It’s been nearly a year since the deadly weekend of protests in Charlottesville, Va., where white nationalists and neo-Nazis clashed with counterprotesters, leaving a young woman and two state police officers dead and a nation that has long struggled with the dark side of its complicated racial history shaken to its core.
To put the calamity in perspective, Yahoo News interviewed more than a dozen people who were deeply affected by the events of that weekend. They included Charlottesviller Mayor Nikuyah Walker, the city’s first black female mayor; current and former city and state officials, including former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Tim Kaine; Susan Bro, the mother of 23-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car driven by a neo-Nazi plowed into a group of counterprotesters; Ryan Kelly, the photographer whose photo of that moment won a Pulitzer, and Marcus Martin and Marissa Blair, survivors of the car attack captured in Kelly’s photo. Yahoo News also spoke to Elle Reeve, a Vice News correspondent whose Emmy-nominated documentary, “Charlottesville: Race and Terror,” offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the white nationalist leaders who planned the rally; Christopher Cantwell, a white nationalist prominently featured in the documentary who spent more than five months in jail on assault and battery charges stemming from the clashes, and Emily Gorcenski, an activist for transgender rights who says she was pepper-sprayed by Cantwell and has since moved to Berlin to escape threats.
For many, Charlottesville was supposed to be a teachable moment. “We lost our innocence,” says Edward Ayers, local historian and former president of the University of Richmond. “White people lost their innocence that weekend and can’t imagine that the statues just don’t mean anything, that all they are were testimonials to good faith of the past. I think it was an eye-opening experience for a lot of people.”
Yet, as evidenced by President Trump’s widely criticized response blaming “both sides” for the violence, the need for teaching continues, and the “difficult conversations” Heyer’s mother says the country needed to have are still needed.
The report that follows includes new firsthand recollections of the deadly weekend, and a reflection on how the clashes changed a community, and the country, in the year since.