Talk to him: Activist scoffs at racial tension plan

Eugene Williams keeps Charlottesville from complacency in racial matters.
FILE PHOTO BY WILL WALKER

Charlottesville's plan to address discrimination and racism has earned the ire of longtime civil rights activist Eugene Williams, who calls a City plan to spend at least $10,000 on a consultant to get black people to speak to whites "a waste of time," and suggests that City Hall should begin to address racism by looking inward.

"There is no question, City of Charlottesville government does not yet set an example for good race relations in all walks of life," Williams writes in a four-page letter to Mayor Dave Norris.

Williams claims racism should be a priority for the city's CEO, City Manager Gary O'Connell to handle directly and blasts the fact that it's getting delegated to a consultant and to an assistant city manager who happens to be African American, even if it is popular ex-sportscaster Maurice Jones.

"A black is assigned the black problem," scoffs Williams. "I do not think he is the person to deal with the bedrock of segregation and discrimination in Charlottesville."

Jones and O'Connell did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but the mayor did.

"I think [Williams] makes a good point that the city manager and I need to take the lead, and not the assistant city manager," says Mayor Norris. "There are some specific things I absolutely agree with, like the no parking signs around Garrett Square."

That's a long-standing bone of contention for Williams, and he calls the no-parking-from-9pm-to-5am signs around Friendship Court (formerly called Garrett Square) "racist" because parking isn't restricted like that anywhere else in town.

Williams also alleges that some city government departments are all white. Norris says steps have been made toward diversity in City Hall over the past six to nine months.

"I fully agree that we need to build on that and make sure we have a workforce that reflects the community," says Norris.

"Racism is getting worse," says 81-year-old Williams, who grew up in segregated Charlottesville and has fought discrimination all his life. He lists high unemployment and academic underachievement facing many African Americans here.

"Blacks are not doing well," says Williams. "That [Downtown] Mall is a no-man's territory for black people."

According to Williams, "Today's injustice is a residue from the injustice of yesterday. It's a carryover.

"I think there are many ways to get to where we want to be," says City Councilor Holly Edwards, who is African American. "Everything [Eugene Williams] is saying is true."

She agrees that O'Connell should take ownership of the race relations issue, but that in delegating it to the assistant city manager, "I think he chose the most culturally competent person– that's Maurice," she says.

Edwards likes the idea of a consultant to oversee the racial dialogue, because such talks in the past have fizzled out. She believes a consultant would give the talks consistency and "make sure it's done well and not do any harm," she says.

She adds that City Council has authorized no consultant expenditures yet, and will be given recommendations by Jones at its January 20 meeting.

The date is the same day Barack Obama will be sworn in as the United States' first African American president, and the historic event draws one more complaint from Williams about City Council's examination of racial discrimination.

"If you really would like to engage the Charlottesville community and invite them into a discussion about race relations, perhaps it would be better to choose a date on which media coverage will not be preoccupied with the inauguration," he writes.

"The feeling is we did not want to put if off," explains Councilor Edwards. "The scheduling is not intentional, and most inaugural events will be over. The swearing-in will be over."

That said, Edwards herself may not be at the City Council meeting that night because she got tickets from new Congressman Tom Perriello to attend the swearing-in, and she's anticipating not being back in time for the City Council meeting.

But she makes clear that racial relations in Charlottesville are important to her, and she takes no offense at Williams' criticism of how City Council has approached it.

"Eugene is being Eugene," says Edwards. "If he didn't react, I'd worry. We need this conversation so we can generate a new generation of reactors."

36 comments

City management showed the community how they felt when they overlooked a well qualified black applicant for Chief of Police and chose instead to appoint a "good ole boy". (This was before Longo of course) And if I recall correctly, educational requirements were lowered so the "good ole boy" could even qualify in the first place.

Does anybody really think anything has changed in the last decade since this took place?

