Southern Stories: Campaign for Racial Equality

11794635_1605619103022958_8603895706402290583_o[This letter was written as a part of the Other Arkansas collective and represents a myriad of voices. A shortened version of this letter was submitted to the Courier newspaper. Please join us THIS Saturday in Dardanelle for a community event and please consider signing your name to this letter and asking others to do the same]


Dear Community,

This is an open letter to members of our community who are choosing to fly the Confederate flag as a symbol of southern history, community, and heritage. We write this letter as fellow southerners who are proud to call this beautiful place home. We make our homes in this region, raise our children, and take care of our aging relatives.

The Confederacy is a fundamental part of our shared Southern history. Though the Civil War only lasted four years, its legacy permeates everything we do. The stories we tell about northern aggression are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. It is essential we know this history in all of its complexity. And for this reason we can not be silent.

Some have suggested that when we speak out against the flag we seek to deny our southernness, are attempting to bury history, or are ashamed of where we come from. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s where we agree: History is essential.

Yet we know first hand this flag is a symbol of terror to many in our communities. When we choose to let the Confederate flag become a symbol for our communities—when we choose to ignore people all over the nation clearly stating how the flag operates as a symbol of fear and white supremacy—we ignore our neighbors and we allow divisions to grow. We can not be silent.

The Confederacy, built on the idea of white supremacy and black slavery, did not represent non-white Southerners. As such, the battle flag of the Confederacy does not and can not represent the whole South. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens stated in 1861 that the “corner- stone” of the Confederacy was “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

anne and ella

Anne Braden and Ella Baker, brave southern women of the Civil Rights Movement

Is this the heritage Southerners want to recall and honor? Or do we want to build an inclusive South?

There is little point in shouting at one another or name calling.  Working class southerners have long been pitted against one another to uphold wealthy, often northern, interests. We  believe we all have more in common than not. And we believe these growing discussions around the Confederate flag and Southern history provide us with an amazing opportunity to build what Martin Luther King called beloved communities—places where we can live together in love and respect. We believe all are welcome here, that the working class should not be exploited across divisions of race. We can choose another way.

Arkansas's Southern Legacy: The Little Rock Nine who desegregated Central High.

Arkansas’s Southern Legacy: The Little Rock Nine who desegregated Central High.

On Saturday, September 12th from 5:00 until 6:00 pm we will come together at the Yell County Courthouse and stand up as proud Southerners. We take our cues from the numerous movements for equality that have always marked the south—all those times when Southerners spoke up and stood up for equality for all and worked to build communities across racial lines and stood up for immigrants, and the poor and working classes. These are our ancestors too, and this is the legacy of the South from which we choose to learn.  

Black, White, Women and Men were members of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Arkansas in 1930s. The Union worked for the rights of the poor and working class farmers.

Black, White, Women and Men were members of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Arkansas in 1930s. The Union worked for the rights of the poor and working class farmers.

Bring a sign and join us. Let those creative energies flow. Be kind, considerate, and remember this is a family friendly event. Maybe your southern hero is your grandmother who believed in equality, even when it wasn’t accepted in her family. Maybe your southern legacy is the story of SNCC and the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps you draw inspiration from Anne Braden who believed it was the duty of white people to stand up to racism and build another world. Maybe you are inspired by the bravery of the Little Rock Nine. Or maybe you’re unfamiliar with the fight for equal rights in the south but want to learn more. This is an event for people who believe there is another way and want to make the road by walking. We’ll have historical documents on hand and information about upcoming events.

Arkansas Native, Maya Angelou.

Arkansas Native, Maya Angelou.

This event was conceptualized as a response to the Concert for the Confederate, which will take place on the same day. But this is not meant to be a protest or an effort to shut down free speech. Quite the opposite. Our goal is to call on people to really dig deep into our nation’s history and to learn from the mistakes of the past as we build the future.

It’s essential to love the place you call home. It’s part of what makes us strong. Let’s come together to build a more loving world where we learn from history to build a stronger tomorrow.

Please join us Saturday, and please sign your name below to stand with us. Learn more about the Other Arkansas by clicking here. 

RSVP to the event here. 

 

This event is brought to you by a coalition involving The McElroy House, The Other Arkansas, American Dream Avengers, African American Student Association at Arkansas Tech University, Alpha Phi Alpha at Arkansas Tech University, SPECTRUM at Arkansas Tech University, and several individual parties.
Sincerely,

Members of the Other Arkansas Coalition

Ryan Watson

Alexandra Young

Samantha Dill

Cliff A. May

Marie Williams

Amber Storment

Meredith Martin-Moats

Bryan Moats

Sarah Purcell

Sign your name by adding a comment below. We’ll add names as we have them.