Sunday marked the end of Charlottesville’s Liberation and Freedom Days, a week of events intended to commemorate the arrival of Union troops in Charlottesville in 1865. Though you’d never know it from our public monuments, for the majority of Albemarle residents those troops heralded freedom, not defeat (at the time, 53 percent of our local population was enslaved).
The final event of the week was a discussion of intergenerational trauma in African Americans. An emerging field of study in psychology, this research suggests that deeply traumatic events (like slavery and segregation) can leave traces, not just in one person’s life, but through multiple generations.
It’s an interesting thing to think about this week, as former mayor Mike Signer releases his own account of the events of the “Summer of Hate,” and the Virginia legislature has finally passed a law that could allow Charlottesville to move our Confederate monuments.
If the memorials bill is signed by Governor Ralph Northam, Generals Lee and Jackson could be out of our downtown parks by this fall. But the trauma they’ve caused—from their original erection in whites-only parks at the height of Jim Crow, to the white supremacist violence unleashed in their defense in 2017, will leave its trace.
The city could take a page from Dr. Jennifer Young Brown, who told the crowd on Sunday that the first step in healing from and halting intergenerational trauma is to recognize it. “Once we acknowledge there is a thing to mourn, we can move forward,” she said.
The legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in Charlottesville won’t disappear when the monuments come down. But if we continue to grapple with that history and hurt, we can build something better in its place.