Clarity in Chaos

Jazz Performance Director John D’earth discusses his musical career, life in Charlottesville and what jazz has to teach America.

Words and Photos by Meagan O’Rourke.

University Director of Jazz Performance John D’earth decided to drop out of Harvard on a Sunday in 1972.

In a New York City loft above King Pork Packer’s on the corner of 9th Avenue and 13th Street, the saxophonist David Liebman played “Willow Weep for Me” for D’earth in the morning, the brassy tones drowning out the city chatter. Later that afternoon, D’earth heard his longtime friend and percussion professor Robert Jospé and Grammy-winning saxophonist Michael Brecker playing songs off the Coltrane album “Impressions.”

“I could not believe what I was hearing,” D’earth said.

This was the jazz scene of New York in the 70’s — collaborative, evolving and raw. A jam session among friends in a loft could be the breeding ground for nationally-renowned musicians. While he loved studying English literature in college, D’earth — an insatiable listener and trumpet performer — needed to be here.

Now, in 2018, Charlottesville is his post. Continuing his musical career — still technically on a leave of absence from Harvard, he jokes — D’earth is the University’s Jazz Ensemble Director. Outside of the University, D’earth seems to be entrenched in every aspect of the Charlottesville jazz scene. He is the co-founder of the Free Bridge Quintet, a co-founder of the Precognitive Conservatory Orchestra, director of the Charlottesville Swing Orchestra and a local favorite to watch perform at Miller’s on the Downtown Mall on Thursday nights. During the Concert for Charlottesville, he shared the stage with the Dave Matthews Band and features Dave Matthews on his “Mercury” album.

However, he does not stay here for the applause he receives at the end of every performance.

He agrees to meet with me outside of Old Cabell Hall. Although his concert call time is quickly approaching, he never checks his phone or watch. Performers roll in sound equipment as we talk for an hour. During our conversation, he stops to say hello to four music students and professors he knows walking past. Jazz is truly the “social art” he described to me.

“Charlottesville is a really rich musical community and its got a really great jazz community, jazz appreciation, jazz musicians, jazz studies,” D’earth said. “It’s a musical place, and I feel as though my biggest interest in life is to make a difference to something. I think there’s bad times coming in this country, like very bad times ahead.”

But D’earth says that jazz has something to teach all of us about confronting bad times — if we are brave enough to listen.

Miller’s is the home to locals who come to hear D’earth play Thursday nights.

Miller’s is the home to locals who come to hear D’earth play Thursday nights

D’earth always knew he wanted to be a performer. Planning his career goals early on, he was an aspiring actor until the age of 12.

Particularly, he recalls watching the 1959 film “The Five Pennies.” Somewhat mirroring D’earth’s future, the film follows the true story of Red Nichols (played by Danny Kaye) as he moves to New York to become a jazz musician.

“Danny Kaye is a genius performer and he just made this crazy jazz musician come to life, but Red Nichols himself was not a great player,” D’earth said.

While he admired Kaye’s energetic portrayal of lackluster Nichols, a supporting character who played the cornet in the film captured his interest — Louis Armstrong.

“So it was in a funny way that [Danny Kaye] handed me off to Louis Armstrong and that was it,” D’earth said.

D’earth was suspended several times from his Framingham high school for “stupid stuff” like the rebellious act of not cutting his hair. His single mother was frustrated with the administration’s rule restricting the stylish trend. She arranged for her son to attend a private high school — the Cambridge School of Weston.

Here, he met Jospé who would become his musical collaborator, best friend and fellow professor at the University. Jospé, dressed in black concert attire, waves at us as he climbs the Old Cabell steps. D’earth shouts hello and leans in to to tell me they are two weeks apart in age — almost like twins — but D’earth is older.

“It was an instant connection of music and friendship [when] we started playing together the very first day we met in 1967,” Jospé said.

Jospé went on to New York University and D’earth to Harvard. But the two were not separated for long. D’earth frequently visited New York to see Jospé, who was studying under Miles Davis’ drummer, Tony Williams, at the time.

Drawn in by the city’s vibrant sound, D’earth made the move to New York in 1971, and the two friends from Massachusetts formed the jazz fusion band Cosmology. Vocalist Dawn Thompson, later to become D’earth’s wife, also led the group in crafting original music.

In 1981, the group was invited to play gigs in Charlottesville, whose jazz scene was in its early stages.

“We were sort of a different kind of sound that people were attracted to,” Jospé said.


While New York City was brimming with jazz music in the ’70s, D’earth recognizes this is not the case everywhere today. He notes that many people do not get jazz and they think that those who claim to like it are just trying to be hip. However, D’earth is not in the business of trying to get people to like jazz. He just wants his students and audiences to feel jazz.

“Jazz has to hurt you and then it is your problem and you’ll know what to do but you have to listen to it,” D’earth said. “It has to hurt you. The music has to touch you.”

D’earth refuses to leave the philosophy lesson at this. He delves into history.

“Look, jazz music is black music — it is the music of black America,” D’earth said. “And everybody plays it because black people created this music in this country and it got recorded and it went around the world, and it changed how people heard music. It gave music back to the people.”

D’earth recognizes the significance of the history of jazz music and its roots in black America. As a white jazz musician, he has grappled with the idea of whether playing jazz music is cultural appropriation.

“Every note we jazz musicians play is Black Lives Matter because the notes we play would not exist without black lives,” D’earth said. “So that’s not appropriation, that is affirmation. And that’s what art should do — affirmation.”

Deborah McDowell, professor and director of the Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, typically shies away from talking about whether white musicians are appropriating jazz music, as it is a complex matter for black jazz musicians to unpack. However, she says D’earth always explains the influence of black musicians on his work and is a masterful player.

“Whoever has heard his trumpet knows that he inhabits jazz music, bone and flesh — that he respects, even reverences, jazz music,” McDowell said in an email. “For this and so many other reasons, it belongs to him in the truest meaning of belonging.”

D’earth’s goal is to introduce each concert talking about where the music comes from and its roots in black America, referring to slavery of the past and discrimination today. He hopes people will realize the healing properties that can come out of such seemingly chaotic and spontaneous music.

“The point is, what this music talks about is genuine feelings, true experience. And guess what? It’s painful as hell and it’s beautiful to survive,” D’earth said.

D’Earth improvises and sees this music style as a form of conversation.

Once, D’earth was so moved by jazz’s power, he had to pull off of the road.

He was listening to a Billie Holiday concert on the radio. It was not the music that had moved him — it was the shock of what Holiday said at the end of the concert. “I never sing a song the same way twice, I never sing the same tempo. And when I sing a song, that’s my life.”

D’earth pauses and exhales.

“I have a hard time even repeating that without getting really screwed up from it,” D’earth said. “But the point of it is if 99 percent of people in this country heard that music and heard that voice and had the same reaction we wouldn’t have racism in this country. We would have appreciation and apologies. And we need apologies.”

While he has always been concerned about racial injustice and discrimination, he feels he, as a jazz musician, is more relevant after the events of Aug. 11 and 12 in which white supremacists and neo-Nazis occupied the Lawn in a torchlit rally the night before a deadly protest in downtown Charlottesville the following day.

“Since the events of August, I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak out,” D’earth said.

He attributes his mentor and colleague, Music Prof. Bonnie Gordon, with opening his eyes to the ongoing inequalities in Charlottesville and for inspiring him to talk more openly about racial injustices.

“I played this music for years in this town and never realized there was a whole black part of the town, a poor part of the town that would never have the transportation or the dough to find me as a teacher,” D’earth said. “I just never thought of it that way but she taught me that.”

Together, they created The Precognitive Conservatory Orchestra — a jazz performance group free for anyone of any level to join, which focuses on musical improvisation.

While he sees jazz improvisation as a form of conversation, he wishes people would harness the norms of music to have more productive dialogues about the heaviest problems facing our nation.

“Music shows the way. Especially improvised music,” D’earth said. “Because when in music you say, ‘When in doubt, leave it out.’ You say, ‘Listen to each other’.”

Teaching improvisation may seem counterintuitive, but D’earth strikes a balance.

And while D’earth loves teaching, he is wary of the intimidation that can come with mastering music. A crusading musical egalitarian, he believes everyone’s sense of music is innate. Like breathing, D’earth believes music is biological.

