CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mid-morning, the line for brunch at Bodo’s on Emmett Street stretched out the door, smiling customers casually chatting while waiting for an everything bagel with deli egg.
This was just a mile down the road from the Grounds of the University of Virginia, where hours earlier White Nationalists marched with torches and clashed with the general public. At that moment, riots were breaking out downtown, a five minute drive away, but simply witnessing the typical Saturday morning Charlottesville scene here, you’d never known it.
This has always been a land of contradiction, named for the queen, yet a hub of American revolutionary activity. Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal while holding slaves at his mountaintop home above the city. It’s grown into an island of Brooks Brothers and Williams Sonoma surrounded by a sea of rural Appalachia. Where Jefferson’s Monticello is a neighbor of the Trump Winery and a serial killer operated below Walton’s Mountain.
The contradictions have rarely been more apparent than today, as the idyllic college town has become the host of some of the most chilling examples of our current great national divide.
Charlottesville somehow avoided most of the worst of the Civil War, yet now two sides battle over the removal of statues celebrating Confederate generals. This, in a city others in the region often deride as not truly Southern. A county that overwhelmingly voted Democrat has more than once this summer been invaded by the Alt-Right.
As CNN spent most of Saturday focused on Charlottesville, there was soon no ignoring what was going on. But in the 24-hour news cycle, the world’s attention will soon move along. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have made the requisite statements. Celebrities have weighed in. And sometime soon, perhaps before you’ve even read this, they’ll all have moved on to the inevitable next controversy.
But for the people and institutions in Charlottesville, the events of this summer will linger. It’s hard not to think of the University of Missouri, where racial unrest and protests in 2015 had tremendous negative impact that continues to be felt across the school and community. Mizzou, with enrollment and fundraising plummeting, closed seven dormitories and laid off nearly 500 employees this year.
It’s tough to say if Charlottesville and UVA, will take the same hit, but all university activities were cancelled Saturday after the governor declared a state of emergency. That included Meet The Team Day and movie night for Virginia football fans at Scott Stadium.
Instead of being treated to a showing of Beauty and the Beast, Charlottesville got real life scenes of horror, with at least three dead and many more injured before some semblance of calm was restored.
Infamous former KKK leader David Duke was in town, fanning the flames Saturday, while UVa basketball coach Tony Bennett tries to recruit a promising young point guard and black teenager also named David Duke.
The world should know that to most Charlottesvillians, only the latter is invited to return, but recent events aren’t going to make recruiting to Virginia any easier.
The coming fall months here are usually notable for apple picking and ACC football. But with images of torches and violence fresh in everyone’s mind, you can’t blame residents for fears their quaint, pleasant little city won’t be the same — whatever that actually means.