Hate Has No Home in Charlottesville, Virginia
Oct 01, 2017 11:11AM
By Vanessa Orr
The historic Michie Tavern
I’m not sure if it was the small group singing “We Shall Overcome” on the rotunda at the University of Virginia (UVA), or the signs promoting the Pride Parade on the Downtown Mall. Maybe it was the “Hate Has No Home Here” message hung in the window of UVA’s Engineering Building, or the signs that marked many businesses that said, “If equality and diversity aren’t for you…neither are we.” It might have been the warm welcome that I received from Virginians from every walk of life and of every race and color that made me realize that the site of the horrible white supremacist rally in mid-August was more a place of peace than of protest.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that the city was completely shocked by the fact that there were racists in its midst; like in many places, there are those who want to move forward, and those who want to hold onto antiquated ideas based on what they consider their “southern” history. Thomas Jefferson, who founded UVA, served as the nation’s third president and signed the Declaration of Independence, was himself conflicted about equality—it’s hard to imagine that the man who agreed that “All men are created equal,” owned 600 enslaved people at his home at Monticello, including the children that he had with Sally Hemings.
I had already made plans to visit the area before the riot, and admittedly was hesitant about going to visit a place where violence, including the murder of counter-protestor Heather Heyer, had taken place a few short weeks before. While I was expecting a place in upheaval, instead I found a city that was doing its best to heal from the tragic event, while still making a point—quite emphatically—that its doors are open to all.
Walking among the grounds of the university, it was clear to see that while the school, which was established in 1819, honors its history, it does not dwell in the past. I was touched to see that the room where Edgar Allan Poe stayed on “the range” was somewhat enshrined, while still appreciating that a book by Tina Fey, a more recent graduate of UVA, was prominently displayed in the rotunda. A large piece of the Berlin Wall stands encased in glass adjacent to the Alderman Library, while Oriforme, a modern work by Jean Arp, faces fraternity row. And serpentine hedges, a landscaping method created by Thomas Jefferson himself, still run alongside brick sidewalks that have stood for 200 years.
Jefferson’s unique talents are on display everywhere you look at Monticello, the home he designed in 1769, which housed his daughter and her 11 children, as well as many respected guests. His inventions can be seen in every room, from the clock in the entryway run by cannonball weights to his closet, built inside the wall 12’ high so as to save room. I was especially impressed by the double-penned writing implement that copied a person’s letter at the same time it was created, much as a Xerox machine would do today.
While Jefferson was a brilliant man, he was not without faults—while claiming to profess that slavery was “a cancer on society,” he freed only nine enslaved individuals during his lifetime, including four of his own children. I highly recommend that you take the time to go on the tour at Monticello that shares the enslaved peoples’ stories; it is one of the site’s most popular tours.
The tour of Monticello also includes a visit to the graveyard where Jefferson is buried, where surprisingly, his tombstone memorializes his role as an author of the Declaration of Independence and the father of UVA, but not as a U.S. president. You can also visit the gardens, where well before his time, he grew seven different varieties of kale.
Downtown Charlottesville is a wonderful place to walk as well as to people watch—the Downtown Mall, an eight-block pedestrian thruway, houses 120 shops and restaurants, and you can dine either inside or outdoors. And if you want some interesting reading, make sure to stop at the 42’ long community chalkboard, where people post their opinions on everything from Hurricane Irma to messages of peace to excitement about the new Psych movie.
As in any modern city, there is amazing food—from fresh meats and cheeses at Feast in Main Street Market, to artistic baked creations at Albemarle Baking Co., where it’s a shame to eat items so beautiful (I did it anyway). I particularly enjoyed dining at the Old Mill Room at the Boar’s Head Inn, where the chefs put together their own farm-to-table creations, and eating southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes at the historic Michie Tavern. You can find the best of all worlds at Carter Mountain Orchard, where you not only get to try their addictive apple cider donuts, but enjoy wine tastings and cider tastings all in the same spot—Bold Rock Cider is now the largest independent cidery in the United States.
If you’re looking for something sweet, stop into Gearharts Fine Chocolates, where you can watch the delicacies being made while dining on artisan-inspired confections, or if you prefer a liquid dessert, try the “Low and Slow” at The Whiskey Jar on the Downtown Mall, which serves (I’ve died and gone to heaven) more than 250 different types of whiskeys, accompanied by live music. Speaking of libations, musician Dave Matthews also makes some fine wines at Blenheim Vineyards, located just a few miles outside the city.
While I barely scratched the surface of all that there is to do in Charlottesville, I did take home one valuable lesson—before believing what you see on the news, check out the city for yourself. While Charlottesville would not have chosen to be the epicenter of such a terrible event, it is a beautiful, historic, vibrant place where visitors not only feel wanted, but welcomed.
To learn more, check out www.visitcharlottesville.org or call 877-386-1103.