“Think anything biological,” D’earth said. “So I think music and sexuality are super connected to each other but I think we as a people, we the people of this country but in the human race in general is very very paranoid about anything powerful so music, sex, everybody wants to control these things.”

As a teacher, he believes it is his job to let his students find their own musicality and to embrace its power. He is disheartened by stories of children who go into music only to be dissuaded by militant teachers or critical parents.

“I say let them do their dream of music first. They have a huge dream when they go to music, and when we play this free music everybody can live the dream,” D’earth said.

As a stepfather, D’earth also sees his students as children.


Ph.D. Jazz student Rami Stucky has played drums in the Jazz Ensemble since fall of 2016. Since meeting D’earth, he has considered him as a mentor and has appreciated his understanding teaching style.

“He’s unorthodox but in the best way possible,” Stucky said.

Unlike other big bands Stucky has played in which mostly play stock tunes, D’earth encourages students to compose their own pieces. Last semester, the ensemble played three student-compositions.

“He’s unorthodox but in the best way possible.”

-Ph.D. jazz student Rami Stucky

This originality drives D’earth’s work. Watching him perform at Miller’s with his band, he plays trumpet in brilliant bursts, then walks off the stage while the keyboardist plays a solo. He grabs a drink, hugs an old friend and goes back up, moving naturally with the music. Like Holiday, he is careful not to play a song the same way twice.

He believes there are two things jazz has to teach us.

The first is mastering your instrument so you have your own relationship to its musical language.

“Two, what Oscar Wilde said — be yourself because everyone else is taken. Tell your own story, express yourself, no copying,” D’earth said. “And that’s what jazz has to teach. That’s what the great jazz musicians do.”

The city that wears its art on its sleeve

Charlottesville’s murals illustrate a city wrestling with its identity

Words by Ben Hitchcock and Thomas Roades.

Charlottesville’s most popular mural could not be more straightforward: “I LOVE CHARLOTTESVILLE A LOT,” reads the wall of Fitzgerald’s Tires in Belmont. The jauntily spaced red and black letters are a pilgrimage site for residents and students alike, a focal point in a town that loves art and loves itself.

“I Love Charlottesville a Lot,” at Fitzgerald’s Tires, is perhaps Charlottesville’s most popular mural. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Charlottesville’s walls have become increasingly colorful over the last few years, as artists and organizations have leapt at the chance to reimagine the visual landscape of a rapidly changing city. The Tom Tom Founders Festival City as Canvas Mural Project has sponsored multiple murals since its founding three years ago; The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative’s Charlottesville Mural Project, founded in 2011, has commissioned and consulted more than a dozen murals, including “I Love Charlottesville” and the abstraction on the side of The Graduate Hotel. Charlottesville now wears its art on its sleeve.

The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, which has commissioned numerous Charlottesville murals, is itself covered in public art. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

This vibrant evolution becomes more complicated in the wake of Aug. 12 and the ensuing period of town-wide self-reflection. As many have recently noted, Charlottesville’s class of well-educated, high-earning white liberals have long engaged in a dangerous sort of “performative progressivism.” After President Donald Trump’s election, Mayor Mike Signer declared Charlottesville the “Capital of the Resistance.”The city feels like ground zero for new-age, lumbersexual, craft-beer liberalism, likely home to more Priuses and Bernie stickers per capita than anywhere else in the state. But this brand of progressivism often falls short of creating real progress. Slapping a nice picture on a wall in a decrepit neighborhood and claiming to have made a tangible difference exemplifies this trend.

This context casts the various strategies adopted by Charlottesville’s muralists into a new light. Some of Charlottesville’s murals are bold and subversive and brash. Works by artists like Kaki Dimock and Tandem Friends School are squarely situated in the tradition of the mural as political activism — as the shard of Berlin Wall outside Alderman reminds us, street art has long been a powerful tool in the hands of grassroots change-makers. Other muralists like Mickael Broth have embraced the abstract and apolitical in their art. Meanwhile, work by Chicho Lorenzo aims for a different sort of activism, an activism of aspiration, depicting not what is but what could be. The merits and flaws of these respective styles have been thrown into sharp focus by Charlottesville’s extraordinary political moment.


Look closely to see a street sign painted with checkers to blend into this mural at Mas Tapas — a lighthearted and creative touch characteristic of artist Chicho Lorenzo. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Just around the corner from “I Love Charlottesville,” a similarly optimistic mural covers the side of the restaurant Mas Tapas. The “Floating Banquet,” painted early last year by artist Chicho Lorenzo, depicts a joyful scene — adults and children of all races and walks of life frolic through the sky or sit at a long banquet table, quaffing margaritas and laughing with each other. The mural is colorful, cartoonish, full of movement and life, no frowns in sight. It playfully incorporates in with the surrounding environment, featuring a street sign that’s been painted to blend in with the mural, and a streetlight grasped in one of the revelers’ hands as though it’s a cup.

The mural’s spirit echoes its creator. Lorenzo, originally from Madrid, arrived in Charlottesville in 2008 and has since painted murals in Belmont, at IX Art Park and near Barracks Road, as well as worked with local elementary schools. Lorenzo seems eternally cheerful — humble and quick to laugh, he signs his emails “Love&Rhythm.”

Lorenzo’s art may seem impossibly placid, but the effect is purposeful. Lorenzo understands art as providing an ideal for people and communities to strive towards.

“People ask me … I see just positive stuff, not negative,” Lorenzo said. “And I say yeah, because this is the possibility. This is the community that I believe we are and we can be. So somehow painting that … makes it real in the mind of people who see that mural.”

Though it isn’t activism in the traditional controversial, disruptive sense, Lorenzo believes his strategy can create real, sweeping change.

“Art, in general, is intrinsically political activism,” he remarked, positing that artists can be leaders by setting an example. “We imagine the unreal, the possibility. That should inspire everyone else to somehow consider those possibilities, so somehow they move society forward.”

Lorenzo’s optimism is admirable, but his murals leave themselves open to misinterpretation. Out in the wild, without Lorenzo — or a handy museum exhibition plaque — to explain, the murals are easily read as a depiction of Charlottesville’s reality, rather than Charlottesville’s unrealized future. In a city with a troubling habit of patting itself on the back a little too readily, simple depictions of a perfectly harmonious society read like a whitewashing of more complex issues. In 2014, Charlottesville was voted the happiest place in the country, despite facing problems like sweeping gentrification and a mounting housing crisis that disproportionately affected low-income and minority residents. Lorenzo’s art does not agitate this status quo.

Lorenzo’s mural offers a cheerful, perhaps idealistic vision of Charlottesville. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Lorenzo’s aim isn’t disruption — it’s charm.

“I paint with colors and shapes that people find beautiful,” he said. Lorenzo sees this attitude echoed by the other artists and residents of the city. “Charlottesville, it’s a gardening community. We love our gardens, our flowers. We love this aesthetic.”

Lorenzo feels that his cheerful style fits Charlottesville’s longstanding ethos of focusing on the good things and ignoring the uncomfortable — an ethos the city has been working hard to shed.

“Even if I try not to be beautiful, and try to do it a little bit wild, it comes always soft, which fits the atmosphere in Charlottesville,” he said. “Soft and easy art.”

Broth’s 240’ mural stretches around a corner on Garrett St. (Photo by Ben Hitchcock)


Mickael Broth, a primarily Richmond-based artist who has also painted several Charlottesville murals, learned the hard way that art is not always easy.

“I got into painting large-scale exterior surfaces as a teenager by painting graffiti,” he said. His career as a graffiti artist was cut short abruptly, however — “That didn’t end well, I wound up doing almost a year in jail in Richmond for my involvement in graffiti,” Broth said. “After that, I really stuck to doing drawings on paper for a long time afterwards.”

Since then, he’s established himself as a well-known muralist in Richmond, receiving a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts professional fellowship in 2008. Though much of his work has been in Richmond, Broth has still made his mark on the walls of Charlottesville as well. In 2015, he was the Artist in Residence for the Tom Tom Festival, during which he painted a 240-foot-long mural on Garrett Street and another at Charlottesville Sanitary Supply, as well as a Charlottesville City Transit bus — a sort of moving mural.

Broth’s mural at Charlottesville Sanitary Supply is more abstract, and its street art style hints at his origins as a graffiti artist. (Photo by Ben Hitchcock)

“ [Painting a bus] was a new experience for [Tom Tom], and I think they were trying to do something creative and different,” Broth said. “It was all done with spray paint, and then [the bus] ran for two months I think before it was taken out of service.”

