On Tuesday night a panel of speakers commemorated Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to the University of Virginia in 1963. Now, 55 years later, they asked "Where are we and where do we go from here?"
Standing in the same room where King spoke, executive director of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center Andrea Douglas told the crowd that at in when King was assassinated in 1968, segregation was ending, voting rights were beginning, and white people were still lynching African Americans. The world, she said, was blowing apart.
“Why do we think, 50 years later, where our changes have been incremental and noticeable, that we could not possibly be blowing apart now?” asked Douglas.
White students didn’t integrate black schools, Douglas said. Black schools like Jefferson closed permanently. “Not all of us have accepted the notion that the system that was integrated was the
correct system anyway,” said Douglas.
Today, Douglas said people in Charlottesville are still fear retaliation if they speak out about discrimination. And disparities abound between black and white residents. And yet, she said, most people here think of themselves as liberal.
“You can’t walk into the room and say, ‘I’m a good person, therefore this can’t be
happening.’ Most of us are good people and it is happening,” said Douglas.
In 1963 Martin Luther King was invited to UVA by Wesley Harris, one of only seven African-Americans in the entire school. On Tuesday, Harris recalled that the dean and president of UVA refused to meet with King.
When looking at where Charlottesville is today, Harris made the comparison to Germany. Today, he said,
Germans don’t see Nazi propaganda in their streets and parks. “How is it that this country is the only civilized community where traitors are made gods?” asked Harris.