[For this year’s annual Cville series, I wanted to highlight a handful of inspiring and impressive profs at my hometown school, the University of Virginia (beyond the UVA prof who will always come first in my heart). I’d love to hear about profs—teachers, advisors, mentors, colleagues, friends—you’d highlight in comments!]
On a historic prof who reflects the worst and best of the institution and city.
When I wrote my “Segregated Cville” piece for Activist History back in late 2017, I was really pretty early still in the process of learning about my hometown’s histories and ongoing issues around race and racism, segregation, violence, and more. Over the nearly five years since I’ve continued to read and listen and learn, to the other professors I’ll highlight in this week’s series as well as to the tons of thoughtful and engaged Cville folks I follow on Twitter (a list that includes Caris Adel, Jamelle Bouie, Zyahna Bryant, Molly Conger, Andy Orban, Lyle Solla-Yates, and Allison Wright among others). Through all those voices and all the sources and resources to which they’ve helped me connect, I’ve really come to understand not just Cville’s painful and powerful histories and their enduring legacies into the present, but also the ways in which the city really reflects so much of American history and identity, in both the worst and best senses.
There’s always more to learn on all those levels, though, and a couple months back Caris Adel shared this Daily Progress story about Dr. Alan Feldstein, a University of Virginia math professor whose 1960s experiences clearly reflect the university’s and city’s struggles with racism and segregation, with a white supremacist power structure (in both those settings) that sought to uphold those systems, and with activists like Feldstein who helped challenge them (and often paid a frustratingly high price for their efforts). You should all read that story, and then come on back for a couple more thoughts as we start this week’s series on UVa professors.
Welcome back! What I mainly wanted to follow up was one quote in that story, from Feldstein’s wife Felice about what overcame her initial reservations on moving to a Southern community like Cville. Her husband shared a letter to The Daily Progress signed by hundreds of residents who supported integration and civil rights, and Felice notes, “That appeased me. I was happy. There are always pockets of liberalism in places and especially in college towns.” That was always how I felt growing up about Charlottesville compared to the rest of Virginia, that it was a clear pocket of liberalism amidst what was then a very solidly red state. Unfortunately the more I’ve learned about both the city and the university, the more I’ve realized that the institutions and power structures were and in many ways remain just as white supremacist as the rest of the South and nation, as we can see clearly in the response to Feldstein’s activism. But at the same time, I’d say that letter and Feldstein alike reflect a counterpoint—that the city and the university have long featured passionate activists and communities seeking to create a different dynamic. I’m excited to share four 21st century examples of that legacy in the rest of this week’s series!
Next UVA prof tomorrow,
PS. Professors you’d add to the weekend post?