The Atlantic

FDR's Message to Charlottesville—and to Donald Trump

In his speech at Charlottesville in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt united America; in his remarks about Charlottesville in 2017, Donald Trump divided it.
Source: Bettman / Getty / Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Last week, “Charlottesville” became shorthand for racism, violence and a president’s moral blindness. But for a long time, the college town was remembered for a very different moment, when a president facing fascist aggression showed moral clarity.

The last time the world paid so much attention to Charlottesville, it was the summer of 1940, and Europe was on fire. In a few short months Hitler had conquered much of western Europe, and France itself was on the verge of succumbing.

On June 10, the day

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