“I've been here for like 30 years or whatever. I'm like, born and raised. And I'm here at this protest to represent injustice in America. The Black Lives movement, there's an injustice in it, and Black people experience a lot of injustice in America at a disproportionate rate. The main protesters are here for Black Lives movement. I'm here to represent injustice in the judicial system, the politicians, mayors, government. There's inequality in America. And a lot of people doesn't realize it because of a privilege that they don't even know that they have.” —Chris McMillian, protestor in Harlan, Kentucky.
If you’re tempted to think protests are only happening in big cities like New York and Philly, be not deceived! As anti-racist protests have continued to spread across the nation demanding accountability and the end of the extrajudical killing of Black people, national outlets have predominately focused on large demonstrations in major cities like Atlanta and those where the recent murders occurred.
But people in elite urban centers aren’t the only ones speaking up. Folks from smaller cities in the Deep South, to the hollers of Kentucky, to tiny coastal towns in North Carolina continue to join the global movement to defend Black people and end white supremacy within the public safety and criminal justice sectors.
It may shock CNN to learn that Black people live outside of cities. It may scandalize the New York Times to discover there are pockets of the country more radical than New York, but it doesn’t surprise us. Our region is complex, racially, politically, and culturally— despite what the pundits will tell ‘ya. And change has always happened here. Slave revolts, boycotts, sit-ins, riots, and marches—liberation happens everywhere people care about their neighbors enough to join them in solidarity.
We reached out to our folks in our networks and on Twitter to find out what’s really going down in places the camera crews ignore. Below we’ve compiled fieldnotes from organizers, oral historians, and community-reporters detailing the public actions Southerners are taking to make a stand.
Protest in Huntsville, AL. Photo by David Odom.
Tim Jackson, Scalawag reader and freelance writer reporting on the Rally for Justice in Florence, Alabama:
Project Say Something was formed in Florence, Alabama, a few years ago “to confront racial injustice through black history by using non-violent communication, education, and community empowerment to reconcile the past with the present.” The action began, in part, to either remove the Confederate monument that stands in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse or to at least contextualize it by adding a statue of one-time Florence resident Dred Scott. As recent events have unfolded, the group is now demanding that the monument be removed and taken to the Soldier’s Rest area of the Florence City Cemetery.
At high noon on a hot and humid Sunday in Florence, day two of a protest action, organizers kicked off the Rally for Justice in front of the downtown Post Office. Organizers had water and snacks and a host of speakers lined up at the podium set up on the steps. Attendees continued to trickle in while participants spoke about voter participation, the general silence of the church, and specific injustices toward African Americans in recent years.
The event swelled to more than 500 attendees by the end of the first hour, before marching to the Lauderdale County Courthouse, where an event the evening before had the focus of removing the Confederate monument there. About 45 minutes of chants/call-and-response happened until everyone was asked to sit down for nine minutes while activists read the final words of George Floyd, as he lay pinned by Minneapolis police officers. The official protest broke up around 2:15 p.m., with a few staying behind to continue chants. A handful of Florence police assisted in blocking the route and stayed near the two protest sites, but the event remained peaceful and there was no interference from police.
David Odom, Organizer with the Tennessee Valley Progressive Alliance, reporting from the Rally Against Police Brutality in Huntsville, Alabama:
Photo by David Odom.
Thousands of people rallied in downtown Huntsville, Alabama against police brutality last Wednesday—easily the largest rally I’ve ever seen in Huntsville. After the main event—an NAACP-led rally in Big Spring Park—at least several hundred people marched up a series of stairs to the Madison County courthouse, where a Jim Crow-era Confederate monument stands. After about half an hour of the crowd chanting peacefully in the street, police in riot gear advanced on the crowd with tear gas, mace, flash-bangs, and rubber bullets. There was no provocation by the protesters to warrant such an attack. The police caused a frightening scene, as the crowd nearly panicked and caused a stampede. I helped a couple of people who were overcome by the gas and mace. The police continued to charge and scatter groups of protesters across downtown, firing tear gas along the way. Protesters kept asking and yelling, “Where are we supposed to go?” and “Why are you in riot gear?”
Photos courtesy of Tracey Williams.
