By the biggest of coincidences I was in Charlottesville the weekend of the recent protests. My husband, who rarely has to travel outside of AL for work, had to take a deposition in a small Pennsylvania town not far from Charlottesville. Since we’ve both wanted to visit Monticello (the home of Thomas Jefferson), the University of VA, and wine country, all located in Charlottesville, we decided to make it a weekend trip. We’d never been before — it would be fun.
We had no idea, until during an ATL layover to Charlottesville, there was to be a Unite The Right rally. Wait–What? And that I should be careful. Holy crap.
What were the odds?
When we arrived in Charlottesville, for a nano-second Bo and I thought about going to the anti-protest. But we quickly decided nothing good could possibly come out of rally where tiki torches were required for the side we wouldn’t be supporting. Also, the fact that we were two white people from Alabama who just happened to be in Charlottesville for the very first time…we thought the optics may not be so good (sorry AL, I don’t make the rules). We decided to scrap any events we planned to do downtown, stay away from campus for a while, and stick to our weekend of wine, mountains, and American History emersion at Monticello.
In addition, some more context. You see, I’m born yankee. However, in addition to living in Ohio, Minnesota and Illinois, have lived the majority of my life in southern towns (North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama). My husband has lived in the south his entire life. Robert E. Lee rhetoric is nothing new. Typically, protests are small gatherings of mainly pissy, older white men with nothing better to do. Although I completely disagree with the sentiments shared at these these protests, and have always been baffled why there were so many statues of the General committed to spitting our union, and confused why there where tributes to the guy on the losing side, and couldn’t believe that these weren’t in museums yet, and couldn’t imagine being non-white and seeing these “revered monuments” all over an American city I paid taxes in…the protests were typically non-violent, discussed over the water cooler the next day, and forgotten. For better or worse.
Bo and I hoped the event in Charlottesville would just be more of the same. We were wrong.
It wasn’t until late Saturday afternoon that reports infiltrated our tourist cocoon. When Bo’s mom called his cell, that was our clue something had happened for she is the bell-weather of any events that may effect us. While Bo’s mom was telling us from Alabama what was happening 6 miles from us, others at the winery were getting calls too. Mostly family members telling the latest news that someone was killed at the protest. Jesus.
We felt like shits saying, with a glass of wine in hand, that we were OK.
So here is what I need to share with people about the experience. Almost every person we encountered from Charlottesville was desperate to ensure us this is not Charlottesville. Riots are not Charlottesville. Violence is not Charlottesville. The locals we encountered we horrified their city was in the middle of something outside of their control.
So that is what I am going to share. I am going to share the message the locals we talked to wanted all to understand. I’m also going to thank people who kept me and my husband safe and informed, and for the record they were all different races.
- To our African-American waiter at IHOP (really the nicest guy you’d hope to meet), who made us smile in spite of insanity around us, we thank you.
- To the Middle-Eastern staff at The Afghan Kabob, who served us late since most other restaurants were closed, we thank you.
- To the Caucasian worker at the Jefferson winery who gave us updates on what was happening in town, we thank you.
- To locals at the winery and Monticello giving us updates, we thank you.
- To the Caucasian and Hispanic UVA guards at the hotel who stayed up all night, made our stay safe, and ensured we were OK, we thank you. And yes, their were guards. We were staying at a UVA hotel not too far from the Jefferson Statue; aka Tiki Torch Central.
And finally to the shops throughout the city, who displayed these signs the day of the rally, we thank you.
I’m not naive enough to think any town, no matter who you talk to on a vacation, is immune from bigotry, ignorance, and racism. But for the two days we were there, two pretty remarkable days, we saw some of the best in Charlottesville during a time when the worst was rearing it’s head.
Charlottesville, you’ll be alright.