February is Black History Month, a time when schools across the country dutifully trot out lessons about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. In 2015, a minor firestorm ensued when Orange County High School students connected the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today’s Black Lives Matter movement in a school performance, and an anonymous
deputy complained on Facebook.
“It’s supposed to be black history, not black current events,” another parent, who also worked in law enforcement, told C-VILLE.
Similar complaints have cropped up at other schools when Black History Month events draw a line from the inequities of our past to the problems of the present. But racism can’t be safely contained in feel-good plays. The past, as William Faulkner famously observed, “is never dead. It’s not even past.”
We live in a city that was literally built by black people, in a county that, at the end of the Civil War, was majority black, but which more than a century later is still dominated by monuments to Confederate soldiers. In this week’s cover story, we document the ways our local government, schools, university, and community members are unearthing and commemorating black history in Charlottesville, not out of some wan impulse toward “political correctness,” but because this is our history, and any story that disregards it is incomplete. As Charlene Green, head of the Office of Human Rights, tells us, “You may think that what happened only affects someone else, but it affects you.”
In 2019, as we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in Virginia, as our elected officials continue to struggle for the right to control our own monuments, and as our governor has unexpectedly prompted a conversation on the legacy of blackface as entertainment, we are fairly freighted with the past. The question is what we do with it. —Laura Longhine