I don't usually write much about my thoughts on politics because of my job—my opinions are my own, known to those close to me but not publicly shared for fear that others will perceive my convictions as biasing the reporting that I do. It can be frustrating to keep my mouth shut, but in the grand scheme of things, I believe I can do more for my country by prioritizing my work, which I strive every day to keep objective, over my subjective beliefs. My job is usually to exercise my powers of listening and encourage others to exercise their powers of speech.
Having said that, I hardly think that expressing disgust for white supremacy is "politics," and if people consider that point up for debate, then we are further gone as a country than I had hoped we were.
What can I say about Charlottesville that hasn't been said already? I wasn't there on August 11-12, but I've been there countless times before. Of all of the places that I ever thought bloodshed would occur, that would have been one of the last. I grieve for the lives lost and for the increasingly clear signals that this is only the opening salvo in a war that will continue to be fought between decency and hate.
Like many others in Richmond, the commonwealth and the nation, I've been glued to coverage of this weekend's events since Friday. I was proud to hear Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney denounce unequivocally the bigotry and racism on display in Charlottesville. But I've been troubled too by the rhetoric of "this is not us" that has followed the hours of tragedy. I understand the emotion behind it: This isn't who we want to be. This isn't who we should be.
But the reality is that as a society, as a whole, this is a powerful strand of who we are. And if we really want to change that—and I truly believe that the majority of us do—we need to confront the fact that this racism has always been a defining characteristic of the American experience. As McAuliffe said at the Richmond Slavery Reconciliation Statue Sunday, "We all need to have some self-reflection on how did we get to this point." And unusually for a politician, he was explicit about that: "We know in Virginia we've had a horrible history with civil rights issues."
He's right. That history has been horrible. It has also been very, very recent. The Klan and its white supremacist kin did not simply come to Virginia this weekend; they have been here from the beginning, and they have remained, sometimes underground and sometimes out in the open, up to the present. A large percentage of the population of the commonwealth alive today can remember their activities clearly, because they were so public and because they unfolded when many of those people were already adults. These people remember.
That isn't opinion. That is fact. And that got me researching, through the incredibly rich newspaper archives of the Library of Virginia, for just how present white supremacy has been in Virginia. What I found was more even that I expected, and it's clear to me that this project will take a long time to finish. But here is a beginning of that task, drawn from firsthand reporting: a timeline of all of the openly white supremacist activity in Virginia since the close of the Civil War.
I'll be continuing to work on this, but if you know of a rally, a cross burning or some other explicitly white supremacist event that has taken place here, drop me a line.