BUCKHANNON — Typically, the mayor of Buckhannon reserves his official statements — which he reads aloud from a sheet (or two or three) of paper — at the end of city council meetings when yawns and the desire to head home has set in among council members and attendees alike.
But Thursday’s message wasn’t a typical one, and it couldn’t wait, David McCauley felt, as he began to read his statement, even before the traditional moment of prayer and silent meditation and Pledge of Allegiance to the flag had gotten underway. In the wake of the Unite the Right rally and opposing protests Aug. 11-12 in Charlottesville, Va., which left one woman dead and 19 people injured, McCauley felt it was his duty to deliver an unequivocal response — one that left no one in doubt about Buckhannon’s stance on inclusivity.
“We are extremely fortunate to live in a close-knit, inviting, tolerant and inclusive community,” McCauley said. “In the wake of the horrible events occurring in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, we here in our Buckhannon-Upshur community need to be united and vigilant in our rejection of hate and those who would seek to exploit it here.”
The mayor pointed out that Charlottesville was a mere 174 miles — or about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Buckhannon. If it could happen there, it could happen almost anywhere, he said.
“By almost all accounts, Charlottesville also had been seen as an inviting, tolerant and inclusive community, the home to one of our nation’s preeminent institutions of higher education, the University of Virginia,” McCauley continued. “What happened in Charlottesville, could happen anywhere.”
In fact, families of incoming West Virginia Wesleyan College freshmen — unfamiliar with the town and surrounding area — were already worried it could happen in Buckhannon.
“I learned earlier this week, that West Virginia Wesleyan College representatives fielded phone calls of concern from families of new, incoming students about the climate here in Buckhannon, insofar as how welcomed their students of color would be here,” McCauley said. “As a community, we must send a universal message that we will not tolerate any hateful overtures, and that everyone is welcome here. Our city is collaborating with West Virginia Wesleyan College and businesses throughout our community to send our message loudly and clearly that everyone — no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or orientation — need not be fearful here — that they may confidently frequent our public places, stores, restaurants, schools and governmental offices knowing that they are welcomed, valued and important to our community.”
McCauley developed orange-and-black colored signs he’s encouraging everyone in the city and county to display. They are available at city hall, 70 E. Main St. in Buckhannon, and read “We are all in it together & by ‘we’ … we mean everyone. Everyone is a valued someone here. You are WE-lcome here! Our community, our citizenry, our local government, our activities, our businesses, our schools and special events are all-inclusive. It doesn’t matter what your race, religion, gender, orientation or disability is — as YOU are part of US! Buckhannon is glad YOU are here!”
McCauley’s statement continued, “We … are Buckhannon-Upshur-Wesleyan strong. As we engage in our moment of silent reflection this evening, I ask that we particularly keep close to our hearts the victims of Charlottesville, Virginia.”
The purpose of the Aug. 11-12 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville was to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park. The rally turned violent after protesters — many bearing swastikas, Confederate battle flags and anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic banners — clashed with counter-protesters. One person, Heather Heyer, was killed and 19 other people were injured after a man rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, according to multiple media outlets.