'It hurt me to my core': Protesters, local officials gather at courthouse to call for Sanders' resignation over racist comments

 

City officials and other community leaders cheer as District 41 Rep. Kabir Karriem speaks during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn.

City officials and other community leaders cheer as District 41 Rep. Kabir Karriem speaks during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn. "His comments spewed hatred and a gross misrepresentation of history," Karriem said. He then posed these questions to the crowd: "Can we grow if Harry Sanders continues to be one of the leaders of our county? With views such as his, do we expect industry to continue to come here? Are you comfortable with a leader who has such a skewed misrepresentation of history? Should we expect more?" Photo by: Claire Hassler/Dispatch Staff

 

Julie Richards, left, and Stephanie Williams hug each other during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn. Richards and Williams met six years ago when their sons played soccer together and they've been friends ever since.

Julie Richards, left, and Stephanie Williams hug each other during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn. Richards and Williams met six years ago when their sons played soccer together and they've been friends ever since.
Photo by: Claire Hassler/Dispatch Staff

 

A protester holds a sign reading

A protester holds a sign reading "No more racist monuments" in front of a Confederate monument during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn. More than 100 people came to the courthouse lawn to show their support after reading racist comments Sanders made to a Dispatch reporter after a supervisors meeting on Monday.
Photo by: Claire Hassler/Dispatch Staff

 

Carshena Connor hugs Cheyanne Conner-McKinstry, 7, during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn. District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks asked for Sanders' resignation and said that if he did not give it, people should gather again during the next supervisor meeting on June 30.

Carshena Connor hugs Cheyanne Conner-McKinstry, 7, during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn. District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks asked for Sanders' resignation and said that if he did not give it, people should gather again during the next supervisor meeting on June 30.
Photo by: Claire Hassler/Dispatch Staff

 

Flex Little points to a sign posted on a Confederate monument that reads

Flex Little points to a sign posted on a Confederate monument that reads "Take it down!" during a protest demanding Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation on Wednesday on the Lowndes County Courthouse lawn. Both District 41 Rep. Kabir Karriem and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks said during the protest that Sanders has exhibited "bigotry and elitism" throughout his term.
Photo by: Claire Hassler/Dispatch Staff

 

Leroy Brooks

Leroy Brooks

 

Kabir Karriem

Kabir Karriem

 

Lavonne Latham Harris

Lavonne Latham Harris

 

Harry Sanders

Harry Sanders

 

 

Yue Stella Yu

 

 

Sherry Ellis had everything she needed: a sewing machine and fabric she saved for cloth masks.

 

Within five minutes, Ellis said, she fashioned herself a T-shirt instead. It read, "Racism is wrong. #Resign."

 

Wearing that shirt, Ellis joined more than 100 protesters, local officials and community leaders at the Lowndes County Courthouse Wednesday morning to call for county Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders' resignation over his recent racist remarks.

 

 

Sanders, who voted with two other white supervisors during a Monday meeting to leave the century-old Confederate monument at the courthouse lawn in place, told The Dispatch after the meeting he thinks blacks remain "dependent" since slavery ended and are the only ethnicity not assimilating to American society.

 

"They didn't have to go out and earn any money, they didn't have to do anything," Sanders told The Dispatch Monday. "Whoever owned them took care of them, fed them, clothed them, worked them. They became dependent, and that dependency is still there."

 

Many local leaders publicly condemned Sanders' comments and called for his resignation. Led by Lowndes County NAACP President Lavonne Latham Harris, more than a dozen local leaders -- including District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, State Rep. Kabir Karriem (D-Columbus), Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, Chief Operations Officers David Armstrong, and city council members Joseph Mickens (Ward 2), Pierre Beard (Ward 4) and Stephen Jones (Ward 5) -- attended the Wednesday protest to urge for Sanders to step down.

 

Brooks, who has worked with Sanders for decades on the board, slammed Sanders for his interpretation of slavery.

 

"You talked about (how) we (are) dependent," Brooks said. "No, no, we had worked from sun up to sun down so folks like you could live a good life."

 

If Sanders does not willingly resign by the next board meeting on June 30, Brooks said Wednesday, he intends to mobilize the community to bring the protest back to the courthouse lawn and take further measures, which could include calling for a citizen's petition, to force his removal.

