history and meaning. However, the effort to have it removed lifted the veil on what was right in front of us all along, and it wasn’t pretty.

“Although life has outwardly returned to normal, many who reside here remain deeply troubled by the intense racially motivated violence that took place in spaces and streets we traverse every day,” Bashkow writes. “ The overtness of the racism has exposed old wounds and pressurized old fissures. We are not only feeling the effects of the explicit trauma, we are also experiencing moral trauma: Many in the community are troubled by our own internal conflicts and by the shortcomings—grasped only in hindsight—of our collective response to the extraordinary challenges of those two days.”

Again, all true, but how can we be suddenly surprised and troubled by the “racially motivated violence” that takes place in the “spaces and streets we traverse everyday” when embedded in one of those streets we traverse everyday, just blocks from the Lee statue, is a plaque marking the spot of a slave auction block, and that just blocks in the other direction is an entire African-American neighborhood that was demolished without a trace?

This has been a long-time coming, and we’re finally feeling the pain, which is perhaps why we chose not to see it for so long. And the hard part now? There’s no going back.

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

In Activism, History, People, Politics, UVA on August 25, 2017 at 11:53 am

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Vintage DTM: Main Street 100 years ago

In History, Photos on October 2, 2014 at 10:54 am

Main Street, Looking East:  This image is from a photo postcard showing Main Street in Charlottesville as seen from the base of Vinegar Hill over 100 years ago.   Interestingly, Main Street was first paved with bricks. It was a dirt street prior to this.  Asphalt would come a few years later and then Main Street would return to bricks in the 1970s as the pedestrian mall we know today.  An electric trolley (seen here) ran down the street in the early 20th Century and continued all the way to the University.  Today, this is the west end of the Downtown Mall. The brick building on the left with three windows on the second story is where Mudhouse coffee shop is today.  This postcard was mailed from Charlottesville to Fishersville, VA on June 4, 1910 at 4:30 pm. This postcard is just one of 100s in the collection of former Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris.  Dave will be joining C’ville Images next Thursday at C’ville Coffee to share some of the amazing photos and stories from his collection.  Details at www.cvilleimages.com

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Seven reasons why you ought to check out the Jefferson School City Center

In Food & Wine, History on August 6, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Jeff School-aMaybe it’s because it’s across McIntire Road, so not technically on the DTM, or because they haven’t been doing enough marketing, but it’s hard to believe there aren’t more people checking out the Jefferson School City Center. This is a real cool downtown asset!

1)  Free, easy access parking in its own two-level parking garage

2)  An African-American Heritage Center with exhibits in what used to be an African-American School located in an African-American neighborhood that was razed by urban renewal in the 1960s.

3) A full-service recreation center with a gym, state-of-the-art fitness center, teen center, all kinds of classes, pick-up basketball games, which is priced reasonably.

4)  A healing arts center with yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage.

5)  A community center for seniors and children

6)  A woman’s support group offering counseling, social support, and education

7)  A full-service café/restaurant whose profits go to a meals program for seniors. Also hosts art exhibits and free live music.

 

Vintage DTM: pre-Ice Park view of the West End

In History, Photos on July 20, 2014 at 11:36 pm

This view of the west entrance to the Downtown Mall was taken in the 1980s from the top of what historically is known as “Vinegar Hill”. This is after the Omni Hotel was constructed (1984) but well before the ice park. The paved street seen here is Water Street but Main Street once ran down Vinegar Hill in the center of this view.  More vintage photos of Charlottesville at www.cvilleimages.com (photo from the Preston Coiner Collection at C’ville Images)

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Vintage DTM: pre-DTM view of 5th Street

In History, Photos on June 28, 2014 at 4:52 pm

-19This view of downtown Charlottesville is looking north on 5th Street East from Water Street. The photograph was taken in 1972 before the construction of the Downtown Mall.  Main Street at that time had a major furniture store (M.C.Thomas) and also a full-service grocery store (Reid’s) that faced East Main Street in the 500 block and had its own parking garage underneath. Tragically, Reid’s Supermarket would later burn down, but the business still continues today on Preston Avenue.  Also seen in this photo in the distance is the Monticello Hotel and part of the Albemarle County Court House on Court Square. More vintage photos at www.cvilleimages.com

Vintage DTM: Roseberry on Main, 1963

In History, Photos on June 2, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Main Street, 1963.  This photograph by Ed Roseberry shows the 200 and 300 blocks of East Main Street (looking west from about Fourth St.) A full decade before the Downtown Mall would be built, automobile traffic flowed one-way (west) at the time.  Note the businesses along Main Street: the tall building to the right was Miller & Rhoads.  Arthur’s Grill is a few doors down.  The Paramount Theater had an enormous vertical sign back then.  More of Ed Roseberry’s vintage photographs can be seen at an upcoming slideshow on June 11 at C’ville Coffee.  Details at www.cvilleimages.com

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Vintage DTM: Woolworth’s, Miller’s in the 1980s

In History, Photos on May 14, 2014 at 8:36 pm

-16This photograph of the 100 block of West Main Street shows patio seating for what appears to be Miller’s on the Downtown Mall. Miller’s opened in in 1981 in the former Miller’s drugstore.  This section of the DTM was installed several years after the original brick-paved pedestrian mall.  Note that the Willow Oak trees in the next block are significantly larger than those in the foreground. (Of course, also note what the Willow Oaks look like compared to what they look like now!) Miller’s is still in business today but many of the other businesses seen in this photo, including the Woolworth’s at First and Main, are long gone. Although this image came to us undated, a fair guess is that this is mid-late 1980s. More vintage Charlottesville photos at www.cvilleimages.com

 

 

 

 

Vintage DTM: Dogwood Festival Parade

In History, Photos on April 14, 2014 at 9:49 am
With the 2014 Dogwood Festival in full swing, Vintage DTM looks back to one of the last Dogwood Festival Parades that would navigate Main Street downtown before the construction of the pedestrian mall.  This photograph shows East Main at Third Street. The bank building (still there today) stands in the back ground, as well as Williams’ Corner Shop (where Virginia National Bank currently has a branch).  We are fairly certain this is 1973 and the Dogwood Festival Court is on the float.  In any case, this was one of the rare night parades for the Dogwood Festival. One other bit of trivia:  despite the 2014 festival being called the “65th Dogwood Festival” the Dogwood Festival has actually only been going on since 1958.  If you do the math, things don’t add up.  The answer:  prior to the Dogwood Festival, Charlottesville’s annual festival was held in the autumn and called the “Apple Harvest Festival.”  The several years of that event are included in the 65 years.  Photo credit: Ed Roseberry. Vintage DTM is produced by C’ville Images. More vintage photos at www.cvilleimages.com
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Vintage DTM: South First Street, 80s style

In History, Photos on March 18, 2014 at 12:02 pm

This undated photo shows South First Street, possibly in the early-mid 1980s.  The brick pedestrian mall is in place along Main Street by this time but not yet on some of the side streets.  Today this block is pedestrian-only with the exception of a couple of parking spots near Water Street.  All of the shops along here have changed in the last three decades including the building on the left where there are now stairs and access to the basement level (location of The Southern). The numbering of streets downtown has created a central point to the city at First and Main where all the addresses go up from 100 in all directions and the city is divided into the four quadrants (NE, NW, SE, and SW)  Earlier in the 19th Century First Street was known as Green Street. “Vintage DTM” is produced by C’ville Images (http://www.cvilleimages.com)

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