In the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., this year’s Hutchins Forum delved into issues surrounding free speech, confederate monuments and what to make of a president who has failed to unequivocally denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

This year’s panel was the largest in the 23-year history of the forum, which is hosted by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Crowds of people gathered outside the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Thursday evening, with many being turned away.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault moderated the panel, which echoed national debates surrounding the events in Charlottesville. In his opening comments, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Hutchins Center director and professor, noted the backlash that often follows civil rights achievements in the United States. But he also pointed out that key advancements such as the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments and the Civil Rights Act remain on the books.

Henry Louis Gates is the director of the Hutchins Center — Mark Lovewell

“No one can erase these historical facts, no one can declare these events to have been fake news,” he said. “They will remain, with their power to inspire and mobilize, intact.”

Panelists wasted no time getting into the subject of Charlottesville and the president’s response, which dominated the daily news cycle last week.

Armstrong Williams, a conservative radio host who supported Donald Trump as a candidate, said the president’s handling of the events last week made him see things in a new light.

“It’s just common sense, for any American, that you would come together and condemn that in the harshest of terms,” he said of the racism that was on display in Charlottesville. “I speak as a human being,” he said. “It was embarrassing, it was not leadership, and the president should give no energy, no second thought to the fact that these neo-Nazis and these white supremacists have any place in American society.”

Others had a similar take.

“This president has no understanding of what it means to be a moral leader,” said White House correspondent April Ryan, noting Mr. Trump’s assertion (and reassertion) last week that “both sides” were to blame for the violence.

Writer, professor and civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz noted that neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan have publicly praised Mr. Trump or spoken in his name. “When bigots speak in your name, you have a special obligation to condemn them,” he said, arguing that Mr. Trump was instead catering to his base.

Leah Wright Rigueur is a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. — Mark Lovewell

The panel also included New York Times columnist Charles Blow, Asma Khalid of the BostonomiX news team at WBUR, and Leah Wright Rigueur, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Mr. Blow and Ms. Rigueur, along with Mr. Armstrong, have been regulars at the forum in recent years.

The discussion was perhaps equal parts reflection and debate, with a few heated moments between Mr. Dershowitz and Mr. Blow. In response to a question about racial tensions possibly leading to a second Civil War, Mr. Blow said he couldn’t weigh in on the topic, feeling that historians would have a better take, but he did challenge the idea that people all need to come together. “I don’t want to be brought together with a bigot,” he said. “There is no space between us where compromise can be had.”

Mr. Dershowitz countered by saying, “You have a very narrow view of human nature and a very narrow view of education.” He cited advancements in gay rights as one example of education making a difference, and argued that many people with prejudices can still change. “I for one will not give up and simply accept that we will be a racist country for ever and ever.”

Mr. Blow in turn cited the author Toni Morrison, who said the function of racism is distraction. “Every moment that I give to you to try drag you out of darkness is a moment that I miss loving my children, loving my family, doing my work,” Mr. Blow said. “It is completely unfair to shift the burden... onto the oppressed.”

Panelists agreed that Mr. Trump’s blaming of “both sides” for the violence last week was discouraging at best, although none of them seemed surprised given his track record.

Ms. Khalid, who covered the presidential campaign last year, recalled instances of racist language even before Mr. Trump entered the race. “Donald Trump tapped into a preexisting condition,” she said. “I almost feel that by putting the burden fully on the president, it becomes an easy way to excuse some of the larger societal problems.”

New York Times columnist Charles Blow got into some heated moments with Alan Dershowitz. — Mark Lovewell

Last week saw a growing chorus of Republican voices denouncing the president for his response to the violence, and many commentators have called it a moment of reckoning for the Republican party.

“It takes Republicans, it takes the leadership to do something,” said Ms. Ryan. “It takes Republicans to stand up to this president and say enough is enough.”

Mr. Dershowitz also called out the “liberal left” for not adequately speaking to the needs of the working class. “We are losing them,” he said, arguing for a more centrist approach to politics in both Europe and the United States. “When the center weakens, we really can predict violence on all sides.”

Many people in the audience later scoffed when he argued that the “alt-left,” a term used by Mr. Trump in defending the alt-right activists at the rally, does in fact exist. “We can’t deny it,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “I do not want to give a pass to the hard radical left, which is destroying America.”

Ms. Khalid recalled her own experience covering the election, and agreed that journalists could do a better job, including hiring more people of color. She pointed out that people of color under the age of five in the United States already make up the majority in that demographic. “Sheer population growth means this country has inevitably and will inevitably be changing,” she said.

Conversation turned to the issue of the confederate monuments around the country that are widely seen as rallying points for white supremacists. Mr. Dershowitz said that before last week he had been ambivalent about the idea of removing those statues, but he now supports their relocation to museums where they can be viewed in a historical context.

Mr. Blow pointed out that many of those statues were erected as backlash to African American achievements since the Civil War. “These are not about history,” he said. “These were markers to black people and from people who said you are not going to change.”

Asma Khalid of the BostonomiX news team at WBUR. — Mark Lovewell

Ms. Rigueur also argued for their removal. “This is not about whitewashing history, it’s about correcting history,” she said.

On the topic of free speech, Mr. Dershowitz disagreed with calls for the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully sued the city of Charlotesville on behalf of the rally organizer last week, to rethink its approach to the First Amendment.

“You certainly don’t want the ACLU to be compromising on their commitment to free speech,” he said.

Ms. Rigueur agreed that defending free speech can benefit everyone in the long run. But looking at the issue of free speech at colleges and universities, she said, she draws the line at speakers who are invited only to inflame or troll the opposition.

Lawrence D. Bobo, W.E.B. Du Bois professor of social sciences at Harvard, who joined the panel, summed up the discussion and offered his own take on the issues at hand.

“I see a man, in my judgment, who is profoundly ignorant of American history,” he said. “It is as if he was unaware that Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee fought a war to secede from the United States of America,” and in the name of slavery. “We defeated that tradition. You understand, Mr. President? We should not be honoring, we should not be valorizing, we should not be according hallowed public space to that racist garbage.”

Questions from the audience focused largely on how people can make a difference. Ms. Rigueur encouraged people to take part in conversations in their communities, including with Trump supporters.

“Everybody has a responsibility,” she said. “This can’t all be on black people anymore. It also has to be on everybody else.”