The Charlottesville Syllabus
Confronting the history and present of white supremacy in a college town
12 AUGUST 2017
The Charlottesville Syllabus is a resource created by the Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation to be used to educate readers about the long history of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia. While the resources selected and summaries written are by UVA graduate students, the Syllabus is not sanctioned by the University. This abridged version of the Syllabus is organized into six sections that offer contemporary and archival primary and secondary sources (articles, books, responses, a documentary, databases) and a list of important terms for discussing white supremacy. Only “additional resources” are not available online (but can be found either on JSTOR, at the library, or for purchase).
What may be the largest fascist gathering in recent memory is being held in our town center this weekend. The Charlottesville Syllabus seeks to explore the local historical and contemporary precedents for this gathering; to give it history and context; to denounce it; and to amplify the voices of community members most affected by this “alt-right” occupation of our community space.
These resources are key to contextualizing the “alt-right” and their racist motivations. The “alt-right” have been working to distance themselves rhetorically from old-fashioned racist groups like the KKK, and it is essential that we do not let them falsify the narrative of white supremacy in Charlottesville and in this country.
A new and ongoing project, the syllabus is meant to be expanded, revised, and copied. Use this document as it’s useful to you, support each other, and take to the streets.
The Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation
The KKK, the Alt Right, and the History of White Supremacist Groups in Charlottesville
“Excuse me, America, your house is on fire: Lessons from Charlottesville on the KKK and “alt-right,”” by Jalane Schmidt on Medium (27 June 2017)
Schmidt argues that the KKK thrived in and around Charlottesville because its white supremacy was in line with norms of civility, and was hence supported (if tacitly) by local civic institutions. Her piece provides a jarring and succinct history of white supremacist group presence in town, arguing that a break from politeness is necessary to take on the “alt-right.”
“Why Richard Spencer Matters,” by Jamelle Bouie for Slate (22 May 2017)
By exploring the history of Charlottesville’s confederate statues, eugenics, white supremacy in popular culture, the “alt-right,” Donald Trump and his cabinet, and more, Bouie demonstrates how racist “notions of white hegemony—of the idea that white Americans have a stronger claim on national resources, that they are somehow more legitimate citizens” have been and continue to be a part of U.S. history and politics.
The Ku Klux Klan in Virginia , (John T. Kneebone, Encyclopedia Virginia 2016)
A brief but illustrative history of the Ku Klux Klan’s origin, ideologies, and three main revivals including its place in contemporary Virginia and a timeline of events.
“On Not Taking the Bait,” by Marc Mazique for Black, Whole (10 July 2017)
Mazique takes to task the assumption that “protecting first amendment rights” is a politically neutral stance when people of color are disproportionately threatened by the white supremacists whose rights are being protected by police and other local institutions. As Mazique puts it, framing nonviolent forms of struggle against hate and oppressive power is not the problem, and working towards a positive, just state of peace means taking to the streets.
Citizens Councils Newspaper Historical Source by Edward H. Sebesta (editor of Neo-Confederacy, a Critical Edition)
Citizens Councils — a part of the fabric of the American South roughly during the years of 1954-1961 — were created in order to represent racial integration as misguided, in opposition to what they saw to be the natural state of segregation and white supremacy. In addition to making their newspaper available, this online archive reveals the wide reach of white supremacy as well as its appeal to an educated upper-class populace and displays in specificity the vitriolic racism of the period.
Gentrification and the razing of Vinegar Hill, Charlottesville’s thriving black business district
That World Is Gone: Race And Displacement in a Southern Town (documentary, 2010)
Through scholarly research and interviews with surviving residents, this short film documents the history of Charlottesville’s Vinegar Hill neighborhood and its 1965 destruction, particularly exploring the link between property ownership and economic power.
Urban Renewal and the End of Black Culture in Charlottesville , by James Robert Saunders and Renae Nadine Shackelford (1998)
In this book, Saunders and Shackelford interviewed former denizens of Vinegar Hill who lived in Charlottesville before, during and/or after urban renewal razed the once-thriving black community as part of a federally funded redevelopment project. The people interviewed varied in experience and perspective — from businessmen to cooks and from supporters of the redevelopment to those who decried its adverse effect on black life in Charlottesville.
