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Charlottesville Civil Rights Pilgrimage FAQ

FAQ: Charlottesville Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Why a Pilgrimage, and why now? Jalane Schmidt, pilgrimage co-organizer and associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, answers common questions.

Q. Why do a pilgrimage?

A. Charlottesville needs to get moving to make change, so, we are mobilizing – we will board buses and learn how our own local history of white supremacy fits into the larger Southern and U.S. history of anti-Black terror and Black resistance.

Q. How did the idea come about?

A. As I was processing the events of last summer and thinking about next steps, I came up with the idea of leading a group to Montgomery, Ala., to the new Equal Justice Initiative lynching memorial there. I remembered that the Charlottesville City Council had supported the final recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces to acquire an Equal Justice Initiative lynching memorial for Charlottesville. Part of the EJI process is for local communities to collect soil from lynching sites and carry this soil to the lynching memorial, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery. I thought that this should be a community trip. Kathy Galvin, a city councillor in Charlottesville, came up with the word “pilgrimage” to describe our trip, which, as an associate professor of religious studies, I thought was apt.

Q. What was the thinking behind the different groups invited to go along?

A. I was appalled by how white supremacist groups were trying to define our town. We should be able to shape our own narrative. That is why we will have people participating from a broad range of Charlottesville’s community – government officials; U.Va. students, professors and staff; high school students and teachers; therapists; clergy from different denominations; and interested community residents. We want to learn together and bring this new knowledge back to our community.

Q. What is the goal of the trip?

A. This trip is the beginning of what we hope will be ongoing efforts to re-educate our community about the legacy of anti-Black racial terror and Black resistance in Charlottesville and throughout the South. We will build on this trip in the coming months with educational programs, community conversations and work toward creating new historical markers in our area, which will build on the work of Charlottesville’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces, to rethink our memorials and how we tell our story in public spaces.

Charlottesville is widely known as the birthplace of the American Republic (early residents include Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison lived nearby), but there’s generally little discussion of slavery and Jim Crow and their legacy. In recent years, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier and the University Virginia have worked to unearth the history of their enslaved communities and tell their stories in new ways. This trip will enrich our historical narrative even more.

Q. Who are the students who are participating?

A. We have more than a dozen high school students joining us from Charlottesville High School.

Q. How much will the trip cost?

A. The total cost will run about $165,000, which comes to $1,500 per person for the 110 people who have signed up to go. Many individuals are paying for themselves, but we have been fortunate in receiving broad financial support. The City of Charlottesville is providing scholarship funds for public school students and teachers, and other city residents with financial need. Albemarle County likewise is providing funds to cover the cost of its participants. Other supporters include: the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation’s Heal Charlottesville Fund, Red Light Management, Monticello, the University of Virginia, Hilton Hotels International and private donors.

Q. What kind of follow-up do you have planned for after your return?

A. We have an exciting program planned for the year ahead, including: a meeting among participants a week after our return to reflect on their experience (all the participants will be keeping journals), a report back to the community in early August, before the one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, educational programs in area high schools, an essay contest in the public schools tied to Black History Month in February 2019, and work to develop new ideas for installations of public art that memorialize Black history in Charlottesville.

Q. Do you see this pilgrimage as a one-time event?

A. We’ll see. Julian Bond, the late civil rights activist and professor of civil rights history at U.Va., conducted an annual civil rights bus trip to Selma, Ala. I’m open to that, but we’ll see how this one goes first.

Q. Why have you chosen certain hotels and restaurants in advance?

A. As one of our sponsors, Hilton Hotels International has been very supportive in giving us discounted room rates for the trip. We also have made an effort to reserve meals at well-known Black-owned restaurants to patronize them and give our participants a taste of authentic Southern cuisine.

Q. What do you personally hope most to get from this trip?

A. I am looking forward to gaining a first-hand view of Black history and resistance to white supremacy in the South with an eye to bringing my new knowledge and insights back to Charlottesville to share with others. This process of education and truth-telling can bring growth and change to Charlottesville. It can give all the residents of our city a common understanding of our shared history, allowing that new-found mutual understanding to reshape our public places in a more inclusive way.

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DMU Timestamp: July 13, 2018 16:17

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