The music of two dozen trombone players filled Charlottesville’s Market Street Park on Saturday, a park that almost exactly two years prior was filled with the sound of racist chants.
Tying into the city-wide Unity Days event series, the trombonists from across the commonwealth were invited by First United Methodist Church to perform a selection of songs in a celebration of resonance and harmony.
A few dozen people sat in fold-out chairs in front of the musicians, quieting listening and occasionally fanning themselves with the event’s program. The large statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee loomed over the event, a silent reminder of the strife and violence that engulfed the park not long ago.
Partway through the performance, civil rights activist Uriah J. Fields gave a speech, reflecting on the events of August 2017 and his past work.
Fields, who played a part in the Montgomery bus boycott spurred by Rosa Parks, encouraged people to learn from the past while not holding on to it too tightly.
“When I was a boy, we had a horse and I would ride him all over the place, and when we got to somewhere we wanted to stay we would hitch him onto something and he would stay, there until we moved,” he said. “Many times, people are like that, tied to what their fathers did, but this is our day, and we’re going to do what’s right for us now.”
Pointing to the trombonists, Fields said the group’s expressed mission was to create a harmonious America.
“But harmony is about more than just music; what we need to do is to practice building community,” he said. “I use the word practice because it takes work and it isn’t easy.”
The event stood in stark contrast to the last two years. In 2017, white supremacists from across the country, ostensibly occupying the park to protest the Charlottesville City Council’s votes to remove the Lee statute, descended on the city and clashed with counter-protesters.
After authorities declared an unlawful assembly to quell the chaos, protesters and counter-protesters dispersed. Soon afterward, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people in an attack that killed Heather Heyer and maimed several other counter-protesters.
For the first anniversary, more than 1,000 police officers descended on Charlottesville, blocking off the Downtown Mall, save for a handful of controlled entrances. Despite a lack of apparent threat, officers remained in Charlottesville in force for the entire weekend.
The statue that spurred the violence and unrest was also blocked off, with limited access monitored by authorities.
This year, the Downtown Mall was filled with a typical Saturday crowd: families and individuals continuing on their way, eating, shopping or participating in one of the Unity Days events scattered throughout the mall.
According a city police spokesman, no arrests related to the anniversary had been made as of 7:15 p.m.
Charlottesville resident Sarah Grubb participated in one such event, the Main to Monticello walking tour, which educated participants on the history of local black residents and figures.
Grubb said she was unaware of a lot of the history she learned on the tour.
“I hope they expand the tour, I would love to learn more,” she said.
Though this is the weekend of the anniversary, Unity Days events will continue into the future, with various major events running through the end of the month. The calendar of events can be found at charlottesville.org/unitydays.