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A guest Opinion from John V. Buffington

Please Stop Abusing Charlottesville

Charlottesville is a place, not a murderer. It isn’t a headquarters for bigots. It isn’t the breeding ground for psychopaths. It didn’t volunteer to serve as a location for stormtrooper training.

University of Virginia at Charlottesville, from Wikimededia Commons

It didn’t occur to me to be offended when Columbine became a synonym for murder. I have never been to Columbine. Charlottesville is an entirely different matter for me: I love Charlottesville.

Citizens of Columbine, please accept my apology. I failed to come to your defense. You are not a crime, you are secondary victims and it took me a awhile to get it. It took me until the legitimate American press started using the name of a place that I love as shorthand for murder.

Charlottesville has had murders before, of course – like every other place of any consequence. But it has never cultivated murder, the way, say Las Vegas has cultivated vice. Or the way that West Virginia has sponsored pollution.

It is common in college towns for there to be a sort of constant murmur of town-gown conflict; I don’t remember noticing that in Charlottesville during my 7 years at the University there.  I remember a youth minister at the Presbyterian Church near the Grounds who grilled hotdogs and explained to students of the ’60’s generation that Jesus was a revolutionary.  I remember that when the Mayor and Governor saw Anti-Vietnam demonstrations coming they kept their police back and trusted the brilliant University President Edgar Shannon to keep things cool.  I remember the dedicated lady who ran the office of the Mental Health Association where I volunteered as a student, and a lot of self-less adult volunteers who supported that operation.  I did some substitute teaching in the local high school, and I remember a lot of seniors of Mr. Golladay’s Government classes who actually seemed to enjoy talking about real issues with a stranger.  I remember that the people of Charlottesville then were Virginia taxpayers like my parents, and they subsidized my fabulous education.

Charlottesville’s history goes way back before this murder. It is the place where Thomas Jefferson chose to build his home and then his university. It is the town where the Virginia General Assembly was meeting during the American Revolution, when Banistre Tarleton’s Cavalry tried to catch them but Jack Jovett rode into town with the alarm, so the legislature and Governor Jefferson too scampered across Afton Mountain to reconvene in Staunton.

Because Mr. Jefferson chose Charlottesville for his university, it was a potential location for conflict in September 1965, when the University was beginning to desegregate and I arrived to start college. Bad things happened in a lot of towns where colleges and universities were desegregating, but I don’t remember anything bad happening in Charlottesville.

What happened with me was, I got a better education and part of that was the discovery that I had black classmates who had to meet the same rigorous standards that I did, plus live with the pressure of being the test cases. They had to be extra tough, and they made it.

So, 7 years after I arrived in Charlottesville, I left, a better educated, more tolerant person than the one that arrived.

I appreciate the voters of Charlottesville in the early 1970s for electing Tom Michie to the Lower House of their General Assembly – which Virginians call by the beautifully evocative “The House of Delegates” – because Del. Michie turned out to be my invaluable ally when I launched my effort as a novice lobbyist for Virginia’s environmental movement and the state Association of Social Workers.  (He was also one of the sponsors of my Va. State Bar Admission.)

Charlottesville is not a murderer or a gathering for bigots. Charlottesville is a great town that hosts a great University. It is a beautiful, welcoming, Virginia Place. If you don’t know why “Virginia” is a positive adjective, please go there and find out. You won’t be sorry.

At the advanced age of 70 I have just discovered a new verity: sometimes you don’t realize what you love until you see it being abused.  I have been well aware for 52 years of how deeply I love the University of Virginia but it never occurred to me before to consider it’s context: Charlottesville.  Thank you, U.VA.

And thank you Charlottesville.

John Buffiington is a double graduate of UVA: B.A. in Government, 1969, J.D., 1972.  He can be contacted at



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