“We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature,” Mr. Biden said. “For without unity, there is no peace — only bitterness and fury.”
But in interviews this week, Charlottesville activists, religious leaders and civil rights groups who endured the events of 2017 urged Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party to go beyond seeing unity as the ultimate political goal and prioritize a sense of justice that uplifts the historically marginalized. When Mr. Biden called Ms. Bro on the day he entered the presidential race in 2019, she pressed him on his policy commitments to correcting racial inequities. She declined to endorse him, she said, focused more on supporting the antiracism movement than any individual candidate.
Local leaders say this is the legacy of the “Summer of Hate,” as the white supremacist actions and violence of 2017 are known in Charlottesville. When the election of Mr. Trump and the violence that followed punctured the myth of a post-racial America, particularly among white liberals, these leaders committed themselves to the long arc of insulating democracy from white supremacy and misinformation.
“We were the canary in the coal mine,” said Jalane Schmidt, an activist and professor who teaches at the University of Virginia and was involved in the 2017 activism. She compared the current political moment to the aftermath of the Civil War, framing the choice for Mr. Biden’s administration as either committing to sweeping change akin to Reconstruction or going along with the type of compromise that brought its end.
“We have a whole major political party that, too large of a section of it, supports undemocratic practices, voter suppression and the coddling of these conspiracy theories,” Dr. Schmidt said, referring to Republicans. “So healing? Unity? You can’t do that with people who don’t adhere to basic democratic principles.”
The Rev. Phil Woodson, the associate pastor at First Methodist United Church, who was among the counterprotesters facing down the mob in 2017, said, “For as much as Charlottesville may have been the impetus for his presidential campaign, Joe Biden hasn’t been to Charlottesville.”