July 7, 2020 11:44:17 AM
Monday, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to have the Confederate Memorial relocated from the courthouse grounds, presumably to Friendship Cemetery, although a few obstacles are yet to be navigated.
That decision came exactly three weeks after the same board rejected a proposal to relocate the monument by a 3-2 vote strictly along racial lines.
Today, it is easy to speculate how things might have been different had the board chosen to relocate the statue back on June 15 when it first had the opportunity.
So much of the pain and anguish we have experienced could have been prevented. Faith in the board's ability to represent all of the citizens of Lowndes County would have been sustained. The reputation of the board's president would not have been unalterably destroyed.
All that was required on the morning of June 15 was a single white vote.
It couldn't be found.
In the intervening weeks, Board President Harry Sanders has been the target of the backlash, not so much for his vote, but for his appalling comments in explaining his vote. Sanders suggested that the demand to relocate the monument was due to the Black community's inability to assimilate as other racial/ethnic groups have managed. Blacks who were "dependent" on slave owners during the era of slavery remain dependent today, he claimed.
Such overt, unapologetic racism has made Sanders a pariah. His refusal to resign from the board has only cemented his infamy.
Sanders remains defiant in his refusal to step down. Those calling for his resignation remain equally committed in their demands for his resignation. Where it all leads, no one can confidently predict.
What we can say with confidence is that what has happened in our community could have been easily avoided.
Yet in another sense, that fateful decision on June 15 may ultimately work to the benefit of our community.
In the same way that Joseph redefined the betrayal of his brothers -- "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good," he told his brothers -- the pain inflicted on our community by Sanders, Trip Hairston and John Holliman may ultimately work out for our benefit.
Over the past three weeks, the Black community has rallied together, aided by growing support of white citizens. Community leaders from every endeavor have lent their support in rejecting Sanders' racist attacks and demanding his resignation. Black and white citizens are having those often difficult conversations about race and justice and finding common ground.
It is a moment of unity that provides an opportunity that must be swiftly grasped.
The monument will soon be gone. Harry Sanders will someday be gone as well.
What will remain is to what extent we will address the issues uncovered by this painful episode.
Imagine if our community, especially all those leaders who have finally raised their voices, applied the same commitment to addressing the racial disparities that have long plagued our community.
Imagine those voices unified in a commitment to supporting our public schools, investing in our depressed Black neighborhoods and providing opportunities too long denied many of our Black citizens.
Think what might emerge from the ashes.
We have the power to make June 15 a day of change, not one of infamy.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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