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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. 

Unite the Right rally

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

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.

Torch march of white nationalists

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

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.

Kessler Press Conference

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

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.


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Charlottesville: Where Do We Go From Here?  was originally published on