 

"On June 30, if he's there, we are going to go in that courthouse, we are going to block it off, and if we have to sing 'Kumbaya, Lord,' that's what we are going to sing," Brooks said. "There needs to be a sign in the boardroom saying that 'Harry Sanders sat here.' ... George Floyd couldn't breathe because a man had his knee on his neck. We can't breathe because of the stench from Harry Sanders. We need to clear it out."

 

Karriem, who was among a cadre of leaders present for the board's Confederate monument vote Monday, said Sanders' remarks reflected his "bigotry" and "elitism," which he said have long been written off as: "That's just Harry."

 

"Today, this is a call to remove both statues: The Confederate statue, which is symbolic of hate, divisiveness and, most of all, treason," he said, "and a second statue that embodies bigotry, insensitivity and inequality and evil. And that statue is Harry Sanders."

 

Brooks and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith, both black, have openly called for Sanders to resign. But the two other white supervisors are more reserved.

 

Trip Hairston of District 2, in a Wednesday statement, supported stripping Sanders of his title as the board president but did not call for his resignation. In that statement, he also supported relocating the Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn and softened his position on leaving the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag.

 

Holliman of District 3, who has been reluctant to condemn Sanders' remarks, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

 

Calling for the community's support Wednesday, Harris urged Hairston and Holliman to advocate for Sanders' removal from the board.

 

"You cannot serve our community effectively with such racist ideas and your attitude," Harris said of Sanders Wednesday. "We cannot, in the best interest of our community, unite and move forward, until you, Harry Sanders, is removed from your position."

 

Sanders told The Dispatch in a text message this morning he will not step down, and there is no way for the community to force his removal.

 

 

Community hurting

 

As the protest climaxed, protesters began chanting "Harry Sanders must go." Ellis, who said Sanders' comments offended her as a black American, chanted along.

 

"It hurt me to my core," she said. "It actually brought tears to my eyes to know that we have leadership in a city that feels that way about racism, about blacks."

 

Upon learning Sanders' remarks, Rachel Guerry, owner of Three Sisters Pie Company, put up two signs in the restaurant window that respectively read "No pie for Harry Sanders" and "Remove KKKonfederate idols."

 

"I guess I was living in my own belief that people don't actually think that way anymore," Guerry said of Sanders' remarks. "Silence is betrayal. If we don't speak out against it, then we are just going along with what he has to say."

 

Sonniah Ramirez, 12, who also protested Monday against the monument, said she is "tired and angry" of being treated unequally as a minority.

 

"Hopefully, this will make a change, and they won't look at us by our color but by what we have within," she said.

 

 

Wide array of criticism

 

Sanders' remarks shook many in the community, including many city officials.

 

Armstrong called the remarks "an ugly pimple on the face" of Columbus and Lowndes County. City Attorney Jeff Turnage said the comments are "stupid" and "holding us back." Jones, who serves on the council, said they showed how "out of touch" Sanders is with the black community.

 

Sanders' racist comments, however, have also reached a wider audience.

 

Over the past two days, regional and national organizations joined local officials and community advocates in speaking against Sanders' remarks.

 

Following its CEO Joe Max Higgins' criticism of Sanders' comments, the Golden Triangle Development LINK publicly condemned the comments as "disturbing" in a Wednesday statement. The economic development of the Golden Triangle and the state "leaves no room for such antiquated and abhorrent beliefs as those expressed by Supervisor Sanders," the statement reads. The Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce endorsed The LINK's statement in an email this morning.

 

In a Wednesday tweet, former Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef urged Sanders to resign and apologize to the state. He also criticized Sanders' remarks where he said slave owners took care of slaves and "clothed them."

 

"This is not who we are," Nosef said. "Yeah I'm sure folks who were sold into slavery had a super wardrobe."

 

Nationally, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is the largest Muslim civil rights advocacy group, called for Sanders' resignation in a Wednesday statement.

 

"Our nation's leaders and policy-makers -- at the local, state and federal levels -- must understand and take part in the growing movement against anti-Black racism and white supremacy," said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. "Sanders should resign and make way for someone who will uphold American values, not those of the Confederacy."

 

 

Yue Stella Yu is the local government reporter for The Dispatch. Reach her at 662-328-2424 (ext 106) or follow her on Twitter @StellaYu_Mizzou

 

 

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