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One year after violent white supremacist rally, Charlottesville activists focus on racial justice

One year ago this weekend, Charlottesville, Virginia was the scene of violent clashes between white supremacists holding a rally in the city's downtown and counter-protesters. But what has changed in the city since the summer of 2017? Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia and the host of the podcast A12, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One year ago this weekend, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia was the scene of a white supremacist rally and counter protests. It led to violence and the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer. What has changed in Charlottesville and what has not is the focus of many community events this weekend. We’re joined now from Charlottesville by Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia and host of the podcast A12, which deals with the events of Charlottesville and the history behind it. Thanks for joining us. So let’s talk about really what happened in that year since.

  • NICOLE HEMMER:

    Yea, so in the years since there has been a lot of focus on trying to figure out, first of all, what went wrong last year. Why was this event that was known about well in advance, why was it so violent? Why was there so little containment of it? But then also really a much broader push on issues of white supremacy, racism, economic inequality in the city and a real effort to try to address some of those underlying issues that have kept Charlottesville, sort of, on a knife’s edge for a few years now.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Well, one of the things that even the city that looked at it in the reports that came out afterwards point out, was that while we all focused on the Confederate statue and the specific event, this has been kind of long time building last year, last summer.

  • NICOLE HEMMER:

    That’s right. Locally, last summer is known as the summer hate because there were months of white nationalist rallies and protests in the city. And there was a lot of effort by anti-racist and other activists in the city to try to figure out how to most effectively counter that. But from May 13, when Richard Spencer who’s a white nationalist, held the first torchlight rally here at the statue of Robert Lee through to August 11th and 12th, there was real work at trying to counter this coming set of protests but also to counter smaller protests throughout the summer.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So what are the changes that have taken place? I mean, there’s kind of on two levels. The changes, the preparations for this specific weekend and then the kind of more systemic and long term changes.

  • NICOLE HEMMER:

    Right. So what we’re seeing here this weekend is it’s quite a tense atmosphere. There are lots and lots of police as there were last year but most of the downtown all, most of the university is shut down so there’s a real sense that everything needs to be stopped beforehand. There’s actually been a lot of legal work done to ensure that this year doesn’t look like last year. So part of that is that white nationalist groups have entered into an agreement with the city not to come back in groups of two or more with weapons. So that has made the city a little safer in a sense this year. There’s also been continuing work to try to do a better job at telling Charlottesville’s history. I mean the statues of the Confederate soldiers here in the city only tell one part of the city’s history and not really that the truer story of the city’s history, which is that at the time of the end of the Civil War, Charlottesville wasn’t a city conquered but it was a city liberated. 52 percent of the population was enslaved at that time. So people have been working pretty hard to try to bring more of that history to the city, including bringing back a monument to a Charlottesville’s victim of lynching.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right Nicole Hemmer from the University of Virginia joining us via Skype today. Thanks a lot.

  • NICOLE HEMMER:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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