“We went into it knowing that this was a temporary thing,” he said. “[Murals] are sort of medium-term permanent. They can last 20 years, 50 years, but in general it’s a medium that isn’t this lifetime commitment and it can be a temporary thing. The ephemeral nature of the work itself is in a lot of ways important for the appreciation of it.”

Broth said he rarely has one specific message he wishes to convey with his pieces — “public art is … out in public and people will bring their personal experiences and interpretations to it,” he explained. As a result, his work tends to remain apolitical. His street art style is in itself a bit edgy — reminiscent of his roots as a graffiti artist — but its subject matter is generally abstract and uncontroversial. Broth’s massive mural on Garrett Street tends toward the surreal, with faces that seem to expand as they melt into each other and eye-catching color. The wall at Charlottesville Sanitary Supply displays a more calming color scheme, but just as much abstract action in its tangled mass of lines. His work in Richmond is similarly unconcerned with explicit political statement — recent subjects include Will Smith, C-3PO, and Madonna.

Though Broth rarely tries to make any one distinct statement with his murals, he did describe the medium as a form of expression for a city’s residents and one that can be constantly changing due to its aforementioned ephemeral nature.

He explained the prevalence of murals in his hometown of Richmond as a movement of self-expression and civic pride.

“The visual landscape is now far more representative of the culture of the city,” he said. “For a long time the city has had a very conservative tilt to it, but there was always this appreciation for art and for creative expression brewing under the surface, and finally we’re at a point where that is what is being represented visually.”

Public art inherently lends itself to that kind of public representation, Broth said. 

“Public art murals have somewhat of a political or ideological … sense in that it’s taking art out of a museum or a gallery or institution and bringing it to the public,” he said. “It democratizes [art], that idea that everyone should be able to experience art.”

Broth is the founder of the Welcoming Walls initiative, a project that brings murals to the streets of Richmond with the goal of building community spirit.

Broth is right that murals, just by their very existence, can deconstruct traditional systems and “democratize” art. But abstraction only has so much power when it’s not coupled with interpretation. Broth doesn’t concern himself with political nuance. Like, for example, the “I Love Charlottesville” mural, urban beautification and civic pride are goals of Broth’s work.


Kaki Dimock’s mural by the train tracks downtown has an overt political message, celebrating the anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Murals can do more than that, however. The Rivanna River Watershed mural, located at the intersection of First Street and the train tracks, was painted by local artist Kaki Dimock in 2013 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act. In collaboration with StreamWatch, the Rivanna Conservation Society, Rivanna River Basin Commission and the Charlottesville Mural Project, Dimock received over $11,000 in funding through a Kickstarter for the project, which she said celebrates the law as a successful public policy that’s benefitted many people. 

The piece depicts the Blue Ridge Mountains above several iconic University and Charlottesville buildings all resting atop an underwater scene featuring wildlife from the Rivanna River Basin — a symbolic representation of the relationship between the human community and the natural environment, according to Dimock.

Though a celebration of clean water is hardly a controversial stance, Dimock’s work subtly nudges its beholders to reconsider their entire worldview in terms of their relationship to the natural world.

“My work … is a challenge to the human viewer to consider animals in a different way,” she said. “I’m sort of trying to turn the tables a little bit and accentuate the need to balance our use of the environment with the animals we share it with. That is certainly an intentional and motivating thought for me as an artist.”

This is a theme not only in this particular mural, but throughout Dimock’s work, she said. Much of her work is in pen and ink, and occasionally watercolor, so the mural was a break from her preferred mediums, yet it still contains her signature focus on the importance of the animal world and its relationship to ours.

“The boundaries between the human world and the animal world … are more fragile than we think,” Dimock said. In order to get that message across, she often brings the two together in unconventional ways, breaking down those boundaries with somewhat surreal artwork “accentuating animals over the built environment, or placing them in strange environments.”

In the First Street mural, that juxtaposition manifests itself in the thin brown line separating the ground beneath the painted Rotunda and the vast expanse of water just below it. Though the buildings that define Charlottesville and Grounds are present, they’re hardly the mural’s focus. Instead, the underwater scene takes up about two-thirds of the space, with fish arranged in concentric circles that instantly draw the eye down. The river environment serves as the foundation for the man-made landmarks that are central to the city — demonstrating our dependence on the natural environment and, in particular, on clean water.

That concept of nature as the foundation on which humans are dependent is characteristic of Dimock’s work. “You might see a drawing of a town in my work, but the town is on the back of a giant red kangaroo,” she said.

Though paint-on-brick murals are not her usual medium in which to work, Dimock expressed an appreciation for the inherent subversiveness that accompanies the art form. 

“I would suggest that … murals are an act of activism and a little bit assertive in that art used to be the private domain of the rich,” she said. “The idea of public art means it’s automatically a little bit subversive, it is to say that beautiful things with meaning belong to all of us.”

She seemed to think that message was especially appropriate for a mural celebrating clean water — a natural resource on which we all depend.

“Water is everybody’s in the same sort of way,” Dimock said. “It felt to me that there were a lot of parallels between the water basin and the idea of [public] art.”

Dimock environmental agenda means her murals carry weight as agents of community change. Water conservation may not be controversial, but it’s a worthy goal, and Dimock’s murals advocate for change by distorting both physical and mental space.

A mural of two Native American Chiefs is barely visible in a narrow alley behind the Main St. Marriott. (Photo by Thomas Roades)

Charlottesville’s most disruptive mural is no longer visible without a little bit of searching. On Main Street, a narrow alleyway squeezes between the Grand Market Afghan grocery and the Marriott Hotel. Two Native American chiefs wearing traditional feathered headdresses stare sternly down from the wall of the Market. In 2011, when the chiefs were first painted, their line of sight cut across the corner of the street and fell upon the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea that stands at the intersection of Main, Ridge and McIntire. Now, their view is obstructed by the hotel.

Unlike Lorenzo or Broth, the Tandem Friends School students who painted this mural had an explicit political agenda, based around subversion of the city’s status quo. Jack Ronayne, one of the Tandem students who worked on painting the mural, said that the mural represented a response to the statue across the street.

“I’ve always looked at the Sacagawea statue as being one of the worst statues in town,” he said, “just because it shows her as cowering and subservient, and that’s not what she was like in actuality. She was leading the charge, leading these totally dumb blind white men through the woods.”

The students who painted the mural aimed to undermine the statue’s comfortable, well-worn message.

“To have the two chiefs from the west kind of giving you this solemn, pointed stare, it just makes you reset,” Ronayne said. “Like maybe we should think about what we did to the Native Americans, and how the land was taken.”

The mural was commissioned by Ryan Deramus, at the time owner of Random Row Books, a used bookstore that had occupied the lot where the Marriott now stands. In a blog post written just after the completion of the mural, Deramus echoed Ronayne’s sentiments.

“It was clear from the beginning that it should directly contrast the perspective presented in the Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue,” Deramus wrote of the mural. The people behind this mural aimed to create contrast and tension.

The city resisted the mural immediately. Charlottesville declared the mural had been painted in a historic district and would need to be presented to the city’s Board of Architectural Review. He was asked by the City to retroactively apply for a permit and pay the $100 application fee. Deramus scoffed at the threats of the bureaucracy.

The mural eventually withstood the city’s resistance only to face new troubles two years later in 2013 when Random Row Books closed its doors. The building, a former auto repair shop, was demolished to make room for the hotel, which towers over the wall featuring the mural, and leaves an alley only a few feet wide from which to view it. Random Row was a community attraction — in addition to displaying the mural, the store hosted music shows, theater performances and conversations with local political activists. In its place now stands a Marriott, smooth tan concrete walls pressed up against the noses of the noble chiefs on the side of the neighboring building. The students’ brave statement and energetic activism is occluded by a cookie-cutter box full of uncomfortable beds.

The story of the Native American shows that Charlottesville needs more activism like the kind expressed by the Tandem students. There is still plenty in this city worth subverting and questioning. The community faces an affordable housing crisis at the same time as luxury apartment buildings continue to rise on West Main Street. The Lee statue still stands in Emancipation Park. Even after a year of important self-reflection, Charlottesville still needs an honest reminder of what it is, not a heartwarming declaration of what it can be.

