Charlottesville Newspaper Sued After Reporting on Local Family’s Ties to Slavery

ACharlottesville man is suing a local newspaper after it reported on his family’s slaveholding past. Edward Dickinson Tayloe II, a descendant of the earliest English settlers of Virginia, is also part of a lawsuit that seeks to stop the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee by the Charlottesville City Council.

Tayloe’s family history was mentioned in a profile written by the C-Ville Weekly in March. This article may have prompted the lawsuit, but the Tayloe’s slaveholding legacy is well-documented, according to The Daily Beast. The family itself donated nearly 30,000 historical papers, including a plantation ledger that detailed the number of people the family enslaved, to the Virginia Historical Society.

The Tayloe profile was part of a longer piece reporting on the 13 plaintiffs of the Monument Fund v. Charlottesville case, which Tayloe had joined. After the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the Robert E. Lee statue in February 2017, Tayloe and 12 other co-plaintiffs sued the city of Charlottesville about a month later to prevent the Confederate statue from being removed.

The planned removal of the bronze depiction of the Confederate general became the rallying point for a group of neo-Nazis and white supremacists that descended on the city for the Unite the Right Rally in August 2017. The racist rally ended with the death of Heather Heyer, an anti-racist counter-protester, who was killed when a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of peaceful protesters, injuring 28 others.

In September 2017, the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statue honoring Confederate Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson as well, according to The Daily Beast. The second marker was quickly added to Monument Fund v. Charlottesville.

“Both monuments are memorials of the War Between the States,” the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint, “and to the veterans of that War.” Earlier in September, a Virginia judge blocked the removal of the Confederate statue that sparked the Unite the Right Rally. The judge ruled that the removal of the statue violated a state law prohibiting the removal of war memorials.

The C-Ville Weekly piece at the center of Tayloe’s latest lawsuit noted that the plaintiff’s monument lawsuit centers on “whether councilors violated Virginia state law, which forbids the removal of war memorials, when they voted to send the Confederate generals on their way.” In her profile of the plaintiffs, reporter Lisa Provence then went on to list the horrific, dehumanizing cruelties the Tayloe’s forced on enslaved people.

The article also included a quote by Jalane Schmidt, a University of Virginia associate professor, who said: “For generations this family has been roiling the lives of Black people, and this is what [plaintiff Tayloe] chooses to pursue.”

In response, Tayloe sued the C-Ville Weekly, Provence, and Schmidt, alleging that he was defamed by the article. Tayloe claimed that the article unfairly labeled him a racist.

“The result of the publication… was to accuse Plaintiff Tayloe of race-baiting in a political and social atmosphere in Charlottesville, Virginia, where, since August 12, 2017, there is virtually no worse label,” the lawsuit claimed, making a reference to the deadly Unite the Right Rally.

The 76-year-old Vietnam veteran is seeking $1.35 million in damages for “impairment of reputation, diminished standing in the community, humiliation, injury and embarrassment, emotional distress, mental anguish, professional and business harm, loss of earning capacity, loss of income, loss and impairment to contracts, loss of business opportunities and expectancies,” according to Essence.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia, which is handling Schmidt’s defense, labeled their client’s remarks as “political speech at the very core of the First Amendment’s protections.” In court papers, the ACLU said that Tayloe’s defamation claim is a form of legal retaliation intended to restrict Schmidt’s free speech.

“It is intended to send a clear message to others who wish to opine on matters of public concern in which Plaintiff is involved,” the ACLU wrote, according to The Daily Beast. The legal aid organization added, “Disagree or critique Plaintiff Tayloe, then you, too, will face the threat of a lawsuit.”

In a piece written for the ACLU of Virginia in July, Schmidt said that Tayloe’s defamation suit is “a disdainful attempt to stifle speech and prevent me from speaking out about matters of public concern.” She noted that she leads walking tours in Charlottesville to educate people about the city’s slaveholding history, its Confederate monuments, and their connections to white supremacy.

“Marginalized narratives of vulnerable groups of our community must be included in our collective story in order to inform our efforts to make changes in the present and to promote a more just and equitable future,” Schmidt wrote. “First Amendment protections should not be stifled by lawsuits designed to make anyone fearful of the consequences of exercising their rights.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.