Furthermore, did this "good ole boy" really care about making Charlottesville a better and safer place to live? I often wonder now, since he packed up and moved 35 miles away after he retired.

Maybe he moved because he was seeking a place with a lower cost of living as so many retirees are.
"Edwards said that while she knows not every resident is going to care about every issue, she has noticed that the city is divided on that front � meetings held by the local Quality Community Council on violence, she said, were mostly attended by black residents. But white residents prevailed at meetings about the Meadowcreek Parkway and the possible dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

'What’s that all about?' she asked." http://www.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/local/local_govtpolitics/article/c...
Yeah, what's that all about?

I doubt money was an issue. Everywhere is expensive now. And he should be getting about $6,000 a month in city retirement benefits anyway.

As the great Dr. King said a man should be judged by his character not by the color of his skin. There is no question that there remain whites who group all African Americans together based on the much publicized actions of criminals, just as there are many African-Americans who base all their problems on the residual effects of slavery, wallowing in the victimization mentality, while ignoring the basics of parenting and the urgent need to instill the importance of education. I am unconvinced a committee of any sort will reach the people who most need to change. True change comes from within and character begins at home.

The city has real problems. For one thing, the city enables too many dead beats. Too many rude people in the area of the mall, Young drifters yelling, smoking. gawking, and spitting the day away, Homeless dumping their free lunch bags on the ground instead of walking over to the trash bins in Lee Park. The free trolley is the perfect place for the lazy to sleep and DRINK their way to the corner. This place is looking more low rent all the time. Put more benches on the mall and see who sits there all day. Most of the lazies are NOT African Americans either.

Missing the point, peeps. This isn't an integrated city. Go someplace like, oh, I don't know, D.C. or New Orleans and you'll see whites and blacks and Hispanics and just everybody mingling in restaurants, bars, at concerts and clubs in a way that's pretty rare here. My favorite deli in the (N.O.) Garden District, Martin's Wines, is as upscale and frou-frou as any place anywhere I've ever been. The suits from the mansions on St. Charles and the bowheads from Tulane buy their wine and their fancy deli goodies there, but the poor kids living a few blocks over come and blow their dimes and dollars on British shortbread and Belgian chocolate and fancy soda pop and nobody bats an eye. I think I'd faint from surprise to see a Westhaven kid in Feast. I don't agree racism is getting worse, but economic stratification sure is with race and color connected in ways that most people just don't seem to want to think about. And in Charlottesville they don't even really have to because people don't cross lines of color and class except in very specific and limited settings (politics, anyone?) And if that particular tree hasn't fallen in your forest, can you even imagine it exists?

Oh, and it is a ridiculous and meaningless expenditure. Isn't this one of the things the assistant city manager in question is PAID around six figures to do? And couldn't one just as easily hire Karen Waters from QCC to facilitate?

I agree this is a waste of money at a time when every penny counts.

Agree with Eugene that City management needs to take the lead on this. However, a neutral facilitator - doesn't have to be a paid consultant like the City loves to spend money on - allows both sides a fair chance to be heard and feel they can advance. Karen W has leadership skills and can be a real dynamo, but she can also be very divisive and she sometimes just doesn't do the hard work. Sorry, but need neutral. I'm also disappointed to agree with Eugene that a few focus groups and talking sessions aren't going to do much about these issues. Special K is right - we are still not very integrated. How do we change that culture?