Eugenics’ racist chains on U.Va

How an outdated science manifested into racism and discrimination the University still contends with

Words by Navya Annapareddy and Aisha Singh.

As the University of Virginia marks its Bicentennial, the laying of its cornerstone will be celebrated by old and new Hoos alike. The University’s history is long and rich, as is with any any premier institution of learning almost as old as the United States itself.

A journey to the bottom floors of the University’s Shirley Small Special Collections and the Claude Moore Health Science libraries reveals hundreds upon hundreds of journals, all giving a vivid glimpse into the University’s past. Not all the historical accounts are good, of course — there are controversial manuscripts and many journals and books depicting the brutalities of slavery. Texts relay accounts of the evolution of man from more “exotic” races. Some are centuries old, and some only decades.

Look even further at dusty anatomy books, containing pages upon pages of racist and ableist prose. Some describe methods of ensuring lighter skin in offspring. Others recommend forced sterilization of “defective women.”

This is the pseudoscience of eugenics, a collection of genetics practices based on mistaken facts — a so-called science propagated by a legion of the University’s best minds at the time. It is a science which promoted the falsehood of genetic purity and at its worst, lent its ideas to the Nazi movement. Eugenics was well in practice in the 20th century and even now its grasp on the University, in the wake of the self-reflection following the events of Aug. 11 and 12, is apparent.


At its simplest, eugenics aimed to increase the proportion of genetically healthy people in a population. In the late 1800s, English scientist Francis Galton published his beliefs that social improvement would only happen by improving the heredity of those who were having children. His ideas, which he termed the science of eugenics, took hold within the United States in the early 20th century.

Paul Lombardo, former director of the Law and Medicine Program at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University, said one of the bases behind eugenics was population control.

“The theory was that you could engineer society in the long-term, to improve it … to do away with many of the problems like crime and poverty and disease,” Lombardo said.

In theory, the goal of improving society seemed a noble one. But in practice, eugenics intertwined with the ideologies of racism, ableism and Nazism, devolving into a science that promoted sterilization, coercive measures and ultimately a framework that proposed racial purity.

Virginia legislators were staunch supporters of eugenics. By 1912 and 1916, the state-funded Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded housed epileptic, disabled or otherwise “feeble-minded” individuals. These colonies housed people who proponents of eugenics deemed not fit to be in society – although there were fair numbers of the mentally ill, the only thing differentiating these people from everyone else was their lack of wealth and power.

“The comparative histologic study of pigmented skins was undertaken with the hope of discovering evidence that might throw more light on the problem of color inheritance among the descendants of crosses between whites and negros.”

– Professor H.E. Jordan, University of Virginia, August 1911

Lawmakers did not stop at establishing institutions for people deemed unfit for society. The first sterilization legislation in Virginia, proposed in 1914, was fueled by notable eugenicists such as Albert Priddy and Joseph DeJarnette. Both also helped establish the Virginia Colony. On March 20, 1924, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Sterilization Act, which allowed for “sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases.” On the same day, the Racial Integrity Act was passed, which expanded Virginia’s ban of interracial marriage, posing stricter regulations on the classifications of “white” and “negro”.

In one fell swoop, the stage was set for another layer of institutional and legal discrimination of poor, mentally-ill and African American populations across Virginia.

At institutions like the Virginia State Colony, sterilization was a proposed procedure to ensure that its wards would never be able to have “morally corrupt” offspring. Colonies like the Virginia Colony were organized to separate patients from the general population.


Carrie Buck, a Charlottesville native, was removed from the care of her mother, Emma, and taken in by foster parents soon after Emma was committed to the Colony in 1920. At school, Carrie showed promise, but just a few years after moving in with her foster parents, she was raped — supposedly by the foster family’s nephew. With a baby on the way, her foster parents condemned Carrie to the Colony, citing her “promiscuity” and “feeblemindedness” as reason for her banishment.

“Her foster parents said that she was a moral delinquent, and she had different problems and disabilities … but the biggest problem was that … she got pregnant,” Lombardo said. “She had a baby but she wasn’t married.”

At the same time as Carrie’s departure to the Colony, the Sterilization Act of 1924 was passed, and Carrie became the test subject for a law that would serve as a basis for the discriminatory policies of the time period.A court appeal filed on behalf of Carrie Buck objecting to the sterilization process for reasons including it imposing “a crel and unusual punishment.” Circuit Court of Amherst County.


The Virginia legislature, armed with lawyer Aubrey Strode, used the stigma of being an unwed, lower-class woman to deem Buck a candidate for sterilization – a series of medical procedures that would render her infertile.

Against her will, on Oct. 19, 1927, Carrie Buck was the first woman in Virginia to be sterilized under eugenics law.

Oliver Holmes, the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals said of the case, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Lombardo emphasized the national importance of the Buck v. Bell ruling.

“[The ruling] formed a precedent for the whole country, saying that laws that would allow the state to sterilize people in institutions or hospitals or asylums, was [sic] constitutional,” he said. “The Buck case became the national precedent really for the whole practice [of eugenics].”

Lombardo also noted how the eugenics laws complemented other racially charged structures at the time.

“In a setting where Jim Crow laws are the rule, where racism is institutionalized in the law, eugenics comes along to provide an extra argument and a more focused argument about race,” he said.

At the height of its power, eugenics reinforced the concept of racial superiority and anti-Semitism at the University of Virginia and the Southern aristocratic families it served. In Virginia, 7,325 people were sterilized, although nationally the number is estimated to be as high as 60,000. The majority of those affected in Virginia — about 62 percent — were women.

Throughout the country, eugenics legislation was pushed forward and sterilizations were forced upon many marginalized groups, such as the poor, mentally ill and African-Americans. In Virginia, however, most of the sterilizations were done on white people, according to Lombardo, because there were not as many institutions for people of color.

“Do you realise that about 10 percent of our population is defective, an economic and social burden, and a constant source of racial menace and contamination?”

– Twelve University Lectures, 1914

However, in both black and white institutions around the Virginia area, the subject of eugenics was extremely prevalent. At both the University of Virginia and the all-black Howard University, among others, classes for eugenics were added to curriculums and students began writing papers and theses on the topic.


Eugenics at the University

Throughout its rise and fall, the University was notably silent in publicly addressing its involvement in eugenics as controversy over the movement mounted. In fact, notable eugenicists in Virginia permeated the core of the University’s leadership.

The University’s first president, Edwin Alderman, as well as the fourth dean of the University’s medical school, Harvey Jordan, were both fervent eugenicists. When the eugenics movement in the U.S. started faltering during World War II, even as Hitler’s regime rose to power and embraced its ideas, faculty at the University continued to include eugenics in curriculums and instruction.

“When Hitler embraced eugenics, it was so apparent that it was part of a racist ideology … But people here supported it,” said Dr. Preston Reynolds, a professor in the division of General Medicine, Geriatric and Palliative Care at the University’s School of Medicine. “In their courses, students writing papers supported Hitler’s regime and wished the U.S. could embrace Hitler’s programs.”

Harvey Jordan, although a stark opponent of interracial marriage, once claimed in a 1913 issue of The Literary Digest that the African American could be “saved” and purified by reproducing with caucasians.

“The mulatto, measured by present day standards of Caucasian civilization, from economic and civic standpoints, is an advance upon a pure negro,” the former dean said in the interview with the publication.

In 1972, the University named the building that serves as the home of the School of Medicine after him.

Ivey Lewis, vice president of the biology section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was asked to give an address to his section at the University in 1953 extolling the premise of eugenics. This talk was given after World War II, when the principles of eugenics were falling out of fashion.

“People were so outraged that they actually refused to publish his address in science [journals],” Reynolds said.

“Eugenics was the scientific foundation that justified the development of [discriminatory] policies and those structural barriers. Eugenics justified it.”

– Dr. Preston Reynolds, Professor in the Division of General, Geriatric, Palliative and Hospital Medicine

Reynolds, who is Associate Chair for Professionalism and Diversity in the School of Medicine, gave a lecture on the past and future of eugenics last fall in the now renamed Pinn Hall maintains that eugenics propagated systemic issues in racism. The University’s decades-long affair with eugenics significantly slowed the University’s racial integration, as well as its admittance of women, across the University.

“Eugenics was the scientific foundation that justified the development of those policies and those structural barriers,” Reynolds said. “Eugenics justified [them].”