“Root Shock” by Mindy Thompson Fullilove for Journal of Urban Health (March 2001)
Using several case studies from the second half of the twentieth century, Fullilove shows how the negative effects of urban renewal fall disproportionately on black communities and lead to dispossession, financial loss, psychological trauma, the fracturing of social organizations, and the collapse of political action. Furthermore, she argues that deurbanization policies ask us to consider how to manage “progress” in the context of democracy — what are the consequences when a government supports one group’s progress at the expense of another’s?
A historical site run by a UVA contingency in collaboration with the Carter G. Woodson Institute, The Vinegar Hill Project is an astounding repository of archival materials: see in particular the “Viseyes Exhibits” for maps of Vinegar Hill before and after urban renewal razed the city section.
Charlottesville Urban Design and Affordable Housing (from the IATH)
With maps, diagrams, design sketches, and photographs, architect Kenneth Schwartz identifies the causes of American cities’ physical and economic decline, using Charlottesville, and especially the Vinegar Hill neighborhood, as an exemplary case study. See also the site’s extensive bibliography, which lists resources on Charlottesville’s history, urban design, and cultural geography.
The Lost Cause, Memorialization, and Charlottesville’s Confederate Statues
This report includes findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission, including summaries of historical research related to Charlottesville’s Confederate monuments and sites of African American history and community in the city, and recommendations about relocating and contextualizing the Lee and Jackson statues, possibly changing site names, and constructing new memorials to local African American history.
“Moments of Rupture,” by Eileen Johnson for The Politic (12 April 2017)
An account of the evolving local political and cultural conflict over the decision to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park.
“Tools of Displacement,” by Sophie Abramowitz, Eva Latterner, Gillet Rosenblith for Slate (23 June 2017)
A history of Charlottesville’s Confederate monuments that traces how the installation of the statues in the early 20thCentury functioned as the vanguard of gentrification, uprooting and displacing black and immigrant communities from local centers of political and financial power.
“Introduction” and “Slavery’s Memorial,” from Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves , by Kirk Savage (1997)
The decades after the Civil War were the greatest era of monument-building in American history. The statues installed in public spaces throughout the country constitute a kind of public memory of the national past that reifies white supremacy within the civic landscape.
A documentary history of early 20th Century Charlottesville that excavates the black residents who lived, worked, and resisted in the face of local and statewide white supremacist political activity.
Slavery and Thomas Jefferson’s University
“Unearthing Slavery at the University of Virginia,” by Brendan Wolfe for VIRGINIA Magazine (Spring 2013)
In light of the archaeological discovery of another slave burial site on Grounds in 2013, this article examines the history of slavery at University of Virginia through the lens of its memorialization initiated by University community members. Wolfe’s article rests on the premise articulated by then-second year College undergraduate Jordan Jackson: “slaves built this university and they deserve to have something tangible.”
“Confronting U.Va.’s history of slavery : Administration, Charlottesville community consider reparations,” by Hannah Hall for The Cavalier Daily (13 April 2017)
Hall considers the different valences of the meaning of “reparations” before contextualizing and interviewing University and community members about actions taken at UVa to reckon with the university’s and town’s histories of slavery.
“Bonds of Memory: Identity and the Hemings Family,” from Those Who Labor For My Happiness: Slavery At Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello , by Lucia Stanton
Uses the historical archive to recover the lives of Sally Hemings and her family.
“Laws,” from Notes on the State of Virginia , by Thomas Jefferson (1785)
Thomas Jefferson gives his pseudoscientific argument that black people are inferior to white people, providing a strong evidence to refute arguments that Jefferson was not racist.
Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery & the Troubled History of America’s Universities , by Craig Steven Wilder
A historical study of the ways that the United States’ lead universities were built by the labor of slaves as well as the ways these universities went on to promote the racist ideologies that justified slavery.
