As Virginians grappled Sunday with the deadly aftermath of a white nationalist protest, state leaders didn’t preach about unity from their offices or on TV — they went to a historically black church in Charlottesville.
“We come to you this morning to reassure you that the Commonwealth of Virginia and all of us that are in this together will not and do not condone white supremacists that brought their hatred and bigotry to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam told Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, to roaring applause.
“That’s not what we’re about. So I am here this morning, as your lieutenant governor, and also as a doctor, to start the healing process.”
Less than 24 hours had passed since a driver plowed into demonstrators protesting against white nationalists in Charlottesville.
Heather Heyer, 32, was killed. Two Virginia state troopers monitoring Saturday’s protests from the sky, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, were killed when their helicopter crashed.
At one point, Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the congregation for a moment of silence to honor Heyer and the troopers, “who lost their lives yesterday doing what they loved doing — fighting for freedom.”
“I feel right at home here at the Mount Zion church,” the governor said. “I was invited today to go on a lot of TV shows. I turned them all down, because I needed to be where I should be, here in this beautiful church here today.”
The racial divides that fueled Saturday’s violence stood in stark contrast to the unity displayed Sunday as one white elected official after another received standing ovations from the black congregation at Mount Zion.
“We will get through this stronger than we were yesterday,” Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer told the crowd.
“Our democracy has been through a lot. We’ve been through segregation and Jim Crow. We’ve been through McCarthyism. And we will get through this challenge. And we’re going to do it together.”