I try to remember where I ever feel in C'ville like we live in a culturally diverse City. Restaurants?...the three all-you-can-eat places the two Asian ones and the place just before the Mall on 29N. Church?....the Episcopal church on Preston. UVA Hospital?...where are those Doctors going to eat? The Universtiy undergraduates?...some majors over others.
So my burning question is, what do we do about it? If we talk about race in Charlottesville, will we address issues to assure that we will celebrate diversity, enjoy the differences of the people around us, encourage our children to seek peers who look different instead of the same? I know the discussion has to include economics but it also has to include education.

character is job 1, Yes, you are right on. What is with some of these parents? Their own kids run wild at will, and they are not held accountable for parenting responsibilities. Kids think they are entitled to a free ride because a local society sets the stage. Why work when you gain a free pass? Charlottesville invites, encourages this attitude. I recently spoke with a knowlegable probation officer. He shared that outlying counties are thrilled that Charlottesville entends an open invitation to their misfits. Charlottesville taxpayers are footing the bill to care for criminals and thugs from Fluvanna, Greene, Nelson, etc. The word is out. Come on to Charlottesville. They will provide.

Change takes time and begins every moment of every day. Together we stand and together we fall. No one stands alone

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/opinion/18rich.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&...

Last night we had a conversation with our daughter who graduated from city schools, arguably the most integrated part of Charlottesville, about how to improve race relations. Her suggestion improve the schools so that families don't leave them and move to the surrounding counties, enroll in private school or home school. In other words keep the schools integrated.

I also think a small group of community leaders should meet and draw up a list of recommendations to be implemented ASAP by our City Manager

The real word here is accounability. The African American Community has been given a a pass for 40 years. Everytime you provide an opportunity it is never good enough. The children in our schools are all exposed to the same amount of knowledge and some choose to take it in and others choose to ignore it.

The world needs ditch diggers too.

As far as no parking signs being racist. Those no parking signs help protect the GOOD people who live there from the BAD people that live there by allowing society to do its job of protecting the GOOD people from the BAD.

Sometimes the reason you fail is YOUR OWN fault. Just look at people born blind or deaf, they make it.. not because they are white, but because they have the gumption to overcome sociteies view of their abilities.

The best thing Obama can do as President is to shut up all of the outspoken RACIST blacks who want to blame everything on everyone else.

Blacks are not mad because life is hard they are mad because someone with white skin might have it easier then they do and thats "not fair"

life ain't fair. ask any midget, or parapalegic, or parent of a down syndrome child, or a blind person, deaf person, or orphan.

All of the above may be true, but kindness goes a long way. Perhaps the Obama Era will usher in a kinder, gentler, more respectful discourse in our society . Sure would set a good example for our kids no matter what their race

Please,

Worry about yourself. I really dont need some liberal yankee telling me how i should relate with other people. Most people have no problems with going about their daily responsibilities and doing their jobs without offending people. People who still cry about race relations in this country really astound me. What are you looking for? Heaven on earth? Where we all mingle, jingle, walk through lilly covered pastures holding hands with each other. Much of this crowd of weak citizens are just that, weak. Always looking for someone to blame for their short comings, always ready to point the finger. Its getting old people. Really old.

Heres one more way to start your utopian society which you seem to be seeking. Put a ban on these "hip hop" so called artist, that make millions making rhymes about killing people, hating whitey, raping and beating women, being gangsta, killing police, disrespecting authority. There, start there libs. Start with that crew. Let me know when you make a dent in that bunch.

Roger, you have made many good points. Reserarch shows that the success of the individual child depends on the educational level reached by the mother. Until we find a way to advance education in our society and demand a higher level of literacy we will continue in my opinion to fall behind as a communtiy and as a nation.

If they want to demand a higher level of literacy perhaps they should make welfare checks dependent on achievment in continuing education.

It is sad that there are so many people who get their education from oprah.

W, I agree the success of our democracy depends on the educational achievement of its citizens. Whatever it takes we must demand a higher level of educational achievement from all our citizens. And don't forget continuing education for all those receiving corporate welfare as well---there are a few laws and regulation they need to brush up on --wouldn't you agree?

I believe my post are now being held in a "holding tank" for approval.

I think that the corporate people do not need continuing education. They need jail time to think about why they did what they KNOW was wrong.