The University of Virginia Pioneers the Eugenics Movement
“Study of eugenics has long history at U.Va.: Pseudoscience studied academically in early part of 20th century,” by Ankita Satpathy and David Schutte for the Cavalier Daily (21 October 2015)
Outlines the prominence of eugenics research and curricula at UVa, stemming from (first UVa president) Edwin Alderman’s commitment to what was considered a standard science in the first half of the 20th century. It also addresses the continued legacy at UVa, including buildings and noteworthy scholarships still named for eugenicists, as well as contextualizes UVa within the nationwide acceptance of eugenics during the same period.
Racial Integrity Laws Encyclopedia Virginia (17 February 2009)
An interactive history of Virginia’s Racial integrity laws that includes timelines, documents, photographs, and audio clips. The Racial Integrity Act was passed in the 1924 during the height of the eugenics movement. The Act defined the parameters of “whiteness” and prohibited interracial marriage. These laws remained on the books until the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision ruled the interracial marriage prohibition unconstitutional.
“Assuring America’s Place in the Sun: Ivey Foreman Lewis and the Teaching of Eugenics at the University of Virginia, 1915-1953,” Gregory Michael Dorr for The Journal of Southern History (May 2000)
Dorr’s article describes the work, teachings, and mentorship of UVa Biology Professor and Dean of the College Ivey Lewis, who created one of the most well-known eugenics research programs in the country in the first half of the twentieth century. Lewis continued to advise students in the field long after these theories had fallen into disrepute. Dorr argues eugenics gave “educated, self-consciously modern Virginians” a means to continue justifying Jim Crow with a scientific gloss. Eugenics was a bridge between the archaisms of the Old South and the “progressive” scientism of the day a means to uphold white supremacy while still “ushering in modern liberal-industrial society in one motion.”
Eugenics (Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library)
Original historical documents, photographs, and other materials concerning the history of eugenics in Virginia are available at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library. Its website gives an overview of the infamous supreme court ruling Buck v. Bell (1927) and its legacy. The court ruled the state of Virginia had the right to sterilize Charlottesville native Carrie Buck due to ‘imbecility,’ upholding the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924. This Act would only be repealed in 1979, after over 7,000 Virginians had been forcibly sterilized.
Jim Crow and Civil Rights organizing by students at the University of Virginia
“Preserving Public Education in Charlottesville,” from The Moderates’ Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia , by Andrew B. Lewis (1998)
Lewis argues for the significance of The Parents’ Committee for Emergency Schooling (PCES) — an organization started in Charlottesville by nine white mothers in the aftermath of Brown v Board and Virginia Governor Lindsay Almond’s decision to close public schools and engage in massive resistance rather than allow schools to be desegregated. This organization decoupled support for public education with support for racial integration, and in so doing provided a third option for white Charlottesvillians and white Virginians who were wary of integration but loathe to do away with public education altogether. The success of the PCES and the position they maintained helped to make massive resistance via school closure a politically unviable option for Virginia.
The Race and Place Project (also useful for section 4)
Race and Place is an archive on racial segregation laws and their effects in Charlottesville. Focusing on the 1880s to mid-twentieth century, the database includes maps, letters, political broadsides, oral histories, and a historical timeline.
This site focuses on African American suffrage in Charlottesville from 1900 to 1925 and chronicles attempts to prevent African Americans from voting and anti-disenfranchisement political activity. Author T. Nicole Tucker has compiled news clippings, political correspondence, legislation, meeting minutes, and individual profiles of politically-active African Americans in Charlottesville.
Compiled by Atima Omara-Alwala, this project documents an often-untold period in UVa’s history: the University’s desegregation in the 1950s through the 1970s. In addition to photos, essays, and a historical timeline, the site features biographies of seven trailblazing African American alumni.
Black Fire (organized by Professors Kevin Jerome Everson and Claudrena N. Harold, begun in 2013)
A “multimedia initiative documenting the struggle for social justice and racial equality at the University of Virginia,” Black Fire uses alumni interviews, documentary film, public lectures, photography, and Black Student Alliance files to record the transformative power of student activism. Created by Professor Claudrena Harold and her students at UVa.
