“Why is this symbol of injustice still standing in a place of justice?” Brandiilyne Magnum-Dear asked as she stood in front of Forrest County’s Circuit Court building, which features a Confederate monument in addition to the Mississippi state flag.
Saturday’s demonstration around the courthouse included about 200 people.
“This is a state of hospitality for all people,” said Magnum-Dear, who is pastor of a local church.
“We have an opportunity, right now, to go out into the community,” said J. Theresa Bush, an assistant theatre professor at USM. “Not just to study it, but to help heal it. I think it’s very important that we say their names.”
Bush then listed many people who have been killed by police officers while going about their daily activities, including sleeping in their own beds.
Speaking directly to “allies,” meaning white people who support the rights of people of color, she said, “There is a huge difference between tolerance and acceptance.”
“Hear their stories,” Bush said. “Don’t interrupt. Their story is not about you.”
Saturday’s demonstration at the courthouse, which Bush characterized as “entirely peaceful,” was preceded by a Friday walk from Hattiesburg’s Chain Park to Hinton park behind Petal City Hall. That walk and demonstration also consisted of about 200 people.
Friday was June 19, also known as Juneteenth. It is not an official holiday in many areas, but it is celebrated, primarily in the Black community, because it was on that day – June 19, 1865 – that Union solders landed in Galveston, Texas, and announced that the Civil War had ended and that all African American slaves had been officially freed.
Robert E. Lee had surrendered in April of that year, but it took two months for the news to reach Texas.
When Friday’s march reached the bridge connecting Hattiesburg and Petal, the two cities' police departments exchanged places, providing both traffic control and security for the walkers.
Both events were organized by the Mississippi Rising Coalition.
“Petal has a reputation that Black people don't live there because the city isn't welcoming," said Reginald Virgil, who helped organize the march from Hattiesburg to Petal. "We're trying to help tear down that barrier, to bring like-minded people together. There are many different ways of combating racism, and this walk is just one of the ways. We're letting people know we're here, that racism cannot be accepted."
Bush added, “Whatever your influence is in this world, whether it’s great or small, use it” to help those who need it most. “Stand up and be willing to have a conversation about racism. Even if you don’t know what to say, you can listen.”
Genesis Be, a speaker who is Mississippi poet, said on Saturday that “this state is a microcosm of this nation.”
“America is taking notice,” she said, adding that many companies “won’t set up shop in Mississippi” because the Confederate battle flag is included on the state flag. “That’s America saying, ‘We’re not going to do business with you.’”