Monday, July 26, 2010

The State of Race in Charlottesville

More on the black lady Charlottesville is named for.

Charlottesville, Va.—This essay attempts to describe the local race problems as I see them. The issues are relevant to the current discussions on race at the national and local level, which seem ongoing if you look back at the ten years I have been following local politics.

Let’s start with the most immediate story first: Racial violence in the public schools.

It wasn’t until 2006, after a spike in violence at Buford Middle School, the omission from media of any description of the violence, and a teenage thug walking down my street with a baseball bat tapping his hand as he looked at me in Black Panther style, that I decided to become less subtle about the race discussion. All those emotions from decades earlier came flooding back.

Here’s the letter The Daily Progress declined to print because I couldn’t prove what’s common knowledge. That’s right—everybody knows about it. I also take Kendra Hamilton and Charles Barbour to task for their racist remarks (“Race Violence in our Schools?”, Apr. 10, 2006). A couple weeks later I exposed School Board members Ned Michie, Lea Puryear, and Juandiego Wade for sympathizing with the violent thugs. At the candidates forum, Karen Waters let slip that she’s known the violence has been going on a long time. The outrage at the lack of school safety was just the latest “obsession with violence”. The two most informed candidates, Charlie Kollmansperger and Vance High, were not elected (“Democrats regain monopoly in Charlottesville: School Board weak on safety”, May 4, 2006).

History of Restraint

However, I didn’t bring up race on April 13, 2000 at the Education Summit at Charlottesville High School when I was running for City Council. The first words out of my mouth were “This is a violent school,” as my voice trembled. I was the only candidate of the nine that year who had attended city schools. The solutions I proposed that night apply to any student or teacher regardless of skin color. None of those proposals has been adopted.

I didn’t bring up race on June 5, 2000 at the City Council public hearing to name the 9th-10th Street Connector after Sally Hemings. That night I delivered two speeches on urban renewal, widely perceived as an anti-black government program. I explained the Constitutional guarantee against this program for redevelopment and public housing. I received thunderous applause from a mostly black audience.

But not so for the second speech. My opening and closing lines were:

The connector should be named for two people, Sally Hemings and Laura Dowell, a black woman in a white country and a white woman in a black neighborhood, a slave who was property and a free woman who slaved to own property [taken by urban renewal]. Call it Property Street…

I was trying to bring the two races together by showing one thing they have in common—blatant due process violations. But only a handful of people applauded at the rear of the auditorium. The applause from this tiny minority was a gauge as to how unpopular my calls for civil rights would be.

No newspaper recorded the history of some dude asking Mayor Virginia Daugherty to investigate urban renewal followed by thunderous applause. So the papers haven’t reported on City Council ignoring racial issues. No reporter spoke to me although I handed them copies of the speeches. So the public didn’t know an anti-urban renewal campaign had just begun. But everyone I talked to knew. (Does anyone have video of City Council June 5, 2000? What a blast from the past that would be!)

I didn’t bring up race in 2002 when I exposed a Daily Progress letter-to-the-editor trick when five pro-Bern Ewert letters appeared the three days prior to the Democratic convention. Each letter cited housing rehabilitation as a reason to vote for Ewert. But I knew it was code for urban renewal, which occurred on a larger scale than Vinegar Hill and from 1971-1976 while Ewert was assistant city manager.

If not for me, Ewert may have been elected. But he indirectly addressed my charges in his convention speech, came across as angry, and the rhetoric didn’t make sense to a younger generation. At that convention, the word “property” was not spoken in 2 hours of 18 speeches. I was there.

I didn’t bring up race the same year when I broke the story that our record drought is 1977—not 2002 or 1930 as Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority was claiming. It turns out that urban renewal officials in 1977—Rich Collins and city manger Cole Hendrix—were in charge of our water as chairman and executive director. Why didn’t they tell anybody about this drought? It’s still too controversial for people even to refer to 1977. Now they’ll say 1930 and 2002 and 1970s. (Anyone remember the “Cole Hendrix Reservoir of Shame” cartoon?)

I didn’t bring up race in 2003 when I campaigned for the Republican nomination to oppose Mitch Van Yahres. The chairman of the Republicans Bob Hodous had been on the Housing Authority board of directors in 1977 when the Housing Authority bulldozed for the location of Garrett Square / Friendship Court public housing. But Hodous seemed unfamiliar with events he played a role in. I bear some blame because I expected strong resistance and may have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Can you imagine seeing a debate between a man who voted for urban renewal and a man whose family was displaced and disempowered by those votes? That’s how I planned to hype the campaign. Two years later Van Yahres announced his retirement March 5 on my birthday and in the neighborhood that disappeared from history with Van Yahres’ support and decades of silence.