And I bet this is considered an "open minded" place. What is so bad about my 2 post that are still in the holding tank? They are not demeaning or hateful.

a message from our President " we may have different stories but we hold common hopes"

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/23/weekinreview/23scott.html

the whole purpose of the study would be to see what we can do to better our city's race relations. no rodger, banning "so called artists" is not the answer. if you think messages of hatred and murder are only found in hip hop perhaps you should do a little research. these messages show up in music from many cultures, many races, many communities. one song addressing this says "if you don't like it don't buy it, don't read it, but don't say your opinions right". censorship is not the answer, and with that said if your posts are being held then it is a fine example of part of the problem. and W, there are two things you said that i can agree with. yes the world needs ditch diggers too and yes sometimes you fail because it's your fault. however, the rest of your statements seem to be pretty close to the root of the problem here. i don't see how the city is going to get people to come together to talk about touchy issues. why isn't there diversity at the public hearings? while dredging may be important to a volvo driving soccer mom it may not be a real big concern for someone struggling to get by and raise their kids. if i need someone to watch my kids while i'm at one of these hearings it's certainly going to be about something i feel is a concern to me today. violence in my community hits closer to home. if i'm worried about my kids safety and feel this is going to make a difference i will be there. talks about race issues, i'm not so sure. if no one truly believes that things will change what will motivate people to show up. what is going to be different about this that makes an 80 year old african american man hopeful for change? why is there race based hatred, fear and tension? we learned it from our fathers like they learned it from theirs. it's going to take time. forcing the issue usually just makes for more hatred.

This article itself is symbolic of what’s wrong with Charlottesville. The reporter describes Eugene Williams as a ââ?¬Å?longtime civil rights activist.” She leaves it to the reader to assume that Williams is a supporter of civil rights for all citizens. What I’ve heard from Williams in the last decade leads me to question that assumption.

Williams calls the no-parking-from-9pm-to-5am signs around Friendship Court (Garrett Square) ââ?¬Å?racist” because parking like that isn’t restricted elsewhere in town. But Williams has no problem with Garrett Square itself, a blatant civil rights violation from the 1970s. The public housing site was seized in the early ââ?¬Ë?70s, torn down 1977, and sold to the private sector. Piedmont Housing Alliance bought the 150-unit property in 2002. Williams doesn’t deny or confirm the crime and drug dealing that prompted the signs.

Of course I haven’t read the 4-page letter. And I also haven’t heard Williams speak on the connection between public housing and racial tensions. Residential segregation seems not to be on his radar.

Williams also ââ?¬Å?alleges that some city government departments are all white.” How is that racist? Does he have proof that qualified blacks have applied and been discriminated against? No. He’s using the racist technique of looking at skin color, not substance.

Back in 2000 City Council candidate John Bright made the same charge against the police department, alleging that the upper ranks were disproportionately white. Turns out the lower ranking black officers did not want the positions of greater responsibility for whatever reason. Racism was alleged where there was none. Besides city sheriff Cornelia Johnson stood as an example of a high ranking black officer. After 12 years in office, she’s retiring this year.

ââ?¬Å?Racism is getting worse,” 81-year-old Williams is quoted. ââ?¬Å?He lists high unemployment and academic underachievement facing many African Americans here. Blacks are not doing well. That [Downtown] Mall is a no-man’s territory for black people” What racist person is forcing blacks to drop out of school and be unqualified for jobs? I’ve seen black people downtown hanging out, shopping and working. Does Williams want to impose quotas and percentages?

City Councilor Holly Edwards says, ââ?¬Å?Everything [Eugene Williams] is saying is true.” What about the things he’s not saying, the issues and circumstances he’s omitting?

Williams wants the white City Manager Gary O’Connell to handle the race discussion instead of the black assistant city manager Maurice Jones. ââ?¬Å?A black is assigned the black problem.” More racism on Williams’ part. I think it’s counterproductive to have discussions where blacks call whites racist. If Jones leads the discussion, the consultant should be white to encourage white people to participate.

