And, here we are again.?For?those?who have been saying?for years?that the terrible red record of racism in the southern United States is?“in the past,” and?“should?no longer be?brought up,”?Friday night?in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violence that?ensued?on Saturday,?was a modern-day vision of that past.?
For those?who have been saying that the world has changed, that we now live in a “post-racial society” and that racism no longer exists,?this weekend’s incident?served?as a wake-up call. If hearts haven’t changed, then nothing has changed.
It was precisely this image which?struck?terror?into the hearts,?minds?and lives?of?African-American citizens during the?Reconstruction era–Derrick Johnson, NAACP
White men?and women?marched?under?the cover of night?hoisting?torches,?some?bearing?firearms?and chanting Nazi-era slogans?while state police and National Guardsmen watched passively:?It was precisely this image which?struck?terror?into the hearts,?minds?and lives?of?African-American citizens during the?Reconstruction era, and led to thousands of killings and lynchings?in these United States.?And it was precisely this type of racial violence?that?led to the founding of the NAACP?in 1909.
Saturday’s?organized gathering of white supremacists?—in a place called Emancipation Park, no less—was?the largest?in almost a generation. The?only things?missing?were?white robes,?nooses and burning crosses.?But make no mistake, the marchers’?torches blazed brightly,?kindled in large measure?by the incendiary rhetoric?emanating?routinely from the Donald Trump White House.
This?incident had absolutely nothing to do with freedom of speech, nor the freedom to peaceably assemble, and it was not reflective of the good people of Charlottesville and the?Commonwealth of Virginia. As they try to move beyond the?surly?heritage of the past, many?residents and business owners?have made public statements about the economic impact of?these groups?converging upon their city, and?about?public funds being used to support them?which could have better been spent on the education of our youth. Many there have worked hard against the odds to set a moral tone, and have?even?placed themselves in harm’s way to drown out messages of hate.
Three people died as a result of the?hatred on parade in Charlottesville over the weekend, and our?thoughts?and prayers are with their families. We must find ways to unite to extinguish the?flames of racial hatred once again.The urgency of?this?assignment should come as no surprise – nor should the reminder?that there are?tangible, treacherous consequences?for not voting.
We have?repeatedly?witnessed,?endured?and confronted?this type of violence in Virginia and beyond?for more than a hundred years. We have shed much blood in the hope that our children would never see its?stain?again. Our forebears have done the soldiering, but?where does that leave our children? What are our children seeing and learning now, and what battles must they go on to fight?
While?the NAACP is grateful?that Virginia Governor?Terry McAuliffe?issued a statement?on?Saturday?in complete alignment with?the NAACP’s?position on the weekend’s events?and our longstanding message,?we challenge him to?leverage?the?executive powers?of his office?to eradicate race-based barriers in all areas of life within the state.?We further?expect?the?White House?to do the same?across this nation.
We?expect?President Trump to?do far more than to vaguely disavow hatred “on many sides.” We call upon him to?forcefully?denounce?this act?as terrorism?and to remove?known white supremacist leaders Steve Bannon, Steven Miller and others from his team of advisers.
What next, you ask? Well,?the NAACP?will remain?steadfast in our advocacy and activism as we push forward?the?fight for legislative changes,?the?expansion of voting rights and sound public policies that equally?protect and?serve all citizens.?We?will?fight?against?race-based hatred?and?against anyone who?threatens?the moral right of our?nation. We will?work?tirelessly?to bridge?what divides Americans,?rather than?to?further?wedge?the minor differences that separate?us.?And we will continue to stand?strong, arm-in-arm?with our brothers and sisters in towns and cities across the country who are gathering, marching?and protesting?for peace.
We ask everyone to actively participate in the political process, volunteer your time, talent and resources to support organizations like the NAACP, working every day to advocate for laws to improve the lives of all Americans.
Derrick Johnson is interim president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Follow him @DJohnsonMSNAACP and @NAACP.