Tracey Williams, local organizer reporting from The Protest Rally and March in Oxford, Mississippi:
The Protest Rally and March were held on May 30 and June 4 in Oxford in the wake of the death of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Both protests consisted of a diverse crowd of people who came out to show unity and solidarity to take a stand against racial disparities, systemic injustices, and racism in the community. Protesters cried, clapped, and cheered after each speaker spoke at the rally. During the protest, community members kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor and mourn Floyd’s last moments.
This protest action led to the formation of a new group called Conversations For Change which subsequently has compiled a list of demands from the community. Such demands are psychological training for police on how to deescalate a situation, improving police interaction with minorities, removal of the Confederate monument, and more economic investment.
Photo by Jade Wilson.
Roughly two hours into a peaceful protest gathered to collectively mourn the most recent lives lost, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and numerous lives taken here by the Raleigh Police Department, law enforcement began deploying teargas—and continued to do so all night long. After I was tear gassed the first time, I joined in to make sure those that couldn’t see and couldn’t breathe got the help they needed. We ran from one end of downtown to the other for hours, refusing to get out of the streets until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore.
Photo by R. Garringer.
Former Scalawag editor R. Garringer was out at last week’s protest in Harlan Kentucky interviewing folks to find out why so many young Appalachians are creating racial solidarity around the need to protect Black people.
DeMarcus Williams: My name is DeMarcus Williams. I’m 25 years old. I grew up around here locally. And I came out because growing up here I definitely have faced a whole lot of controversy my entire life, being a person of color. And it just warmed my heart to see that the younger generation is just changing from the standard that I grew up with. I came out here to support them, and try to support the kids that's going through the same thing that I've gone through. To try to make a change, even with all the injustice going on in the world. So I'm just happy to be here and be a part of the movement, along with everybody else. And to show people that we can be peaceful, and we can bond together as one.
R. Garringer: You don't have to, but if you'd want to say more about some of the stuff you grew up with that you're hoping a younger generation doesn't have to here...
DM: Just certain ways that people would stare at you. We all played together in sports around through here. And you'd go up to certain parts of the county and then you'd be called racial slurs, and then people'd just look at you differently, and expect you to act a certain way. You'd mostly get in trouble at school a whole lot more for doing the same thing somebody else would do in that type of situation.
Growing up, yes it definitely did change and it wasn't as worse as it was when I was younger. But once I got to my high school days it kinda still evened itself back out. But, just seeing this right here, is just giving me hope that there is change and I can see with all the people that showed up out here today, that it's definitely gonna change. And I wanna be a part of that movement to make it better for the people coming up behind me.
RG: Have you ever seen anything like this kind of protest in Harlan, or anywhere local?
DM: Definitely not, Definitely not here in Harlan. I've seen something similar a few months back with the protest with the miners whenever they were laid off from jobs and things like that. We all bonded together. But this right here, it's even a little bit bigger than what that was. And like I said, it's just exciting and heart warming, to know that people are standing with this cause right here. A cause that I have in common with everybody else.
R. also spoke with 18-year-old Alaina Epling who was attending her first protest. “I was worried about getting shot or something,” she said of her initial reservations.
AE: Well, I mean, my family has talked about it a lot. They aren't here with me today, because they don't support it. And I had to kinda sneak out to do this. But, I mean, I'm 18, I can do what I want. But...all of them have been telling me and telling the people around me that it's a bad idea, these protests aren't a good idea. I mean my little brother told me the other day that if somebody did something like this around here that they would get shot. He's 12 and he's saying stuff like this.
RG: Well why did you think it was important to come out, even given all that, and especially in Harlan?
AE: Well, I think that people who are more privileged than other people should use their privilege to do good. And, like for white people, they should use their platform to do good. And there's not a lot of Black people around here. I mean there's a community, but it's not a large amount of people. But they still matter. It's a movement, and it's really important for people to be out there doing what they do...
I think that as someone who is white, we need to understand... Even if you're underprivileged in another way, like if you're gay or trans, you just need to remember that it's not your voice that you're trying to amplify here. You're trying to use your voice to amplify marginalized people's voices. So it's important to not make it your movement, it's OUR movement. It's their movement, you know? That's it.
Young Ashley Bledsoe echoed Alaina, powerfully summing up why it was so important to her for small Southern towns like Harlan to rally and protest against police violence against Black people.
We need to know that our voice is heard. It's easy for us just to fall in the woodwork because we are small. But our voice is just as loud as anyone else, and our hometown can change things.
We agree, Ashley.