Talk to him: Activist scoffs at racial tension plan” by Lisa Provence, Jan. 22, 2009, The Hook
This article itself is symbolic of what’s wrong with Charlottesville. The reporter describes Eugene Williams as a “longtime civil rights activist.” She leaves it to the reader to assume that Williams is a supporter of civil rights for all citizens. What I’ve heard from Williams in the last decade leads me to question that assumption.
Williams calls the no-parking-from-9pm-to-5am signs around Friendship Court (Garrett Square) “racist” because parking like that isn’t restricted elsewhere in town. But Williams has no problem with Garrett Square itself, a blatant civil rights violation from the 1970s. The public housing site was seized in the early ‘70s, torn down 1977, and sold to the private sector. Piedmont Housing Alliance bought the 150-unit property in 2002. Williams doesn’t deny or confirm the crime and drug dealing that prompted the signs.
Of course I haven’t read the 4-page letter. And I also haven’t heard Williams speak on the connection between public housing and racial tensions. Residential segregation seems not to be on his radar.
Williams also “alleges that some city government departments are all white.” How is that racist? Does he have proof that qualified blacks have applied and been discriminated against? No. He’s using the racist technique of looking at skin color, not substance.
Back in 2000 City Council candidate John Bright made the same charge against the police department, alleging that the upper ranks were disproportionately white. Turns out the lower ranking black officers did not want the positions of greater responsibility for whatever reason. Racism was alleged where there was none. Besides city sheriff Cornelia Johnson stood as an example of a high ranking black officer. After 12 years in office, she’s retiring this year.
“Racism is getting worse,” 81-year-old Williams is quoted. “He lists high unemployment and academic underachievement facing many African Americans here. Blacks are not doing well. That [Downtown] Mall is a no-man’s territory for black people” What racist person is forcing blacks to drop out of school and be unqualified for jobs? I’ve seen black people downtown hanging out, shopping and working. Does Williams want to impose quotas and percentages?
City Councilor Holly Edwards says, “Everything [Eugene Williams] is saying is true.” What about the things he’s not saying, the issues and circumstances he’s omitting?
Williams wants the white City Manager Gary O’Connell to handle the race discussion instead of the black assistant city manager Maurice Jones. “A black is assigned the black problem.” More racism on Williams’ part. I think it’s counterproductive to have discussions where blacks call whites racist. If Jones leads the discussion, the consultant should be white to encourage white people to participate.
In my view, Williams is listing animals in the room but leaving off the list the elephant crowding out everything else. What is that elephant? Urban renewal, public housing, civil rights violations, redevelopment, residential segregation. Williams is looking through the glasses he wore as a young man and seeing today’s Charlottesville as if it were the 1950s and ‘60s. The progress made is invisible to him.
Perhaps Williams and readers of The Hook could request that the urban renewal archives be released online to the public so we can see how big the elephant is. Dr. Scot French, Director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia has those archives since Nov. 2007, including 6,845 physical documents and 1,189 photos. Former assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney donated in 2006 the archives to the Carter G. Woodson Institute, who talked about the project Feb. 24, 2007, and without keeping a copy or record, passed them on to Dr. French, who was in Ghana Jan. 9, 2009 when I made my most recent inquiry. Contact Virginia Center for Digital History
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Ask your City Councilors (Dave Norris, Satyendra Huja, Holly Edwards, David Brown, Julian Taliaferro) how we can have an informed discussion of race relations in Charlottesville without this information.Dr. Scot French talks about post-Civil War / Pre-1950s Vinegar Hill history Feb. 24, 2007, at First Baptist Church 632 West Main, site of first Jefferson School 1865