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Racism in the River Valley

 

Brief History

Russellville is another small town in Pope County, Arkansas.  Which is within the Bible belt of America that prides itself on being a small, cozy town in the south.  Russellville is also home to Arkansas Tech University, conveniently located in town and has been helping to keep the town alive, and trains that come through it on a daily basis, transporting resources of all kinds.  However, this same town that prides itself on “Christian” values, hard work, loving country music, and enjoying comfort food; is the same town that has been home to overt and covert racism for decades, despite their Christian beliefs.  Even though, the Bible clearly condemns hatred towards others, deceitful practices, and the inability to treat others as yourself; racism and discrimination are still allowed and at times encouraged to exist in this area.  This in itself is an hypocrisy of great magnitude.  An area so dedicated to living with Christian values of loving thy neighbor as thyself and turning away from hating others, has so often embraced the very acts of racism, that Jesus would vehemently condemn himself.

It’s no secret that in during and after slavery there were lynchings of black people across the country, mostly concentrated in the southern United States.  Not only was this an immoral and cruel means of punishing black people whether guilty or innocent, but legal.  Whenever there was a lynching, it became a social event for the town.  This was consisted of hundreds and at times thousands of white people, who would gather around to watch a black person or a group of black people be tortured to death, until they died, hence the term lynch mob.  Attending these events were judges, lawyers, law enforcement, children, mothers, bankers, farmers, and any other white person within the city or county’s reach.  White people during this time were so immune to the idea of it being deviant or disgusting behavior, that there were many would have a picnic during the lynching.  Victims of known lynchings were adults, children, men, women, pregnant women and their unborn children, teenagers, and elderly black people.  A large majority of these victims committed no crimes, other than stand up against white supremacy and racism.

For Russellville and Pope County lynch mobs and racism have been no different.  Back in 1912, there was a man by the name of Monroe Franklin, who was lynched unjustly on August 20th.  He was accused of a crime and was being held in a jail cell in Russellville, at the court-house.  Before he was able to appear in court, he was dragged away from his cell, and lynched from a light pole on West Main Street, within a short distance from the courthouse.  This incident reflects in part of problem with the racism that exists in America and in the Russellville area.  What it shows is how casual it was to hang a man merely accused of a crime and brutally killed due to his skin color, that had it been the other way around, there would have been a cause for the National Guard to round-up all participating members of such a mob.  It also shows that many people were exposed to such racist behavior at an early age, and proclaimed it be an acceptable way to deal with minorities, in which this same mentality still exists.  Not only the lynching mobs of angry whites, but also the general racism and constant denial of civil rights and humane treatment by whites towards blacks in all aspects of life since the beginning of slavery.  Although slavery has ended, black people have been awarded citizenship, and some civil rights have been given to us, the problem of racism by whites still exists in our day-to-day lives.  From the supporting of black face, confederate rallies around town and neighboring towns, police murder and brutality against innocent and/or unarmed minorities, school functions based in racist behavior, attempts to deny racism’s existence, and the utilization of various racist terms/slurs and stereotypes.

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In terms of more recent events in the River Valley, there have been a lot of obvious issues that were in need of being addressed on a larger scale, but at times were not due to the majority of the city and county consisting of Caucasians.  One incident that I have previously blogged about was that of a mandatory school function at Clarksville High School, back in 1999 where they held a slave auction in the name of a school sanctioned fund-raiser.  For this event, they brought in a real auctioneer who auctioned off students to other students.  While the white students and staff thought it was harmless fun, others like myself were offended.  It was offensive for the fact that an educational institution thought it funny to make fun of a true life holocaust related event, that happened to our ancestors and removed their humanity.