But I did bring up race briefly in 2005 when I applied for the last appointed School Board before it became elected. One reason I gave for seeking the position was I would address race issues directly. What would you do if you were on City Council and covering up black-on-white violence in the schools? Well, you wouldn’t appoint someone who might speak the truth and let the chips fall.

The final interview of applicants was open to the public thanks to Councilor Rob Schilling. Previously and subsequently—when an interim appointment was made before the elected school board took effect—the interview was held behind closed doors. On that day June 23, 2005 the US Supreme Court handed down its ruling that eminent domain for economic development is somehow Constitutional.

And the next day Charlottesville celebrated in the ACAC urban renewal area at Fridays After Five with band American Dumpster. So many ironies were in effect that it seemed surreal. Mayor David Brown and Blake Caravati were quoted in the newpaper that they couldn’t imagine this city ever using eminent domain. Caravati was a Councilor when I delivered my first speeches on eminent domain. Assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney called me and presented 8 photos of 6 house at site of Friendship Court. Small-Toney later claimed I had been given access to the full archives—over 1,000 photos and over 6,000 documents. Councilor Holly Edwards, “historian” Scot French and Housing Authority director Randy Bickers since Jan. 7, 2009 are the ones currently pretending to care about our history.

So I knew what I was up against. I’m not sure anything has changed. But I was inspired by Glenn Beck this afternoon when he talked about the 8 Steps in the Movement Action Plan. I found my 10-year campaign at Step 7—where the majority agrees with my position. Step 6 was the Kelo case and what seemed to be the movement’s failure. But you can’t give up now. The next step is success where the Supreme Court is overturned or overruled, and locally Charlottesville stops abusing eminent domain and adding to the injustice.

The Next Step for Race

(1) Resolve the urban renewal issue.

(a) Stop abusing eminent domain
(b) Tally the number of cases
(c) Compensate the victims
(d) Promise not to do it again
(e) Change the city charter

(2) Stop expressing racist sentiments.

This would include the local NAACP. The president is M. Rick Turner, best known for his support of ousted School Superintendent Scottie Griffin (who has not been erased from this blog) and for smoking crack with a female police informant and for resigning from UVA over the scandal.

Turner was also racist when he favored Holly Edwards at a candidates’ forum and called for racial quotas on city council. But the grand-daddy of them all was when on the Rob Schilling show Turner described his politics as progressive.

The NAACP came into existence in 1909 to oppose the Progressive Movement, which called for lynching of blacks, jews, and catholics. What internal torment that must present. Turner also encourages learning black history but he seems not to mention our local history. I hope it’s not because a white person has been digging up that history.

This would include the Charlottesville Tribune, established 1954 and now owned by Agnes Cross-White, the lady who campaigned against naming a street for Sally Hemings because it would glorify a slave concubine and slavery is no accomplishment.

In August 2009 in an editorial, Cross-White explained in some detail how she teaches her daughter to be racist. The police might harass you if you’re black. Bad things might happen to you if you’re black. So white people are never harassed by police? Bad things only happen to black people?

The advice was good except it was poisoned with racism. When Cross-White was young, people with white skin mistreated blacks. When her daughter goes out into the world, she may never encounter the Jim Crow people who grow old. But she will encounter the children of white people. And they probably taught their children to be racist in the same way—a never-ending cycle.

I have not picked up the Tribune since and have no plans to do so. Is it racist for me to segregate myself from racist material? I should have kept a copy but I threw it with other papers that got thrown out.

(3) Don’t jump to conclusions.

I only have one real-life anecdote and then I’m signing off from this essay. The blog names names along with other stories too true for local media.

…Black guy says it’s unfair that white guy has car…

There are 2 mechanics, one white and one black. A customer offers to both mechanics to sell his car broken down at home for $500. A few days later the white dude goes to look at the car and offers $200. The sale is made.

In this case it’s fair because the black dude had the same opportunity to go look at the car and negotiate a deal. If the black mechanic had seized the opportunity, he would have the car and the white mechanic would be crying “Not fair! Not fair!”

Inequality is totally fair if the opportunity is equal.


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