Mississippians spoke out against white supremacy Monday night on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in response to the weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where torch-carrying neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched on the town, leaving three dead.
Around 100 people showed up to Hattiesburg’s “Rally Against Hate,” which was hosted by the Pinebelt Action Network. The four speakers at the event, introduced by Taylor Vines, were Brian Street, Jojo Virgil, Marcus Blake, and Barbara Keller. Instead of focusing on the acts of hate, they sought to fight hate by sharing some of their stories, in the hopes of fostering more understanding across racial, ethnic, and religious lines.
Along with photos from the event, we’ve shared select passages from their speeches below.
Brian Street is from Lucedale, but has called Hattiesburg home for 13 years. He lived in Miami for three years before returning to Hattiesburg.
“We have so much that is coming from generations and generations before. We have flags that are representing things that came up years, decades, and centuries before when things were completely different than what they are today. Things were completely different, but we still have things people are holding onto saying, ‘This represents my heritage.’ Yes, I understand that. It represents your heritage. But what does your heritage represent?”
“When are you going to allow your heritage to sit to the side – just a little bit – so you can open up a dialogue with someone that’s different? Someone that was oppressed by that heritage.”
“There is more love out there than there is evil. But the love is so quiet. And the evil is so loud.”
Jojo grew up in Petal. He studies social work at the University of Southern Mississippi.
“For those of you that are familiar with Petal, it’s mostly a predominantly white town. And I was the only black kid in my class for three years. I never thought it was a problem. I was always treated with respect. No one treated me any differently. But that was until I moved to Hattiesburg High. Literally, it was like a culture shock.”
“My best friend growing up [in Petal] was always Caucasian. My oldest siblings, they never hung around Caucasian people . . . I always hung out with people outside of my own reference group. But when I started hanging around people who were the same race as me, I realized they hung around people who were the same as them. You’re 85% more likely to hang out with people who are inside your reference group than not. And that’s where the confusion comes in. That’s where the fear comes from. That’s where the bewilderment comes from as well. It’s because we do not hang out with people who are not like ourselves.”
“I remember during the holidays, [my mama] would always say, ‘We’ve gotta give some stuff away for you to get more stuff.’ So even though we were poor, at Thanksgiving time, we would have to give other people food who lived on our block. We would go up the street and these people would be living in houses that had no heat – none of that. And we would go home, and I would be grateful.
“I remember one time when she worked at Pearl River on the highway, there was a lady who worked with her and she lived in a trailer. And I remember my mama told me, she said, ‘I need y’all to get some clothes. We’ve gotta go to one of my coworkers.’ And it was the usual thing, I would complain and I would complain, and I would say, ‘Okay.’
“And when we took these clothes to this lady, I didn’t know who she was or what she looked like or where she came from. I just knew she had to be doing something that was worse than us. When we walked in the house, the lady comes to the door and it was a white lady. So in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘We must be at the wrong house.’
“And I looked at the lady and she was like, ‘How you doin’? You must be Miss Margaret’s son.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ And she was like, ‘This is my son, Jonathan.’ And she introduced me to her daughter. And we got to talking, and my mama had brought all these boxes and these bags and we put them in the house. And she said, ‘I’m gonna be praying for you.’ My mama told her she loved her, and she gave her a kiss, and we walked out.
“And when we walked out, the lady started crying. We got in the car, and I said, ‘Mama, why’s she crying? Why are you telling her you’re praying for her?’ And she said, ‘Because her husband was on his way home from work last night and he lost his life. And he’s not comin’ home no more to put no food on the table.’
“And that changed my whole life.”
Barbara is congregant of the only synagogue in Hattiesburg, Temple B’nai Israel.
“For most of my life – even now – I never, never told people I was Jewish. They had to completely earn my trust before I’d ever tell them I was Jewish. And sometimes it would somehow leak out. A coworker would tell people, or suddenly I’d find out my students knew and I didn’t tell them. It’s one of those things, I mean – Marcus, and Jojo, and Brian – people don’t have to say, ‘Are you black?’ Because it’s obvious. But people – especially in Mississippi, where people hardly know any Jews (I might be the only Jew you’ve ever seen) –, they don’t know what a Jew really looks like. So they don’t know it until I tell them. And then I don’t know what their reaction will be. And I’ve had positive, and I’ve had really negative reactions. So it just depends.”
“Jews know danger very well. And they know that white supreamcists are dangerous. The words KKK, the words Nazis – even saying it now makes me scared.”
“Donald Trump didn’t even mention Jews when said something about Holocaust Remembrance Day. He didn’t even mention Jews. And when he was asked, he said, ‘Well, it’s not just Jews who died.’ But, I mean, that is the prominent amount of people that died – they were Jews. And not just in concentration camps.
“I’m named after my aunt – my great aunt – who died in the Holocaust, and she died in her village. First, [the Nazis] would have you dig your own grave. That’s really evil in and of itself, right? Then, they would line you around the grave and shoot you and you’d fall into the grave. And that’s how some of my family died.”
“I was really sad that the event in Charlottesville not only was so terrible, but it happened on the Jewish Sabbath – which is the holiest day – even though it comes once a week – it’s the holiest day. And just a few weeks before, Jews around the world . . . read in their synagogues, ‘Cease to do evil, learn to do good, devote yourselves to justice.’”
“David Duke and his people are always talking anti-Semitism, and they always say that Jews are anti-everybody else because they say they’re the chosen people. But no one really understands what they chosen means. The chosen means, to Jews, chosen to serve. Chosen to bring the covenant. Chosen to accept the service to people, to the earth, to ecology. It’s actually a burden.”
Watch our Facebook live video of the rally:
Residents of Hattiesburg and students at the University of Southern Mississippi gather to speak out against white supremacy and racism after Charlottesville.
Posted by Deep South Daily on Monday, August 14, 2017