Around the globe massive protests have alerted people to the existence of systemic racism and multiple incidents of police brutality perpetuated against black Americans. The McDuffie Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is keeping track of current events as it continues to quietly work outside the media’s glare to advocate for and improve the lives of African Americans.
“We don’t look for the cameras. We don’t look for the media attention. Normally, we do things behind the scenes,” said Chapter President David Walker. “I would rather meet with the mayor, the county commission chair, the sheriff or the police chief, and sit down and talk things over. It does not always have to be in the forefront of the paper of what we’re doing.”
Walker said NAACP members support the peaceful protests held the past several weeks following the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. However, they do not condone rioting or looting as was perpetrated by some in large cities like Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Atlanta, he said. Anyone who is caught committing such crimes should be charged, Walker said.
“But those who are peacefully protesting, not only the last three deaths, but all of those before them…and we have a litany of names that we can call upon that have been unjustly treated by public safety. It’s simply that Ahmaud (Arbery) out of Brunswick, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd that have gotten the attention of the public. And I think we are going somewhere with this.”
Walker said the movement has spread to other countries around the world.
“It’s not just that black lives matter, all lives matter. But what I’m concerned about is that it’s black lives that seem to somehow show up on video cameras. It’s our lives. We have gone through 401 years of this.”
Walker remembers witnessing race riots for the first time back in April 1968, when he was a student at Morris Brown College in Atlanta. He was in the school’s choir which had traveled to Washington D.C. to perform.
“As we were unpacking the bus on April 4, 1968, the news came on the television that Dr. Martin Luther King had been shot. A few minutes later, the word came that he had died. We were trying to unload the bus at the black YMCA in Washington. That’s when the rioting and the looting started in Washington. We had to be moved from the black YMCA to the white YMCA. They didn’t want us, but they accepted us. And that was my first real experience with rioting and looting….as the news flashed around the world of the death of Martin Luther King. So I’m not new to this.”
Walker said the world is tired of the injustice that still harms black Americans today.
“Can you imagine 8 minutes and 46 seconds of someone’s knee on your neck?” he asked. “You’ve got two other people’s knees in your back. That is the picture that went around the world that’s going to change the world.”
“Changes have to be made,” he continued, “But if we look at what has taken place in the past, they would be exonerated or they would get a light sentence or probation and that’s the end of it.”
“Second degree murder I would accept. But anything less I cannot accept,” Walker said.
Walker serves as pastor for Greater St. James AME Church in Thomson, and sits on the national NAACP Board of Directors. He is one of 64 national board members and represents Region 5, which covers the Southeastern states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
The NAACP lists its priorities as “securing a fair and equal criminal justice system, ensuring high-quality educational opportunities for all Americans, a fair labor environment, and securing affordable adequate housing and health care for all Americans,” according to naacp.org.
Walker touched on the racial inequities that still plague education, housing and economics, nationwide and here in McDuffie County.
He commented that too many “dump yards” are in African American neighborhoods.
Reforms must also be made in the prison system, he said.
“How many folks over at the prison can make a phone call to their relatives cost free, especially during this coronavirus?” Walker asked. “Or are you charging an additional rate for them to talk to their family members?”
“We are involved, we are concerned about all of those issues,” Walker concluded.
Walker said he tries to promote healthy dialogue with community leaders. He said he has established good relationships with the district attorney, and with Thomson Mayor Ken Usry, Thomson Police Chief Anson Evans, McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall and County Commissioners Fred Favors and Sammie Wilson Sr. However, he said he has not been able to “make a connection” with County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton.
Walker said he has also reached out to other local faith leaders about the concerns of the black community and how members of the white community can help.
“And whether or not this community is controlled by two or three people or two or three families’ (members) and we talked about that at length,” he said.
Walker added he would like to have a conversation with McDuffie’s “founding fathers.” He said he believes that Thomson “can be more than it is now.”
“Why can’t Thomson be a part of some of the (economic) growth that’s coming out of Augusta?” Walker asked. “Is it a fact that Thomson doesn’t want to grow? Or is it that ‘the leaders’ of Thomson and McDuffie County are comfortable with what McDuffie County has or are they afraid that if growth comes they would lose their authority or their control over Thomson?”
For more information on the McDuffie branch of the NAACP, call the church office at 706-595-8529. Pastor Walker reminds residents that anyone can join the NAACP.