In my view, Williams is listing animals in the room but leaving off the list the elephant crowding out everything else. What is that elephant? Urban renewal, public housing, civil rights violations, redevelopment, residential segregation. Williams is looking through the glasses he wore as a young man and seeing today’s Charlottesville as if it were the 1950s and ââ?¬Ë?60s. The progress made is invisible to him.

Perhaps Williams and readers of The Hook could request that the urban renewal archives be released online to the public so we can see how big the elephant is. Dr. Scot French, Director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia has those archives since Nov. 2007, including 6,845 physical documents and 1,189 photos. Former assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney donated in 2006 the archives to the Carter G. Woodson Institute, who talked about the project Feb. 24, 2007, and without keeping a copy or record, passed them on to Dr. French, who was in Ghana Jan. 9, 2009 when I made my most recent inquiry.

Contact Virginia Center for Digital History

ââ?¬Å?Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Ask your City Councilors (Dave Norris, Satyendra Huja, Holly Edwards, David Brown, Julian Taliaferro) how we can have an informed discussion of race relations in Charlottesville without this information.

Wait... how can the assistant city manager turn over city property to UVA without copying them first? Are those documents now UVA's property, or are they only on loan for digitizing?

Good question. Dr. French says the actual documents are back "wherever they came from." But he has the digitized copies. Assistant city manager can do and has done whatever he/she wants. But in this case, the consequence is that I recorded the history of my repeated efforts. My first petition to view and photograph the archives was March 25, 2004. I don't expect new Housing Authority director Randy Bickers to be anymore cooperative than he was Nov. 2007 when I requested proof the Authority owns the Levy Ave parking lot. A front page Daily Progress story about Levy that omitted historical perspective motivated that particular request. On Nov. 20, 2006, the entire City Council refused to cooperate, with Kendra Hamilton and Dave Norris pretending not to know about the research effort despite numerous newsblog postings and reports on Charlottesville Independent Media, emails, and speeches I've delivered at City Council. Reality Check, you seem to be the only one who doesn't know about city govt on this issue and the silent indifference of local news media.

Asst city manager Small-Toney resigns, blocked access to public records, May 23, 2007

Blair,

Very charitable of you not to mention the former Assistant City Manager as a classic example of a double whammy quota hire. After my interactions with her, I couldn't see any other qualifications for her having that job. I'm all for diversity, I couldn't care less what race, gender, religion, or blood type someone is. But please, let's make sure being different is eliminated both as a reason for disqualifying someone from receiving equal treatment and as a reason for special treatment. I pity Savannah.

Blair, there's no reason for you to be rude to me.

I certainly DO know about this issue and think it stinks to high heaven. However it slipped my radar that the records had been turned over to UVA, so deal with it.

Have you FOIAed the documents?

Hey, Broadus:

The house was for sale.

If you wished to control it, you should have bought it. Maybe you still can, money talks.

Now go find an old house for sale and buy it. Then do whatever you want with it. (My hunch is that you'll preserve it). God speed to you.

The architecture of Eugene Bradbury defines and enriches our community. The demolition of an important Bradbury house by the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, an entity that could afford to preserve it and incorporate it into a new design, is a tragedy. Thanks to Dave McNair for shedding light on this sad process.

Dan Friedman
Charlottesville

That's right, Vito the only thing worth protecting in our society is property rights! Kudos to you for making this compelling and original case.

But did you notice that the JSF project relies on $18 million in County-issued bonds? Does that strike you as a triumph of the free market?

Aaron Wunsch

Didn't they give up on the bond and seek other funds?

For the record: the Jefferson Scholars Foundation building campaign relies on an $18-million bond issue from a public agency, the Industrial Development Authority of Albemarle County. The JSF sought an additional $3 million in bonds from the City, but when City Council had the temerity to ask if the JSF had seriously considered preserving the Compton House, JSF decided to seek funding elsewhere.