After August 12, Pt. 1: Community Responses to the White Supremacist Rally
“‘Not Here, Not In My Town’: Charlottesville Black Lives Matter on the Meaning of Community Defense,” interview with Dr. Lisa Woolfork for In These Times, 14 August 2017
This interview with Dr. Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor at UVa and a member of Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter chapter, outlines and contextualizes the violence of the white supremacist alt-right on August 12th as well as community responses to that violence. Professor Woolfork stands resolutely on the side of the counter protestors as people eager to defend their city against racist thought and action. The interview inspires with a tone of hope as well as a call-to-action to readers to investigate the structural racism occurring in their cities.
“There is Only One Side to the Story of Charlottesville: Five lessons from what could prove a decisive moment,” by Tom Periello for Slate, 13 August 2017.
Periello argues that the events on Saturday August 12th were undeniably about race, enabled by Trump’s presidency, and reflective of the fact that America fails to grapple with the contemporary (violent) ramifications of monuments erected to celebrate the Confederacy. He further argues that the white supremacists who came out that weekend – in all of their varying forms – should be collectively considered the modern KKK. Finally, he argues that without stronger gun laws and stronger cries against white nationalist violence, what happened on August 12th could become a dystopian norm for America’s future.
“Terror in Charlottesville, Part 2,” Amy Goodman interviews Cornel West, Rev. Traci Blackmon & BLM Activist Jalane Schmidt for Democracy Now, 14 August 2017
Cornel West, Harvard professor, Reverend Traci Blackmon, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, and Jalane Schmidt, local Black Lives Matter activist and Professor of Religious Studies at UVa offer their first-hand perspective of August 12th. In addition, each comments on President Trump’s first response immediately following the terror attack. They all agree that Trump’s statements continue the political war he has been waging on people of color, trans people, and immigrants through his policies. Highlights include Professor Schmidt importantly dismissing myths around confederate statues; Professor West portrays antifa activists as life-savers and vigilant protectors of more defenseless counter protesters.
“I witnessed terrorism in Charlottesville from a foot away,” David Straugh for Scalawag, August 15, 2017.
Charlottesville BLM organizer David Straugh offers his moving, personal account of the events on August 11–12, from his experiences being besieged at St. Paul’s church Friday Night, participating in the counter-protests at Emancipation, celebrating the apparent victory over the White supremacists afterward, and then witnessing the horror and trauma of the tragic terrorist attack which took Heather Heyer’s life and injured 19 others.
“Yes, What About the ‘Alt-Left’?” , Dahlia Lithwick compiles interviews with community members and witnesses to August 12, Slate, August 16, 2017.
Community eyewitness accounts of the counter-protests that refute Trump’s lies of a violent “alt-left” that “came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs.” Instead, Antifa activists protected unarmed clergy and racial justice protesters from armed phalanxes of white supremacists — Cornel West even claimed afterward that they saved his life. Most of recollections compiled are of clergy who participated alongside West in an interfaith non-violent direct action to block the Park’s entrance from white supremacists.
After August 12, Pt. 2: Student Voices
“What UVA Students Saw in Charlottesville,” Weston Gobar; Aryan A. Frazier; Isabella Ciambotti; Leanne Chia; Elizabeth Sines; Nojan Rostami; Brendan Novak for the New York Times, 13 August 2017. (Companion Facebook Live stream video available here .)
University of Virginia students recount what they saw and experienced on August 11th and 12th. These interviews detail the violence students saw downtown on August 12, moments of community solidarity and care, feelings about University administration’s response to the white supremacist march on the Lawn, and evolving opinions about the “alt-right” and the best ways to confront white supremacy.
“What It Was Like to Witness Terror and Hate on Display at Charlottesville,” interview with Luca Connolly by Callie Beusman and Zing Tseng for Vice (Broadly), 14 August 2017.
Community activists Luca Connolly and Emily Gorenski recount their experiences on August 11–13 when they protested the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally. Importantly, both organizers remind us to see this rally as part of larger white supremacist movements and institutions. Counter to the oft-quoted idea that bigotry has “no place in American society,” Connolly and Gorenski identify the local, national, and international contexts that made the violence in Charlottesville both possible and predictable.
