With Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy leading the chant, ‘No justice, No peace’ Clarksdale embraced the national protest brought on by police taking the life of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
More than 360 people gathered on the green at the Delta Blues Museum Saturday to make their voices heard. And while the protest focused on racial concerns in the black community, more than 65 who took part in the event were white.
Clarksdale High School graduates Tyler Yarbrough and Yasmine Malone, both currently Ole Miss students, organized the three hour rally and march through downtown Clarksdale Saturday night.
Clarksdale Police Chief Sandra Williams said there were no reports of vandalism or mischief related to the protest.
Racial imbalance, specifically as it relates to treatment by police was a central issue, but Malone said the protest also focused on food insecurity, poverty, underfunded education and economic disparity.
“We don’t want this to be a rally and march and go home,” said Malone. “We want to see systemic change come about because of these events.”
Both Malone and Yarbrough said there would be more events aimed at addressing the concerns voiced at the rally
“We’ve always known that segregation and racism are embedded within the fabric of how we operate, but none of us have ever really known truly how we could address that without causing disturbances, causing disruption.” Malone said. “To that, I want to say that it isn’t our job to address racism, inequality and injustice without disruption, because you cannot.”
Malone also mentioned there was a voter registration drive at Saturday’s protest. She also encouraged everyone to participate in the 2020 census.
Yarbrough spoke about his great-grandmother being the daughter of a sharecropper.
“Right now, she can go to that land she sharecropped and that land is probably still owned by someone who is white in this community,” he said. “It is a problem if 50 percent of people in this town do not own their homes.”
Yarbrough said people of both races do not know each other in Coahoma County and they must stand in solidarity and change the community and nation.
Both Malone and Yarbrough thanked Espy for helping them organize the event and provide city resources.
Espy thanked Malone and Yarbrough for organizing the event.
“You cannot define this generation,” said Espy pointing at the young people on the stage. “This generation sees no bias. They see through color barriers. They don’t have race or racism in their heart. They’re asking to stand united together. Together we will stand. That’s what they’re asking for.”
Jon Levingston, executive director of the Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged, as a middle-aged white man, he cannot appreciate the black experience.
However, Levingston acknowledged racism exists and said he continues to educate himself on ways to overcome that negativity.
Levingston said he was 10 years old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. It was also a Presidential Election year and Sen. Robert Kennedy had announced his candidacy two weeks prior to King’s assassination.
Levingston said, on the day King was assassinated, Kennedy was campaigning in Indiana at the University of Notre Dame and Ball State University. He learned King was shot before boarding a plane for Indianapolis and found out he died after landing.
“He was warned by the Indianapolis police that they were unable to provide him adequate protection in the inner city neighborhood where he was to speak, especially when the residents would hear of Dr. King’s death,” Levingston said. “He went anyway. In fact, he delivered the sad news of King’s murder to the large crowd gathered. He himself changed his speech completely because of the occasion and he wrote those words he spoke himself, scribbled on the trip from the airport to the neighborhood. The words he chose to use are as relevant to us today as they were then.
“This is what he said, ‘What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love, wisdom and compassion toward one another and the feeling of justice for those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.’”
Lekitha Hill, mother of Dayeveon Hill, who was murdered Feb. 8, 2017, spoke about gun violence.
Hill said National Gun Violence Day was Saturday and Gun Violence Day in Coahoma County was June 6 and 7. She has been speaking about the topic ever since her son’s death.
“That’s a start,” said Hill of Gun Violence Day. “It’s a start because we need it. We hear gun shots all too random here. I never paid attention to the gun shots until I lost my son. It was the norm. Then they knocked on my door. I wish I had done something sooner.”
State Sen. Robert Jackson, who has served for 17 years, appreciated the diverse crowd Saturday.
“I was happy when I came around this corner and I saw the crowd here today,” Jackson said. “I was even happier when I saw white people out here. I got even more happy when I saw white people with ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirts on because 20 miles away, that wouldn’t happen in Marks and Quitman County. So, Clarksdale, you have something different here.”
Brenda Luckett talked about the importance of the older generation communicating with the youth. She said her father started cleaning bathrooms at the railroad station behind her as a teenager and ended up being the first black engineer in the Delta.
Luckett regretted not discussing those experiences more often.
“They went through so much that when the time came to pass on that wisdom to you, they did not want to put it before you,” she said. “We should have let you know the struggle was real and it has always been real.”
The Rev. Zedric Clayton from The City of Truth church said it is time for the black community to be treated equally. He said Clarksdale business owners do not look like the majority of people in the city.
“It is no secret why we stand here this evening. We stand here because there is a problem in our nation,” said Clayton, who is also a Clarksdale Municipal School District and Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School board member. “A problem in our nation that there is no doubt people whose skin has been kissed my nature’s sun are not seen as equal by some. Because of that, that’s a problem.
“Because our Constitution declares that all men are created equal,” he added. “So we come and we declare in this moment that black lives do matter.”
With the crowd thinned by the heat, protesters then joined hands and peacefully marched through the streets of downtown Clarksdale.