Last Friday, hundreds of white nationalists shouted racial epithets and “You will not replace us!” while holding torches aloft as they marched toward a Thomas Jefferson statue and surrounded a small group of students there. Some of the counterprotesters were hurt as marchers threw torches and sprayed chemicals.
The next day in Charlottesville, a woman was killed and many more hurt when a car drove into a crowd of counterprotesters.
In the days since, as the community struggled through shock and grief, students were returning for the beginning of the academic year.
Students and community members gathered at Nameless Field Wednesday night and handed out candles before retracing the steps white supremacists had taken days earlier.
They sang “We Shall Overcome,” lifting makeshift candle holders — flames set in paper cups, paper plates, red plastic cups — and “Amazing Grace.”
Some laid candles at the base of the Jefferson statue and a sign echoing the one counterprotesters had held: “Resist.”
Some lingered on, standing on the steps of the Rotunda Jefferson designed, candles still flickering as the Lawn emptied.
“The community has felt very fractured and distraught and has needed an opportunity to come together both as Charlottesville and as U-Va. and reclaim the space,” said Sarah Kenny, a senior from Vienna, Va., who is student council president. Her room is on the Lawn, the historic heart of campus; she said she and her neighbors “are anxious about living in this space that had white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching down it less than a week ago. This was a chance to define this place again and really begin the healing process.”
It was emotional, she said — she and many others shed tears Wednesday night — but cathartic.
After such a horrific weekend, seeing so many community members joining U-Va. students and faculty Wednesday night made her feel more hopeful, she said, about welcoming a new class on Sunday evening at convocation and beginning a new school year.
On social media, people embraced the moment.