“ UVA Student Recounts His 24 Hours Of Counter-Protest in Charlottesville ,” interview with Ian Ware by Hilary Hughes for MTV News, 12 August 2017.
UVa student activist Ian Ware gives his eyewitness account of events of the weekend. He discusses the importance of grappling with Thomas Jefferson and the legacy of white supremacy at UVa and in Charlottesville more generally, noting that although neo-Nazis aren’t a constant presence, the need to dismantle systemic white supremacy in Charlottesville and UVa remains. Ware also notes the lack of police action despite their heavy numbers, even compared to the KKK rally the month before.
“Natalie Romero es la colombiana de 20 años víctima de ataque en Charlottesville ,” TV interview with Natalie Romero by Hannah Melissa Borja for RED Noticias, 14 August 2017.
[Spanish language source] Twenty year old UVa student, Natalie Romero, of Colombian nationality, was one of the 35 people injured in the attacks on counter-protesters that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, August 12. She suffered a fracture in her cranium. Correspondent Jaime Moreno spoke with one of her friends, who said that Natalie is recovering from her injuries and that her passion for racial justice has not diminished.
“Charlottesville might be changed for me forever’ Students Contemplate Return to School ,” featuring Ian Nakayama; Wes Gobar; Oronde Andrews; Devin Willis, by Susan Svrluga; T. Rees Shapiro, Sarah Larimer for Washington Post, 14 August 2017.
This article documents the experiences of student activists who participated in the counter-demonstrations held on August 11 and 12, ranging from terror at the “monstrous hatred” of the torch lit march and fear in the chaos of the vehicular terrorist attack on Fourth and Water St. to catharsis facing white supremacy head-on at Emancipation Park. The article particularly addresses the emotional impact of these events on the students as they prepare to begin the fall semester at UVa.
Sections in Progress (with resources)
The Charlottesville Syllabus is a new and ongoing project organized through the University of Virginia Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation that explores the entwined histories of violence, oppression, and power as it effects Charlottesville’s marginalized populations.
Future sections will include writings on queer life and history in Charlottesville, with particular attention to the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of local woman Sage Smith (see activist and former Charlottesville resident Emma Eisenberg’s excellent “‘I Am A Girl Now,’ Sage Smith Wrote. Then She Went Missing,” (24 June 2017); work on indigenous tribes in Charlottesville and Virginia more broadly (The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail , an online guide, edited by Kerenne Wood (2008) and We’re Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories , by Sandra F. Waugaman and Danielle Moretti-Langholtz (2000), to begin); writing on the forced redevelopment of Charlottesville’s housing complex Friendship Courts (see the Resident Directed Positive Vision for Redevelopment written by the PHAR Board, which is comprised entirely of people in affordable housing and created in order to reckon with redevelopment, an extension of gentrification and the razing of Vinegar Hill); work surrounding the excellent Take Back the Archive database initiative, a collaboration between UVa students, faculty, archivists, and librarians that’s meant to preserve, visualize, and contextualize the history of rape and sexual violence at the University of Virginia, honoring individual stories and documenting systemic issues and trends; and, importantly, critiques of white centrist liberal racism in town (“I Rebuke You, Charlottesville” by D. Straughn for Parle Mag, 8 June 2017; “A message to Charlottesville about Lee Park from your local Black farmer,” by Chris Newman for the Sylvanaqua Farms Facebook Page, 17 May 2017; “What It’s Like To Be A Black Student As White Supremacists March In Your College Town,” by UVa student activist Wes Gobar for Vox, 19 May 2017).
The UVa Graduate student Coalition for Liberation is an expanding interdepartmental group of graduate students committed to making the University of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville more just places to live and work. In our unique position as students, researchers, and educators, we seek to pool and share knowledge. And in our position as workers and community members, we seek to build coalitions with undergraduates, fellow University workers, and other community members in Charlottesville, holding our University accountable to all those it serves and affects.
Contact us with questions, comments, syllabus suggestions, and requests to be added to our mailing list or to join the Coalition!