The Henderson-Vance Human Relations Commission, chaired by Janice Jeffreys, and the Vance County NAACP, led by Terry Garrison, president, held a public meeting Thursday evening in the City Council Chamber.
Jeffreys stated that the purpose of the meeting was to “promote good relations and peace in our community” and not allow adverse influences outside Henderson and Vance County to divide residents. She said our citizens need to resist any group who does not have our best interests in mind.
Terry Garrison agreed that coming together as a community was beneficial for all, illustrating with the adage, “All boats rise with the tide.” He explained that any negative impact to African Americans negatively affected everyone.
Garrison then recognized Rep. Michael Wray, Charles Phillips of the US Dept. of Justice, County Commissioner Scott Hughes, Vance County Sheriff Peter White, Commissioner Debra Brown and Chief of Henderson Police Department Keith Sidwell, who were in the audience.
Henderson City Manager Jerry Moss opened the Public Comment period by giving the ground rules and setting a two minute time limit per speaker. In his introduction he expressed his conviction that Henderson is on the verge of growth and we need to do things right and respect each other.
Henderson resident Geraldine Champion, the first of twelve speakers, stated her belief that we all need to find ways to be tolerant of each other and to work together to improve our community.
“Unite as one,” she said in parting.
Hughes said that our children are losing their sense of being rooted. He pointed out the increase of disrespect in our society, which increases children’s insecurities. He said that the Cooperative Extension held parenting classes to help families establish better relations.
Rev. Curtis Gatewood spoke, saying, “The Village must be restored.”
Gatewood explained that our “social unconsciousness” has led us to allowing terrorism to grow in our cities, states and nation. He said while our soldiers are fighting terrorism we aren’t taking action against the terrorists in our own communities. Gatewood strongly advocated doing away with the KKK hotline as part of our stand against terrorists.
Rev. C.J. Dale talked about what it felt like to be the target of racism. He told of threatening phone calls and other actions to intimidate him and his family.
“It doesn’t feel good to drive around with a .45 in my car,” Dale said.
Community activist Deryl von Williams concentrated her remarks on how children are being deprived of the education they deserve. She said that people are writing grants for education but the children aren’t benefiting.
“Don’t go along with anything just to get along,” Von Williams admonished.
Rev. Frank Sossamon summarized the comments by saying it was evident that everyone wanted to bring about unity but they do not agree on the methodology. He said that working together to find solutions is the only way we can improve relations.
At the end of the comment period, Rep. Michael Wray said that he was at the meeting to give whatever support he could, encouraging the community effort to establish unity.
Janice Jeffreys said it was important to have further community meetings, as in the Race Relations Forum proposed by the Human Relations Commission. She added that besides getting employers into the community, there needed to be a Cultural Diversity Program in place, so people could better understand each other’s culture.
Referring to Jeffreys’ Cultural Diversity Program suggestion, Terry Garrison said he’d like to see the Color Fest revived. This received a positive response from the audience.
Sara Coffey, who actively monitors KKK activity, said pretending the Klan isn’t a threat is not the way to solve the problem. She said her experiences with the Klan included having a cross burned in her front yard.
“Stop being in denial, meet it face to face.” Coffey concluded.
Rev. Donald Lowery called upon our citizens to not condone divisive, hurtful behavior in the community.
The NAACP and the Human Relations Commission agreed that another public meeting will be held in a month. They also agreed to call on County Commissioners, City Council members, the Vance County Board of Education and the Henderson-Vance Chamber of Commerce to seek the removal of the telephone directory listing of the KKK hotline.
The physical address of the hotline is in Franklin County.
Finally, in reference to the Anthony Dale Finch court case, it was agreed that if there is a change of venue, it would be better for it to go to Raleigh, rather than another small city. The consensus was that Finch should be tried in Henderson.