Confederate Bigots

Another scenario is the rebirth of ignorant confederate rallies, by people who are completely misinformed on social and historical data in regards to the Civil War and the confederate battle flag.  Starting with the death of Charleston 9, in the summer of 2015, there was a kid who admitted to killing these nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina due to their race.  Before doing so he posed with pictures of the confederate battle flag, and a burning American flag.  As a result outrage broke out about the confederate flag being removed from the Charleston capital building.  This was debated and then finally executed, due to its relation and use by white supremacy and racial hate groups like the KKK and the Dixiecrats.  As a result of its removal from the capital building in Charleston, SC and major retailers, many misinformed whites began to organize confederate rallies.  This was a sad attempt to try to convey to people that this flag wasn’t a symbol of racism and hate, but of heritage.  What they don’t tell people is that heritage was a heritage of hate and racism.  Otherwise why would you begin to celebrate the same flag as the man who blatantly killed black people with racist motives, as the confederate flag itself?  The problem with the confederate flag is that is very heavily based upon the principles of oppression and racism, so when black people see the flag, it is insult by itself.  It is a reminder that had the Union Army not won the Civil War, black people would still be slaves treated with no humanity, no respect, and with no safety from violence.  Since the summer of 2015, there have been at least 12 confederate related events and rallies in Arkansas, about five of them have been held in Russellville and neighboring towns.  While taking place many people have opposed these events, laughed at their ignorance, but still many have supported them.  While they support them in the name of heritage, there have been official reports of racial slurs being shouted from the confederate rally towards black people in Russellville, and other states.  Although KARK news did a report on this situation, they failed to do any investigation into the person who has been an organizer for the rallies in Russellville, who is not even from Russellville. This same person who organized the rallies, in the name of heritage not hate, has been found to post numerous racist comments, posts, and graphics on his personal Facebook account.  If KARK news truly wanted to give an informed report on this, they would have found this with next to no effort.

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Black Face At Arkansas Tech University

More recently, a white female student from Clarksville, Arkansas went black face for a Halloween event that was held on the campus of Arkansas Tech University.  It was brought to attention mostly by another student who was able to release it on Twitter, which was then seen and reported by Shaun King.  The next week it was finally, but vaguely addressed by ATU president Dr. Bowen, with no intention of taking any action of any kind towards a white student who committed an act of racism towards black students on campus. Her alleged identity is said to be Cameron Dail, a recent graduate of Clarksville High School. The irony of this situation is that Dr. Bowen claims to be a president who wants to create a more inclusive environment on campus, although after this incident it is clear that does not involve holding white students accountable for their racist behavior.  Many black students at ATU, including myself were outraged at the students decision to dress in black face, and then be completely unpunished by the university for her obvious offensive action.

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Other Issues

Other major issues in Russellville, and Pope County include employers who refuse to hire black people at their business, wrongful terminations, wage gaps for women and minorities, failure to promote to minorities, and the general assumption (incorrect) that the County Jail is full of mostly minorities.  There is also an issue of local media refusing to use their platform to inform and/or report on the major stories of injustice involving discrimination and racism in the area.  There are some local non-profit organizations (McElroy House, American Dream Avengers, Russellville Unity Fest, Community Unity) who have put together community events and informative events with the hopes of trying to fix some of these problems, but are ignored by local media, afraid of backlash from their conservative white subscribers.  A local news media company that has given into this fear is River Valley Leader of Russellville.  Although, racism will never be a nonexistent issue in society, the realistic objective is for it to be an unacceptable behavior.  It should be like criminal behavior, uncommon and strongly regarded by everyone as deviant and unacceptable.  This area of Arkansas has made some progress in some areas and more white people are slowly becoming more inclined to stand against racism and discrimination.  This is great, but there is still much more work to be done in various areas.  It is not the sole duty of black people to fix the racist attitude and behavior of white people towards others, it is everyone’s job.  It is not a choice to oppose racism and discrimination, it’s a moral obligation.  It’s a social responsibility based on decency, respect for human life, and the true religious values of treating others as yourself.  What is more sad is that there are so many Christians in this area, who support or defend these atrocious acts while claiming to be a true Christian, which is obviously not true, based on their own Bible.  Although many Caucasians have stepped up in recent years to oppose racism and discrimination, there is still a big number of them who participate in the perpetuating of this evil system.  Thanks to all the brave citizens who are willing to  fight for true equality and respect for others, victory becomes closer than before.

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