Both Reynolds and Lombardo also agree that the University has been forced to grapple with how its past in eugenics affected its practices both in the past and present.

“Because it continued into the 60s, it justified a lot of what we would call racist instruction,” Reynolds said.

The University administration has garnered criticism for its perceived lack of recognition of its past. Reynolds, for example, described how her lecture on eugenics was controversial because of the light in which it depicted the University.

Alice Burgess, a Class of 2017 graduate of the University, knows both the difficulties and importance of depicting the University’s past accurately. Burgess, who participated in the University Guide Service, a University-designated special status organization, believes the main priority of those showcasing the University’s history should be to present a picture that is accurate and detailed.

“This means including both positive and negative aspects, but the main goal is just to be honest, open, transparent, and not to look upon U.Va.’s past with rose-tinted glasses,” she said. “Conveying the scope and lived realities of these periods of history is a challenge, but opening up the discussion on U.Va.’s distressing … past is crucial for the creation of a better university climate.”

Current University Guide and third-year College student Jillian Randolph contends with two views of the University: the ideals it promoted, and the racism and ableism it exhibited in practice.

“The University was built on these ideals, with good intentions. But those aren’t necessarily mirrored in the practice of how they came to be,” Randolph said. “And it just so happens that with what it wanted to be and how it came to be tend to be ironic themes. You want illimitable freedom of the pursuit of knowledge, but then you have enslaved laborers building the entire University.”

“I’ve now given this lecture, and people say, ‘How can you pull that off?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m a trained historian, I’m a scientist, and I’m tenured. So I can speak the truth,'” Reynolds said.


Reconciling an Inconsistent Past

After the events of Aug. 11, when white supremacists marched on the University’s Lawn, it is difficult to ignore the sentiments that have permeated the University since it was founded. With an increase in the visibility of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, not only here but across the nation, people are looking for an explanation for why the events in Charlottesville took place.

“I think that eugenics being so prominent here is a direct extension of that idea of white supremacy that Jefferson boldly detailed in his writings,” Randolph said. “The fact that he was one of the first people to introduce the biological debate on racism, and that we become a world leader in eugenics …. It’s not surprising that that’s why this was a breeding ground for it, and that on August 11 and 12, white supremacists found a home for it here.”

Some believe the University is too passive in its acknowledgment of its past. In recent years, Lewis Hall was renamed to Yen Hall, after the first Chinese student to graduate from U.Va., and Jordan Hall was named Pinn Hall, after Vivian Pinn, the only African-American and woman to graduate from the Medical School in 1967. Some people feel that conversations about the eugenicist beliefs of the men the buildings were originally named after should have held a more prominent place in discussions and announcements about these renamings.

“It’s fine if you want to change the names, but you should have a marker on the building saying why you changed the name, rather than just trying to erase it and hoping that everyone forgets it,” Lombardo said. “I’ve never been in favor of changing the names of buildings as a way of avoiding talking about some of the horrific things that happened in the past.”

Regardless of the University’s slow progress, it is important to understand the continuance of the discriminatory ideas from Jefferson’s time, to the time of eugenics, to today.

“We don’t have to use the word ‘eugenics’ to condemn the kind of hatred that was propagated on the Lawn last year, but it would be helpful if we realized that the same kind of sentiments that brought Hitler to power are very much alive in society today,” Lombardo said. “I think what you get if you forget about it is people marching with tiki torches on the Lawn.”

He also stated that those marching mistakenly believed stigmatizing groups of peoples is part of the American way.

Randolph said one way to confront racism and other systemic issues that propelled eugenics forward is to face these ideas head on and encourage dialogue and instruction among students and the administration. For example, University president Teresa Sullivan recently formed a new President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation, which aims to explore the University’s role in the racial segregation that occurred in the 19th and 20th century.

“We’re in a really interesting place, as college students, to have these conversations and push these barriers,” Randolph said. “No matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, you can agree that the events of August 11 and 12 were tragic, and should’ve never happened here.”

“I think what you get if you forget about it is people marching with tiki torches on the Lawn.”

– Paul Lombardo, former Director for the Law and Medicine Program at the University

The discriminatory policies of the past and their effects today have been difficult for the University to address in previous years, but the steps it is taking now to address its history are ones that aim to make the community a more inclusive and understanding place.

“In the University administration as well, the fact that we’re starting to offer classes on eugenics, that we’re starting to just acknowledge it in the greater role that it had on the Charlottesville community, especially the Charlottesville community, actually, is sort of this turn in the University,” Randolph said. “I think that with the new president coming in we’re poised to make this large turn into our third century.”

Fostering the Fringes

Courtesy The Magnolia House

How small venues shape Charlottesville’s music underground

Words by Abby Clukey.

A stand-alone, single-car garage facing a grassy hill. A wide-porched, tree-obscured house on the corner of a neighborhood street. A red brick, neoclassical building in the heart of the Downtown Mall.

These unassuming structures blend into Charlottesville’s landscape, but there’s more to them than what meets the eye. To people entrenched in the city’s music scene, they symbolize community, passion and possibility. These are the places they go to discover something new and to share their own talent with others.

In an increasingly competitive real estate market, the small music venue has the odds stacked against it. Because of the difficulty of maintaining a steady source of revenue, these venues are constantly in flux. Those who follow music attentively in this town can speak of this shifting quality. They recall the closings of their favorite venues which were sold, bought and demolished, replaced by office spaces, hotels and convenience stores.

But many Charlottesville musicians say that in any town, there’s a need for spaces that cater to the fringes of the music scene and promote diversity and inclusivity. No matter how hostile the economy becomes, fans and musicians alike will always crave a place to start out — a place to encounter the music underground and maybe even glimpse a flash of brilliance. A place to call home.


When I initially walk through the doors of The Ante Room, I find it’s animated with commotion — something you wouldn’t expect at a music venue in the middle of a weekday afternoon. However, this energy is different than anything you would experience at a show. Instead of a reverberating bassline, the sounds of power drills and electric saws echo throughout the room.

A crew diligently works on pulling up the bar. The cornerstone of the space — the stage — is next on their list, but for the moment still stands intact as a reminder of room’s purpose. Distinctive decorations, like the doors painted to resemble black and white playing cards, emblematic of the venue’s gambling theme, have been taken off their hinges and lie propped up in a corner. The Ante Room is being painstakingly dismantled piece by piece.

The venue was opened by Jeyon Falsini in 2012 under the name “The Main Street Annex,” and has been an integral part of Charlottesville’s DIY music scene ever since, housing an eclectic assortment of bands and artists of varying genres and levels of experience. Last year, The Ante Room was purchased by Taliaferro Junction, LLC, and Jaffray Woodriff, with the plan to demolish the venue and its surroundings. The Ante Room closed its doors permanently at the end of March, in preparation for the space’s transition into a technology startup center this summer.

Falsini greets me in the midst of the chaos. The blare of the ongoing construction is overwhelming, so we move our conversation through a side door and into the adjacent Main Street Arena, the ice rink that is also slated for demolition this summer. In the cold stillness, we discuss why he wanted to open a small music venue in the first place.

“Well I’ve been booking bands and doing events for over 10 years,” Falsini said. “So, before I was freelance and just working out of my garage and booking shows in various places. I never really had my own room that I had the keys to and that I could set up a sound system and stage. So when this idea presented itself to me, I realized that I could finally book a lot of the things that I couldn’t book in other places.”

He tells me about his company, Magnus Music, which does booking for several venues in town — including The Whiskey Jar, Jefferson Vineyards and Rapture. These venues cater to distinct genres of music, so Falsini distributes bands to where they fit best based off of their repertoire.

Falsini opened The Ante Room so he could book groups that didn’t fit neatly into genres, or were too offbeat to play other Charlottesville venues. His space could be a haven for overlooked artists.

Over the past six years, The Ante Room has become a hub for Charlottesville’s hip hop and metal scenes, two genres that are not given a lot of exposure in the town’s dominant music venues. Falsini believes that one of the duties of the small music venue is to allow niche groups a space to play and attract a greater following.

“I think it’s important because you would hope that there’s always fans of that music out there, that are looking for it,” Falsini said. “And, you know, maybe that’s what music does, that it brings people together.”


Falsini’s reasons for opening The Ante Room echo the sentiments of other small venue owners in Charlottesville. I talked with Sam Bush, a 2009 University graduate who started The Garage, about his own business over coffee.

