A few days ago, a colleague of mine sent an e-mail to the faculty.
I mentioned it to Mrs. M, and we agreed that it was a good way to spend part of our Sunday afternoon. As a middle-aged fat guy, I was concerned about the ‘Rona, but I decided to wear my mask and attend all the same. (As it turns out, volunteers distributed masks to folks who didn’t have them, and we were encouraged to maintain social distancing, which led to a crowd that was more like a gathering of clumps. At least in my area, everyone seemed to have space. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
It’s a June day in South Carolina, so the temperature and humidity were both around 90 when we parked the car near the Newberry Opera House and walked a block or so to the downtown park that was the staging area. Volunteers (including my keyboardist) were helping get the crowd in order, while Carlton Kinard (a former student of mine — now the county NAACP chair) led some chants on a bullhorn. I saw some current and former students here and there in the crowd, as well as some of my colleagues. Mrs. M encountered at least one former student of her own, and got a quick hug from the little guy.
I’d estimate the crowd at somewhere between 200 and 300 people, about 65-75% African American. There were signs with messages memorializing George Floyd, calling for work against racism, and exhorting folks to vote. (There was a voter registration table at the courthouse parking lot, which was our destination.)
The march proper covered a couple of blocks between the park and courthouse. Mrs. M and I were toward the back of the pack — I walk pretty slowly under ordinary circumstances, and my knee has been acting up lately. But I managed to amble along the route until we reached the parking lot at the Newberry Courthouse.
I worked on my farmer’s tan as a number of speakers did their thing. The speakers included the city police chief — the first African American chief in Newberry history — the county sheriff, the mayor, a couple of local clergy, and Carlton Kinard’s brother, who told his own story of an encounter with police when he was a teen that nearly resulted in disaster. Speakers called for members of our community to work together to improve economic opportunities, to take part in the political process (not merely by voting, but by holding representatives accountable regardless of party), and to stay informed and look for opportunities to make things better.
There was praise for the willingness of our local police to use body cameras and to train in de-escalation, and acknowledgment that political and police leaders have been willing to engage in dialogue with members of the minority communities as well. There was also a call for an end to the concept of qualified immunity, and while most of the crowd didn’t seem aware of that particular issue, I applauded.
As the event came to a close, Mrs. M and I made our way back to the car. The people I had seen weren’t firebrands (with one possible exception, a young white woman dressed in black with a homemade “F12” in glitter on her T-shirt sleeve. Not much in the way of revolution in Mondoville, and I’m sure she was disappointed. Thank God.) They were just people who want to live safe and productive lives. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, and although I’m not Harlan Ellison, who marched at Selma, I’m glad I showed up to support it.