What to Remember About the Making of Charlottesville

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With the ugliness and sadness stemming from protests in Charlottesville earlier this month comes major soul searching, and Gerard Robinson, former Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia lays bare some truth that Americans probably don't want to hear but would be wise to remember.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson, who warned in 1787 that dissent and rebellion are always smoldering, Robinson points out that "political theory alone cannot heal the pain" of recent events, but neither should Americans take up arms "against one another or the government" to stake their position.

Robinson suggests consulting the books to learn and relearn the messy and brutish nature of American history. The topics of some of his recommendations include "the meaning of whiteness in the midst of a rising tide of color; Confederate memory and modern manhood; and the supremacy of group rights in Barack Obama’s post-racial America and Donald Trump’s pro-America first era."

He points to these books for a better understanding of how we are where we are today:

  • Ed Ayers, former president of the University of Richmond, “In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America.”
  • Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, “The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War.”
  • Professor Ervin L. Jordan Jr., associate professor and research archivist at UVa’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, “Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia.”
  • Carol Swain, professor at Vanderbilt University, “The New White Nationalism in America: The Challenge to Integration.”
  • Armstead Robinson, founder of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at UVa, “Bitter Fruits of Bondage: The Demise of Slavery and the Collapse of the Confederacy.”

Robinson also suggests that Americans withhold resorting to politics to justify behaviors, actions, and statements, and instead look at this moment as part of the patchwork of history and a lesson on what our responsibilities are to creating the past as well as the future.

At a deeper level, the blood of Charlottesville washes equally on all of us — Virginians or not — and, great is our sin, if we expect the laws of nature or nature’s God to fix our problems in the absence of human courage, or if we succumb to the temptation to reduce this tragedy to plantation politics. A single presidential victory or national party is not solely responsible for the state of affairs.Like it or not, 'We the people' are an imperfect bunch. We the White-Black-Hispanic-Asian-Native-and Others awaken every morning with divergent senses of superiority or insecurity, guilt or gladness, faith or fanaticism. As an imperfect people, our uniqueness does not arise from becoming the victor in a Hobbesian “war of all against all” or the victim to an inability to differentiate hate from hopelessness. Rather, we acknowledge our uniqueness when we recommit to the gift our ancestors gave us: the privilege to make this place a more perfect Union. This is our highest national priority."

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