The Garage is aptly named. It’s a single-car garage owned by Christ Episcopal Church, right in Charlottesville’s downtown. The space takes the small venue concept to the next level. It provides just enough room for a band and their equipment, and concert-goers watch the show from the hillside across the street. Bush said the effect is one that is totally unique and totally mesmerizing.

The Garage is right across the street from Emancipation Park, and its central location allows passers-by to stumble upon shows on their way to the Downtown Mall. (Christina Anton)

“It’s amazing to have that situation, we’ve got cars driving by between the band and the audience, and it just brings a really unique experience to it, to a concert that kinda deals with the element of surprise,” Bush said. “A lot of people who end up going to the shows didn’t plan on going, they’re heading downtown to grab a drink with a friend, when they hear this amazing string band from New Orleans or this incredible voice and they stop.”

Bush told me he helped found The Garage when he was a third-year on a whim, with the vague idea that he could create an intimate venue that facilitated an engaging concert experience. He just felt like the space was meant to be. Bush and his band at the time christened the space with its first show, and their business has only grown from there. He gets about 20 emails a week from bands across the country who want to play The Garage.

“Whatever reason we started The Garage is kind of beyond me,” Bush said. “We just kind of did. And then it took a life of its own.”

The allure of the small venue to musicians, Bush said, is not the possibility of monetary compensation. He tells me how he passes around a jar each night and the band gets to keep its contents — usually only about a hundred dollars or so. What really attracts artists is the experience itself. To many people, there’s nothing else like it.

“Bands really… do it because despite being in a public place, it’s a very attentive crowd, which I think bands would prefer over anything,” Bush said. “Instead of playing a bar where nobody’s listening, they’d rather play to a small group of people who are really engaged, who are coming because they want to be there.”

Another Charlottesville musician, Sam Roberts from Magnolia House, has long-running ties to small music venues. As we sit on Magnolia’s front porch, he tells me how he started coming to the house’s shows in high school, and they exposed him to Charlottesville’s music underground. He’s been living and working here for almost a year now, booking about four to five shows a month.

“I think it’s a good place for certain bands to come play,” Roberts said. “I don’t think there’s venues for certain genres that people want to see. But there’s people coming to shows here — as long as people are coming out I think that it’s worth doing.”

House shows have a significantly different feel than concerts put on by other music venues. They’re on a much smaller and more intimate scale — a band plays on a stage set up in the living room of someone’s home. The people who populate these shows usually hear about them through word of mouth, and are there primarily to support underground artists.

For many house venues, there’s no real business model or commercial interest. Roberts and his housemates pay the rent just to live at Magnolia — they aren’t concerned with making a profit from their shows. Because money is not a factor in Magnolia House’s production, Roberts and the other residents book whatever acts they want to see perform — something he believes wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.

“I’ve thought about possibly booking shows for a venue in my life professionally,” Roberts said. “I know that’s something you can do and I’ve kind of acquired the skills to do that through booking here, but I don’t know if that would be very fun. It’s fun to just put on shows that I want to see and that I think people who come here will want to see.”


One aspect of the small music venue is its accessibility for musicians trying to launch their careers. It can be difficult to find places to play during a band’s early stages, but small venues often allow new acts an opportunity to perform even if they’re not well established in town.

“When you’re first starting out, there’s this Catch-22 of well, a venue’s not gonna hire you, a venue’s not gonna let you play unless you have a reputation,” Bush said. “But you’re not going to establish a reputation unless someone lets you play.”

Current student musicians affirmed the struggle of making a name in Charlottesville’s music scene. Fourth-year College student Maria DeHart said that the lack of small venues in town complicates finding places to play before becoming well-established, especially if a band’s music is unconventional.

“There’s not a big house-show culture, so there’s not a lot of options in terms of that,” DeHart said. “The venues in town mostly cater to not really DIY bands, more to bands that have a manager and stuff like that.”

Third-year College student Grant Frazier said that the pressure for venues to book lucrative acts often makes them less inclined to let new musicians play, which is why starting out at small venues is important.

“In terms of trying to get your own show, it’s really hard,” Frazier said. “It’s a grind to try and get your name out there, to gain some notoriety. To have a business say yes, you can come play here. Because there’s two sides to it, both parties have to benefit in terms of making money, because at the end of the day it’s really about, from the business side, how can they benefit from you playing here?”

Part of Falsini’s mission in running The Ante Room was to give new artists a chance. He would often let emerging acts play the room and even if the show wasn’t profitable, he would help the artist or band find another space to perfect their sound.

“We like to tell bands, ‘Hey maybe that show didn’t work out with us, but why don’t you get in touch with Magnolia House or a house place’ … there’s other spots,” Falsini said. “You can kind of help the band. You definitely don’t want them to stop what they’re doing, you’re just trying to get them exactly where they need to be so that they can grow to the next level and then you can see them again.”

Bush also spoke to the lack of venues that foster new music, and said that spaces like The Ante Room are necessary to cultivate the creativity in the Charlottesville community.

“The Ante Room closing is of course discouraging for the community, because that’s a place that features established bands but is also one of the few places that you can get your foot in the door as an emerging artist,” Bush said. “And communities need that in order to grow. You need to have those places that facilitate emerging artists in order for them to establish themselves. Otherwise, we’re only depending on bands that come from out of town and play and they leave.”


Many musicians agree that hip hop is one genre in particular that is overwhelmingly overlooked in Charlottesville’s music scene. They say The Ante Room was one of the few venues that consistently featured hip hop artists, which makes its closing all the more disheartening.

“This town is kinda run by like, Red Light and Dave Matthews, which is not really conducive to underground stuff,” DeHart said. “The Ante Room was really the only place in town that catered to hip hop specifically — that’s probably the shittiest thing about it closing.”

The Ante Room has featured a wide variety of acts on its stage, catering especially to artists and bands from underground genres such as hip hop (Courtesy The Ante Room)

Local hip hop artist Cullen Patrick Wade said that the City has historically been a somewhat hostile environment for underground genres, despite its widely-perceived creative and music-friendly image. He told me this environment largely stems from the lack of small, accessible venues in town, which are vital to fostering the kind of music he plays.

“Charlottesville has a reputation for a vibrant, thriving music scene, and it’s funny when people come here expecting that, and when they’re playing in one of the more underground genres, you only have like two places to play here,” Wade said. “They’re a little disappointed when they find out how limited we are in terms of small venues.”

For some Charlottesville musicians, The Ante Room represented more than just a venue — it gave them the opportunity to be heard. Hip hop artist Quin Booker cherished his opportunity to play The Ante Room, saying it helped him elevate his career and allowed him to share his words with the community.

“It’s actually the only spot in town that really lets people perform, hip hop wise … really the main one that gave rap artists and hip hop artists a place to own, a place to speak,” Booker said.

Reagan Eadie, a Charlottesville hip hop and R&B artist, said that though there aren’t many venues that cater to hip hop, there is still a large scene thriving under the surface. She thinks that there is more to be done to make this community more cohesive, and that supporting other hip hop artists is crucial to developing the scene further.

“I think showing up to your fellow artist’s show is important,” Eadie said. “That’s part of what makes Charlottesville special … to be there for people that you don’t even necessarily know but the fact that you’re trying to do kind of the same thing is important.”

Wade professed a similar desire to promote solidarity within the hip hop community — something he thinks can be achieved if there were more spaces like The Ante Room for artists to come together and perform.

“One of the big things we’re trying to do with that is foster some scene unity,” Wade said. “There’s a lot of people doing different things … we don’t really have a space  — a physical space … or anything like that in which we can all collaborate.”

As the hip hop scene has grown in Charlottesville over the last several years, a few venues that have refrained from featuring the genre in the past have slowly begun to lift what Wade calls “the unofficial hip hop embargo.” Wade hopes that even with The Ante Room’s closing, hip hop will continue to gain momentum and move in the right direction.

The small venue owners I spoke with emphasized their commitment to foster hip hop in new and creative ways, conscious of the effect that The Ante Room’s absence will have on the community. Roberts said that he’s looking to book even more hip hop shows at Magnolia in the future, and Bush told me how he’s been trying to incorporate more unconventional genres at The Garage, even though their location and lack of license have restricted the types of acts they could book in the past.

