Just ten days ago, Americans watched horrific news videos of a car plowing in to demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Our hearts go out to friends and colleagues in Charlottesville. Ohio Humanities condemns all efforts to discriminate, intimidate, or marginalize our residents.

The divisive racist rhetoric currently on display across the United States should not be tolerated in a democratic society. Ohio Humanities has a long tradition of supporting the discussions that help engaged citizens grapple with difficult ideas. Only together, can we explore the past to build vibrant communities that promise equitable futures for every resident of the United States.

We cannot allow ourselves to believe that white supremacy is a “Southern problem.” After all, the man responsible for the car attack in Charlottesville is from Lucas County.

This past weekend, a Westerville neighborhood was leafletted by white supremacists who attached candies to the flyers, as though a sugar treat could sweeten their message of bigotry. Reports from other towns reveal that communities are quietly removing the graffiti of hate left by vandals on synagogues and mosques.

History is filled with contradictions and conflicting perspectives.

Ohio can proudly point to its history for ending a system of repression and slavery based on color and creed. During the Civil War, Ohio contributed more men and material than any other state to defeat the Confederacy, thus ending slavery in the United States.

And yet, the music and lyrics for “Dixie,” the de facto Confederate anthem, were penned in Mt. Vernon, Ohio.

The Underground Railroad crisscrossed the state, yet Ohio’s legislature enacted a Black Code to discourage free blacks and runaway slaves from settling here.

Home to several Union generals who later became Presidents, Ohio is the birthplace of one of the Civil War’s notorious criminals: William Quantrill was born in Dover.

In the 1920s, Ku Klux Klan membership swelled as Ohioans joined up to protest the influx of Southern blacks and East Europeans seeking jobs in our industrial cities. As late as 1955, a cross-burning in Hillsboro was meant to intimidate black children seeking equal education in that town’s schools.

White supremacists would have us believe that it’s simply a matter of black and white. They lack the fundamental courage to parse our nation’s complicated history or to face contemporary facts of changing demographics. How sad that these hate groups cannot appreciate the invaluable richness that every ethnic group and religious tradition contribute to our communities.

Democracy demands wisdom. That wisdom can be gained only by the participation of individuals willing to explore historic fact and civilly debate differing interpretations of historic events.

Ohio Humanities offers grants and guidance to foster conversations that explore difficult questions. If we can help your community hold a conversation about race and ethnicity in light of current events, please contact us at ohc@ohiohumanities.org.

Pat Williamsen
Executive Director
Ohio Humanities