CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Circa) — "What happened last year was a before-and-after event that changed a lot of people's lives," said Charlottesville resident Ann Marie Smith.
The weekend of Aug. 11th, 2017 will forever be a etched into the history of the city of Charlottesville, Va. For some residents, it will be remembered as the weekend white nationalists clashed with locals. For others, it will be the day the city's underlying racism was put on full display.
Last year's Unite the Right rally ended in death. After protesters were led by alt-right leaders Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer to the city to protest plans to remove the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, counter protesters took to the streets. Fights broke out, and at its climax, police say a man named James Fields drove a car through a crowd of people. Many were wounded and Heather Heyer, a woman who sided with the counter-protesters, was killed. It was a weekend that forced the city and its citizens to deal with an issue that has always plagued the city: racism.
"Charlottesville has always had a race issues," Tameka Hudson explained. "August the 12th didn't shape the race issues. August the 12th just brought them to light."
It's a fact that Smith, who is holding interfaith mediation groups leading up to the anniversary of the infamous weekend, has learned to acknowledge.
"As a privileged white woman, it was an 'ah-ha,' water splashed in your face, wake up moment," Smith said. "I've heard from other people of color that what happened here was not such a surprise for them because they were familiar with a lot of the conditions that allowed that to arise in our community."
Some residents will tell you that social structures in the city have always negatively impacted people of color. Those structures include limited help for people who live in low-income housing and few stores with affordable food options. According to Hudson, the underlying racial issues in the city were always ignored, until now.
"It made people pay attention to what's really happening," Hudson explained. "They're not doing anything for the black community. Just go back and look at how they vote. They're voting for the uplifting of their own people."
As faith group leaders and members of city council try to unite the city, history seems ready to repeat itself. Kessler applied for another event permit for the anniversary weekend, but this time, it was denied. However, rumors of an unofficial rally forced Virginia officials to declare a state of emergency. If the protesters do return to the city, some of the residents are open to meeting them again.
"Am I going to stop protesting because there's 30 of them coming down the street? No," Hudson exclaimed. "What is the city going to do is the question. Are they going to work this year? Are they going to do their job?"