“We’ve been limited to folk bands because they’re quieter, but we’ve been reaching out in the past couple of months to some hip-hop artists,” Bush said. “We just want to branch out. I think an ideal situation would be to pair bluegrass with hip-hop, or a folk band with a rapper, and to have very different sounds together in one night I think is very unique. I don’t think a lot of venues do that. We’re not like a lot of venues already, so we might as well have fun diversifying our lineup.”

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive solution to the issue of accessibility for artists of underground genres. However, some artists believe that venues will start to take them seriously if they continue to prove that hip hop is just as legitimate and profitable as any other scene in Charlottesville’s music landscape. They want to demonstrate to venue owners that hip hop is a force to be reckoned with.

“Artists have gotta do our jobs to let the people know that we’re serious, and that we ain’t on no BS,” Booker said. “We can help them make money as well as they can help us gain fans. Like a hundred people listen to us and you only have a max of 25 people at your bar — you do the math.”


Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of maintaining a small music venue stems from the financial realm. Falsini said it is difficult to keep up with the costs when the venue’s revenue isn’t particularly steady.

“Running a music venue is definitely a labor of love,”  Falsini said. “And it’s also … very expensive, and you’ve got a lot of variables. Your rent gets higher and higher every year as you go, a lot of times if your programming is such that your shows aren’t making you money, then you may go out of business.”

Other small venues in Charlottesville do not have the same limitations as The Ante Room. Like Magnolia House, The Garage does not rely on a profit to stay open. The space is owned and funded by Christ Church — a benefit which gives Bush the ability to book acts and put on shows without worrying about major financial repercussions.

“We’re at an advantage compared to other venues that have to worry about how they’re going to keep the lights on,” Bush said.

Falsini said that a possible remedy to this problem of financial sustainability would be for cities to give grants to music venues, in the similar way to how Charlottesville funded the restoration of the Paramount Theater in 1992. If the threat of being priced out of a space is taken off the table, Falsini believes that music venues can focus instead on promoting original art.

“If grants were available to perhaps buy buildings for venues or help supplement a building’s rent, then perhaps venues would last longer, and in that case, the music scene could continue unabated and not have these sort of ebbs and flows,” Falsini said. “Because, it’s very important for venues to exist in order for scenes to thrive, and then ultimately create potentially famous musicians that increase tourism dollars and put cities on maps.”

Because Charlottesville is a growing city, Falsini said that many venues hesitate to feature musicians from obscure genres because there isn’t always enough interest to cultivate a profitable show. Niche genres can flourish easier in bigger cities where fans of a particular genre are more densely populated. Falsini and the other venue owners agree that unfortunately, a venue cannot support itself if there aren’t enough people to fill the doors.

“That’s just the tragedy of the small music venue in a college town,” Bush said. “There’s something that’s unsustainable about it.”

Over the past couple of decades, Charlottesville’s small venues have followed an irregular pattern of openings and closings — The Ante Room’s is one in a string of many. Both Bush and Roberts reminisced on venues long gone such as the Satellite Ballroom located on the Corner, which Bush described as “a punch in the gut” when it was turned into a CVS during his time as a University student.

“We would go there twice a week and we would see incredible bands who would be famous two weeks later,” Bush said. “I just have so many memories of that place and it was so crushing when it closed.”

However, Bush is hopeful that another small venue will rise up to fill the gap left in The Ante Room’s absence. He said there’s always going to be a need for inclusive venues in a college town, and he thinks Falsini’s passion will allow him to keep working to fulfill this demand.

“Jeyon is a huge influencer in this town,” Bush said. “I hope he feels encouraged to keep doing what he does. If not at The Ante Room, then somewhere else.”

Falsini told me he is trying to do just that. He has been visiting different properties since the room closed and is looking for different opportunities to re-establish the business, even if that means compartmentalizing for the time being.

“Right now, it’s looking like we may split up the different aspects of our business,” Falsini said. “We’re talking to IX Art Park about helping them develop a bar, so that would be something we would help them with, and also perhaps help them fill their calendar … Once we get back into a space, we’ll just check our emails and get back to people and we’ll hopefully be putting bills together once again.”

The Ante Room is being stripped of its distinguishing touches as the space undergoes preparation for its impending demolition. (Courtesy The Ante Room)

Ultimately, many Charlottesville musicians and venue owners believe that despite its instability, the small music venue is essential for a whole host of reasons  — opportunity, visibility and authenticity. To them, these venues have a distinctive quality that draws people in and brings them together, making the spaces too important to overlook.

“The small venue is always scraping by — maybe that’s what makes it magical,” Bush said. “I don’t think you would agree if you were the owner of a small venue — there’s nothing magical about that. But in the broader sense, there’s something special about the small music venue. It caters to the losers. It caters to the nobodies, and you need to be able to allow the nobodies a place to play so that they can become somebodies.”

Protest, dialogue, confrontation

The legacy of Thomas Jefferson statues on Grounds

Words by Charlotte Lawson. Photos by Andrew Walsh.


In light of Thomas Jefferson’s lifelong involvement in and advocacy for the institution of slavery, it can be hard to square his words about freedom and inalienable rights with his actions. Given the role of both Jefferson and enslaved laborers in the birth of the University, the question of his legacy has been a fixture of the discourse at U.Va. Meanwhile, with the growing controversy surrounding statues of Confederate generals, both in Charlottesville and around the country, the idea of statues in a general sense has come under scrutiny, as communities consider exactly what it means to erect a statue of a person. On Grounds, these two dynamics intersect directly. A number of statues depicting Jefferson dot the landscape, in many ways physical manifestations of his legacy, just like the University itself. These statues have been the focus of protest, dialogue and confrontation. Just as there are many different opinions on how to treat Jefferson’s legacy, there are a number of visions for what the statues represent, and what their future should look like. This is a small collection of some of these visions.

The statue’s enduring symbolism

The statue of Jefferson in front of the Rotunda embodies the values we should aspire to, despite the sins of its subject

Following their separation from the British Empire in 1776, the newly-founded state governments desperately needed a way of governance to replace colonial rule. The disparate and fledgling nation required legislation that actively defied the various forms of oppression that it had accused Great Britain of inflicting upon the colonies. In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson headed this quest with his fervently liberal-minded promotion of the values of limited government and national rights. Shortly following independence, the statesman began to draft a document that would become one of his most enduring legacies — the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Although it was presented to the Virginia General Assembly for review in 1779, the bill did not pass into law until 1786. During the legislative process, Jefferson, looking on from afar as the Ambassador to France, eagerly awaited the debate’s outcome as his longtime friend and ally James Madison lobbied for the statute’s passage back in Virginia. The mission of the bill was twofold — to secure one’s right to exercise their chosen religion freely and to protect separation of church and state, thereby abolishing Virginia’s association with the Church of England. Above all, the statute ensured an individual’s freedom from any government attempt to dictate one’s choice of what to believe or practice.

It was with these treasured ideals in mind that sculptor Moses Ezekiel crafted the Thomas Jefferson statue that adorns the north plaza of the Rotunda. Ezekiel’s intended themes for the statue were discovered in 2014 by W. Scott Harrop, and first published in the newsletter of the University’s Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures Department. Now a Jefferson Fellow at Monticello’s International Center for Jefferson Studies, Harrop’s curiosity about why various names for God — including Allah — were inscribed on the side of the Jefferson Statue led him to an extended study of Ezekiel life and work. Harrop found that the Virginia-raised Jewish artist — who confronted the sinister force of religious prejudice throughout his life — deeply cherished the freedom of religion that Jefferson fought so hard to ensure. Surrounding the liberty bell that Jefferson stands upon are four winged spirits representing other values that the sculptor and founder alike held dear — equality, justice, liberty and religious freedom. Through his art, Ezekiel monumentalized the founder’s lasting contributions that he deemed most valuable to the state of Virginia, our country and the world.


As the University, we have an obligation to remember and examine all aspects of our founder’s legacy — the good and the bad. The dichotomy of Jefferson as a figure cannot be overlooked. His relentless fight to codify personal freedoms occurred concurrently with his ownership of enslaved laborers. Our efforts to scrutinize Jefferson’s personal failures, however, cannot come at the expense of the deeply beneficial and continually resonant aspects of his quest to protect freedom and equality. Jefferson identified his own role in securing religious freedom for the state of Virginia as among his greatest achievements above all other personal endeavors. A man who valued freedom for his posterity more profoundly than any of his other legacies is worthy of enshrinement for that alone. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom — along with Jefferson’s several other founding achievements — deserve memorialization for their far-reaching impact on American politics throughout history and to this day. Values we take for granted in the United States were once widely denounced as radical and unrealistic during the founding period, and continue to be unattainable in many parts of the world.

