By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
UNITE THE RIGHT RALLY l to r : members preparing to enter Emancipation Park holding Nazi, Confederate, and Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flags in Charlottesville, Va. (Anthony Crider/Wikimedia Commons)
Race relations in the United States, especially in the South, are plagued by troubling examples of the challenges that face the nation, as Americans work toward achieving the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of, more than 50 years ago.
Forty-two percent of Americans said that they personally worry a “great deal” about race relations in the United States, up seven percentage points from 2016 and a record high in the Gallup’s 17-year trend, according to Gallup News.
The Gallup poll marked the third straight year that worries about race relations have increased by a significant margin, a surge that experts have said likely stems from the racial tensions and public discourse sparked by high-profile incidents of police shooting unarmed Black people. These high-profile incidents, often sensationalized by mainstream media, overshadow the more pervasive forms of racism that exist in local politics, businesses and schools.
A longtime prominent Florence, S.C. school board member abruptly resigned when it was made public that he sent an email in which he described Black members as “darkies.” In part of the missive, Glenn Odom noted that he “didn’t want the Darkies” to know about the information—a reference to the African-American board members. He has now apologized.
“I guess I’m the head ‘darkie,’” school board member Alexis Pipkins, Sr., told the NNPA Newswire. “I didn’t find out about [the email] until September and there was a board meeting on September 14 and they didn’t notify us.”Pipkins continued: “So, if any of them say they’re shaken up by this, they weren’t shaken up enough to inform all of the board members. If this isn’t racism, my question would be, ‘then, what is?’”
Board Superintendent Barry Townsend struggled with explaining Odom’s actions. “I thought the biggest issues we’d have to deal with on the school board is education and taxes,” Townsend said.
Florence City Manager Drew Griffin said he learned about Odom’s email just hours before he was contacted for comment. “Certainly, the contents and language contained within the email are inconsistent with my personal beliefs as well as the mission and core value statements adopted by the city,” Griffin said.
Surprisingly, the local NAACP President Madie Robinson said the issue is strictly a school board matter and she declined further comment.
Odom, a school board member Florence (District 1) for 25 years and whose term wasn’t set to end until 2020, was among those who fought against a U.S. Justice Department order earlier this year to make sure its schools are more racially balanced.
In Conway, S.C., the FBI arrested a White restaurant manager for enslaving and torturing a Black worker for five years, calling him the “n-word” and paying him less than $3,000 a year while working him daily with very few, if any, days off, according to the local FOX-affiliated.
Restaurant owner Bobby Paul Edwards has been indicted on a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison for enslaving a Black employee. Christopher Smith had worked for 23 years at Edwards’ J&J Cafeteria as a buffet cook. Prosecutors said Edwards “used force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion” to compel Smith to work.
Smith, who reportedly has a mental disability, would work 18-hour shifts six days a week, sometimes without breaks, his attorneys said. Smith was hit with a frying pan, burned with grease-covered tongs and beaten with butcher knives, belt buckles and fists “while being called the n-word repeatedly,” the lawyers alleged, according to The Post and Courier.
In Hope Mills N.C., a massive Ku Klux Klan recruitment effort found its way into a high school, demanding that Whites join to “take back the country.” The Loyal White Knights of the KKK left flyers on the windshields of cars parked outside of Gray’s Creek High School. The flyer urged participation by Whites and railed against the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces; the group called the removal of the statues an attack on “White History, the White Race and America itself.”
In Louisiana, Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator vehemently objected to the planned release of Black state prisoners, who he said could continue to work on washing cars for the warden and other officials. “In addition to the bad ones—and I call these bad—in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money,” Prator protested at a news conference. “Well, they’re going to let them out.”
And, then there was the exchange between a Black female student at Woodlands High School in The Woodlands, Texas, and a White student, according to a local ABC-affiliate. “U liberals dumb as hell,” the boy posted on Snapchat, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Not as dumb as you racist,” the girl responded. “I’m standing up for my country,” the boy said on Snapchat. “We should have hung all u [n-words] while we had the chance and trust me, it would make the world better.”
Myrlie Evers, a civil rights activist and the widow of Medgar Evers, who was murdered by a White supremacist in 1963, said that she was in a state of despair, hurt and anger, according to the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss. “I’m 84 years of age, and I’m thankful for my life,” she told the Clarion-Ledger. “In my prayers, I ask, ‘God, is it ever over? Must we continue to go through this horrible nightmare of prejudice, racism and hatred all over again?’ ”
Evers continued: “If we don’t step forward,” she said, “we have no one to blame but ourselves for what the end may be.”