Charlottesville vigil brings prayer, song to waterfront

Published 8:40 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

A somber crowd gathered at Festival Park on the waterfront in downtown Washington on Wednesday night. They were there to honor the memory of the three people who died in Charlottesville, Virginia, and to show solidarity with the town that was the scene of clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters on Saturday.

A woman was killed and 19 more people were hospitalized Saturday when a car mowed down counter-protesters after a “Unite the Right” rally was canceled and police dispersed the crowd. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit-and-run. Two Virginia State Police officers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot M.M. Bates were also killed when the helicopter they were flying crashed on the way to assist with law enforcement efforts surrounding the rally.

When dusk settled Wednesday, more than 200 people — lit candles held high — were welcomed to Festival Park by Jessica Staton, a member of the progressive group Beaufort County Indivisible and one of the organizers of the event. The diverse crowd was given an open invitation to come up to the pavilion and share prayer, song or simply observations of the racial violence over the weekend. Beaufort County Indivisible President Attila Nemecz, Washington City councilmen Richard Brooks and William Pitt, retired Methodist pastor Charlie Mike Smith and Rev. Joneice Gorham Carroll, also representing the Washington branch of the NAACP, were a few of those who took to the stage, with Smith leading the crowd in “We Shall Overcome” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” while Carroll led the assembled in “Reach Out and Touch.”

The candlelight vigil drew people from near and far.

“I wanted to be with other people who are disturbed about what happened in Charlottesville and come up with some good solutions about racism in this country,” said Mackenzie Smith, M.D., who traveled to Washington’s rally from Greenville.

Don Fowler was visiting Washington from southern Virginia.

“It was an absolutely wonderful coming together. The crowd was large, and I think it was a cool thing that it brought everyone together,” Fowler said.

A new Washington resident, Will Aley, who hails from Washington, D.C., said the vigil spoke volumes about his new community.

“I’m impressed with the power of a small town,” Aley said. “These small-town people are not small minded.”