The Jefferson statue stands over Grounds as an emblem of the liberal values that our founder tirelessly aspired to secure for generations to come. Each stage of United States history served a crucial role in moving the nation closer to the promises of liberty and equality consecrated in the Declaration of Independence. None of these stages have fulfilled its perfect embodiment. Progress demands that we embrace the groundwork laid by a long and complicated history of progress, rather than shirking that progress for its failures. When the statue was unveiled at the University’s Final Exercises in 1910, then-President Edwin Alderman pronounced that it would stand proudly as a “sermon in stone” of Jeffersonian ideals that have so powerfully influenced the course of history. Hopefully the University community can embrace the transformative power of Jefferson’s life’s works that Ezekiel sought to emblematize.


More statues, not fewer

Thomas Jefferson is an inextricable part of the University’s past, as are a number of other inspirational figures who should be honored as well

Words by Thomas Ferguson

Historic institutions often inherit mixed legacies from their predecessors. The University community has recently examined ways to celebrate the many accomplishments of its founder Thomas Jefferson — while also acknowledging his own shortcomings and those of his time. In response to this challenge, some have condemned Jefferson and his legacy. Examples of such sentiments include outrage concerning President Teresa Sullivan’s quotation of Jefferson in an email and the Black Student Alliance’s condemnation of his statue as an emblem of enduring white supremacy. In order to tell a more complete history of the University and its founder, the University community must find a balance between recognizing Jefferson’s accomplishments and failures. Given his contributions to religious freedom, political philosophy, the United States and the University — his legacy is overwhelmingly positive. The University should continue to examine Jefferson’s faults in order to shed greater light on parts of its historical record that have traditionally been repressed. However, members of the University community must stop the outright dismissal of Jefferson. Such sentiments set dangerous precedents of historical erasure and prevent the recognition of a complete historical narrative.

In order to add more context to the University’s history and celebrate the legacies of Jefferson and others, the University should continue efforts to add to its historical landscape. Such initiatives include the construction of amemorial to the University’s enslaved laborers, the dedication of Pinn Hall to medical school alumna Dr. Vivian Pinn — the first woman and black student to graduate from the University’s medical school — and thededication of Yen Hall to W.W. Yen, the University’s first international student to earn a bachelor’s degree. Individuals such as Pinn and Yen have contributed much to our nation and world, from advancing women’s health to fostering diplomacy as the Premier of China. Likewise, the recognition of enslaved laborers at the University corrects the traditional underrepresentation of such individuals in the historic record and acknowledges the role that slavery played in University life before the Civil War.

While some reject Jefferson and his legacy, in doing so they reject the role he played in advancing freedom and democracy in the United States. His immortal words asserting that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence provided our fledgling nation with an ideal to strive towards, and are embodied by his University. Jefferson himself contributed towards that end by penning the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777. His work contributed towards religious freedom in Virginia — a right too many around the world still do not enjoy — and his precedent helped make religious liberty standard in America. The University should take pride in inheriting that legacy, and its work in advancing public education in Virginia reflects the goals of its founder.

Jefferson’s wisdom and foresight, etched into documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, continue to prove their relevance. His work on advancing freedom and democratic principles — though imperfect — remains a part of the evolving process of the expansion such freedoms in the United States.

The contextualization of history on Grounds should remain an active discussion that members of the University continue to engage with in the future. It will not be completely addressed with one single decision or initiative, but instead will require an evolving process of dialogue and action. Students must be involved as much as possible with these decisions, and the University’s Advisory Committee on the Future of the Historic Landscape’s public input session provides an effective framework for soliciting students’ perspectives. The University should rely on student input — as well as other stakeholders such as alumni — to guide its decision-making in the future.

The study of history allows for us to reflect on the past and build off the work of our predecessors. Jefferson helped our Commonwealth and country start its journey towards equality for all by contributing to the intellectual and political revolution that resulted in the foundations of our modern day democratic republic. Jefferson’s statue in front of the Rotunda — sculpted by Jewish artist Moses Ezekiel in recognition of Jefferson’s contributions towards advancing religious freedom — serves as a testament to the enduring relevance of Jefferson and his work. Since his time we have made much progress towards recognizing the fact that all men and women are created equal. That does not mean we still do not have more to do to achieve that end. Without Jefferson, however, we would be even further from that goal.


Jefferson’s legacy is more than a statue

In debating Jefferson’s legacy, the community must look past mere optics and consider the day to day conditions of marginalized students on Grounds

Words by Zari Taylor

President Teresa Sullivan came under fire last year for her quotation of Thomas Jefferson in an email following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In response, Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd drafted a letter to Sullivan that was ultimately signed by 469 students and professors. Signees felt that invoking Jefferson as a symbol of unity actually did nothing to that effect. In her response, Sullivan endorsed their right to speak on issues, but also emphasized that quoting someone does not imply and endorsement of all their beliefs. What followed was a conversation across the University community about quoting Jefferson andhis legacy on grounds. To address Jefferson’s legacy, the University should look beyond the statues that physically represent him and turn to the basics — adjusting what comes to mind of those in the University community when his name is invoked.

There are many ways to commemorate significant historical figures. Their life and accomplishments can be recorded in textbooks, remembered with holidays or awards in their name or honored by a statue erected in their image. Statues are the most physical representations of this honor and have been the continuous site for both protests and counter-protests over the past few months on Grounds and in Charlottesville. After the white nationalist protest in August, City Council ordered that the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson be covered by tarps, and in a student protest last semester, students covered the statue of Thomas Jefferson outside of the Rotunda. Evidently, the statues of these men serve as the focus of intense frustration — so much so that they are covered or hidden from sight. They have also, however, spurred conversations between the University community and Charlottesville at large, around the naming of things like City parks and University buildings.

This kind of discourse around statues and naming emerges from the idea that figures should be commemorated on the basis of their beliefs. Some people disagree on the commemoration of Confederate heroes because they do not agree with the ideals they held, specifically regarding race. Those values, they argue, do not align with the values of Charlottesville as a whole. The same thinking is present in the conversation around Jefferson, who had a vision for the University that strictly excluded women and people of color. While he was envisioning a University for southern youth, he had slaves working his plantation and building the very Grounds we walk everyday. It has been proven that Jefferson fathered the children of one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and historical context provides room for speculation on the non-consensual manner of their relationship. This negative picture of Jefferson is all that some remember when they see his name.

Sullivan argued that evoking the name of someone does not mean a full endorsement of their character and beliefs. While this is true, the University still struggles with Jefferson’s legacy because we are living in the full fruition of his initial vision. Yes, the University currently admits African Americans and women, but it remains a majority white institution. Those who criticize the statue refer mainly to the fact that he never envisioned the University’s current level of diversity. If the community is against the use of his name and words, then of course they would be against a statue in his image. Removing the statue from its current location does nothing to address the issue with Jefferson’s legacy. Instead, it hides the problem and allows it to exist somewhere else. The issue of his beliefs and legacy will still be up for debate.

The conversation around Jefferson is different than the conversation around Confederate generals because of his relationship to the University. The school would not exist without Jefferson, and as the founder, his image rightfully belongs on Grounds. Though Jefferson would never have given them credit, the University also would not exist without the slaves that built it. If the University is to continue to invoke and dwell on Jefferson’s legacy, the administration needs to work out a way to demonstrate that his ideals are the foundation from which this institution developed — and that his problematic beliefs of exclusion can not be applied to the present.

The focus on tangible entities like statues seems important, but this is more of a debate on the intangible and the beliefs of those in power at this institution. Is the University stuck in the Jeffersonian past of exclusion, or is it open to a future that includes and appreciates the very people to whom Jefferson denied educational access? For the University to properly address his legacy, it needs to address the goals of the University’s founder, while also make solid efforts to ensure that the University denounces the exclusive elements of Jefferson’s vision. Statues are a natural place to start, but the backlash against President Sullivan demonstrates that conversation should start at the basics — Jefferson as symbol for his beliefs and, by extension, the beliefs of the University.