I come here today as a witness and as your neighbor to stand in the gap, and to be a repairer of the breach. My aim today is to comfort the afflicted. To those of you in deep pain, grief and even rage, I beg of you to not let your hearts be hardened, for from it flows the wellspring of life.
From a pulpit today in Greensboro, a member of this community declared that Charlottesville experienced terrorism yesterday, fueled by our country’s amnesia and unwillingness to right past wrongs. The only way to the root of these problems is to enter our nation’s caves and face the reality of our history.
We are not here today to politicize the terrorism in our neighboring state of Virginia yesterday. We come together to reach out a hand to our neighbors here amongst us and to do our work. I now ask you to enter a cave or two with me and look into violence in two of our neighboring counties.
Following the end of the Civil War, our appointed governor William Woods Holden commissioned more than 2500 people throughout the state to positions of power to begin the business of rebuilding our state in shambles. Several hundred of these newly appointed public servants happened to be Freedmen that fought bravely in the Civil War. As many former slave owners slowly trickled in from various prisons where they were held captive, they came home to find former slaves policing the land they once ruled as kings. In our neighboring county of Alamance, in the city of Graham, three Black men were the constables charged with protecting the peace. In 1869, the newly formed KKK rode the streets of Graham with in their garb and regalia with the goal of terrorizing the three constables. Wyatt Outlaw and the two other deputies shot at the Klan in retaliation, though no injuries were inflicted. In February 27, 1870, the newly formed KKK lynched and hung from a tree Wyatt Outlaw in the town square with the markings on his chest reading: “Beware ye guilty both black and white.” Terrorism, indeed.
Not one person stood trial following the Democratically controlled legislatures maneuvering to disband the newly formed grand jury where 63 Klansmen stood charge, 19 of which charged with murder. Not one person stood trial for the murder of Wyatt Outlaw. This single event was the catalyst which started what later became known as the Kirk Holden War, a piece of NC’s history I am committed to bringing to our awareness.
Earlier today, I had a brief exchange with William Joseph Barber, III. I asked him if he had heard of the work of Walter Wink whose life work was dedicated to the single question, “How do we resist evil, without creating new forms of evil?”
William Joseph Barber, III’s, response is the following:
“I am aware that turning the other cheek does not exclude standing up. What I am wrestling with is the fact that black people in this country do not have the luxury of responding to their realities the way any human being would naturally respond. You all know that it is wrong for this discrepancy to exist, and you have engaged significantly to try and deconstruct that injustice. But to wrestle with the fact that people, who want to do you harm or worse, can demonstrate in the open, can incite violence, can avoid police escalation, can shape the narrative of the media, can avoid condemnation from the government, and can then simply go home and sleep — that is the struggle. That is the challenge. And then, because of political necessity, theological doctrine, or simply as a means to survive you have to continuously “take the high road” until things become bad enough that it warrants attention — that is what is enraging. Rhetorically, ask yourself how would you respond. Once that is done by society at large, maybe the collective urgency will be utilized in addressing the rhetoric and inaction that allow these aspects to foster. I normally am willing to engage in dialogue. I appreciate you all understanding that today is not one of those days — I’d rather reflect and encourage us all to do so.”
When asked if I could have his permission in sharing his comment. Here is his response:
“If you can commit to pushing our progressive allies, specifically our white allies on understanding the urgency of engaging as if their families were directly impacted, their children were threatened, their communities targeted. It is critical that our progressive allies understand the necessity of not only decreeing these issues as morally wrong but also taking steps to politically isolate and expose these extremists. They are a threat to the entire country.”
With that charge, I invite you into one more cave.
On April 28, 2017, one Kendra Reid, a sophomore at WSSU and a member of the marching band, was found hanging from a tree in Lexington in Finch Park. The medical examiner determined that the death was self-inflicted and refused to do the honorable effort of conducting an autopsy.
This tragic news came to Kendra’s family one week prior to the KKK holding a cross burning in our neighboring county of Randolph.
I would now like to take this time to call upon all of you — Republicans, Democrats, Independents — to demand justice on behalf of the family of Kendra Reid. We must hear Kendra Reid’s cry for justice. I ask you each to do so, because it is the right thing to do. I call upon the SBI, the FBI, and our Attorney General Josh Stein to bring us a fair and worthy investigation that proves to us that Kendra Reid’s life mattered, and that her life and now death is worthy of investigation. I ask you to take up this matter as though she were your child, your neighbor, and as though the well-being of your neighborhood depended on it. Because it does.
These are just two caves. We have thousands more to explore with our neighbors amongst many threatened communities. We must hold their hands and help them cry aloud for justice. I ask you once more, do not let your hearts be hardened and your hands idle in the crucial time we find ourselves.
Photography by Ivan Saul Cutler