‘Outsiders’ a no-show
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Like similar marches led by a King from another era, last Saturday’s march and rally in Atmore — organized by local resident Shree King to help raise awareness of the racial divide many feel is prevalent in the city — was carried out in an orderly and peaceful manner.
The “outside agitators” feared by some city and church officials never materialized, and an almost totally local and multi-racial group of about 125 men, women and children, many of them carrying signs and placards encouraging racial equality, chanted “no justice, no peace” as they made their way from Atmore City Hall to Heritage Park.
King, whose nerves were frayed by the time the march got under way, said just before it started that she had caught flak from several people for her role in organizing the protest.
“We should have peace; we should have unity,” the local woman said. “We have got to be for each other. We spend money in each other’s shops, eat in each other’s restaurants.”
When the violence that evolved from a similar protest in Mobile was mentioned, King said it was a case of different folks in a different place. She said veiled threats posted on social media sites worried her but didn’t put her in fear for her safety or for the safety of the other marchers.
“We’re not like Mobile,” she said. “I love everybody. I don’t see color; I was raised to see love and respect. That’s the bottom line. I’m a black mother with kids, with boys, so you can’t scare me.”
Pastor Bernard Bishop, who offered a pre-march prayer, said the assembly was a step in the right direction toward healing the racial divide that affects the community.
“There is an elephant in the living room, and that elephant has been there for a long time,” he said. “But the elephant is finally being addressed on all sides of the spectrum. One thing that will kill that elephant is honest, open dialogue with one another so that one day there will be a generation that will be able to fulfill that dream Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) saw when he talked about white men and black men holding hands together in unity. Today is a great step toward fulfillment.”
As the group prepared to leave city hall, the local preacher encouraged the “army of believers” to conduct themselves in a fashion that would create an atmosphere of peace.
“Hatred is a learned and taught behavior,” he said. “Teaching begins at home. I ask that you conduct yourselves on a high plane of dignity, character, honor and respect. Put hate, envy and strife to shame, kill it.”
The marchers — including police chief Chuck Brooks, Mayor Jim Staff and city council members Susan Smith, Chris Harrison and Jerome Webster — hooked up with several dozen people who waited at Heritage Park, bringing the total attendance to more than 150.
King and several others spoke during the brief rally at the park. Alvanise Gray pointed out that people of all colors must overcome the lessons they were taught as children, if racial harmony is to exist here.
“What are we going to do, Atmore, about the systemic racism?” Gray asked. “It’s not all about you hating me because I’m black, or me hating you because you’re not. That’s something we learn. I was not born a racist, nor was anyone else here today. We learned that as babies. We need to sit at the round table and discuss this as adults, as educated people, as people with good sense.”
The rally soon turned into a bit of a forum for city officials, many of whom are running for re-election, causing one local minister to state, “I didn’t know this was supposed to be a political rally” as he left.
As city officials tried to convince attendees that the officials are there to help, if their help is sought, and the decorum began to melt, Bishop stepped forward and brought the event to a close.
King was praised afterwards for her courage and determination in making the protest march happen.
“It takes a lot of courage to stand up and make the sacrifice to plan an event like this and make the best out of this situation,” said Escambia County Commission Chairman Karean Reynolds, who also marched. “It was a great event.”
Brooks and Staff agreed that the protest march couldn’t have been more peaceful and well-organized.
“It went wonderful,” said the police chief, while the mayor said, “It couldn’t have been any better.”