HANOVER -- Two weeks after a handful of North Carolina-based Klansmen targeted the Hanover Courthouse for a recruitment rally, a group of county residents gathered for a prayer vigil held on the steps of the county’s Administration Building last week
The service was organized by local religious leaders and Hanover County’s NAACP as a response to that KKK (Ku Klux Klan) rally held at the complex earlier in the month.
“Love wins. Love never fails,” said Pastor Paul Flowers of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, who organized the event with other local ministers and the Hanover NAACP.
“We chose to meet here today because what we’ve heard is that the [Hanover County] Board of Supervisors is reluctant to speak out and condemn the actions of the KKK,” Flowers said after the service ended. “We’re not here to step on anyone’s constitutional rights. We are here to say that hate is not welcome here in Hanover County.”
Organizers described the event as a prayer vigil but organizers and attendees clearly voiced objections to the board of supervisors’ response, or lack of, to the Klan rally.
“We wanted to show as a group that we are opposed to that kind of hate here in Hanover County and we will continue to push to keep that out of our county,” Flowers said.
The courthouse service was somber as the group sang hymns, listened to scripture, and voiced a message of love, unity and hope.
Flowers said he hoped the service delivered a message to the board.
“I would like a formal response suggesting that they are not supportive of what happened here on July 6,” Flowers said.
Although the focus of this vigil was clearly centered on the recent KKK rally, Flowers said there are other concerns.
“Another issue we hope to address is the school board that is appointed rather than elected,” Flowers said. “We want to speak to the school names Lee-Davis and Stonewall Jackson and the reluctance to change them.”
The formal response sought by Flowers was not long in arriving as board chair Canova Peterson, Mechanicsville District, addressed the recent rally as the supervisors convened for their evening session.
“The KKK and other groups who preach and spew the venom of hatred are not welcome in this county,” Peterson said.
“If they choose to come anyway, they will find their efforts to be wasted, as did the KKK, because Hanover County is a community whose very character is a fabric woven from kindness, compassion and respect,” the chair added. “Any person or group who comes to this county with the intent of undermining that character is not welcome.”
Peterson described the rally held earlier this month as an “unwelcome surprise,” and said, “Hatred has no place in our community.”
Many of the attendees remained for the evening session of the board’s regularly scheduled meeting, where a number of speakers did address a perceived reluctance on the part of supervisors to denounce the July 6 rally during Citizens’ Time.
A recurring theme among the speakers and vigil attendees was the failure of the Hanover County School Board to change the names of the two schools named for Confederate leaders.
Dr. Michelle Schmidt also spoke during the board’s Citizens’ Time and expressed szher displeasure with the recent KKK rally and noted that hate speech should not be protected or excused by county leaders. She addressed the school names and the removal of a school board member who voted to change those names.
“Not all speech is covered by the First Amendment. Hate speech falls into that category,” Schmidt said.
“You as county leaders have the responsibility to enact change,” she said.
Schmidt referenced the hatred displayed regarding Henry District school board member Marla Coleman’s vote in favor of changing the names.
The school board voted 5-2 to keep the names last year.
“We have a middle school and high school whose names are lightning rods,” Schmidt said “When Ms. Coleman voted to change the names, hateful things were said about her,” she said.
Some speakers and participants in the vigil alleged that school board member Marla Coleman was removed due to her vote to change the names of the two schools.
Henry District supervisor zSean Davis has been steadfast in his position that Coleman’s vote was not a determining factor in his decision not to reappoint her and told a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter covering the event, “Anyone who wonders that is engaging in the lowest form of politics.”
Coleman was unequivocal in her response.
“That was exactly the reason I was removed and Mr. Davis has confirmed that to me on several occasions,” Coleman said late last week.
“In reference to the quote published this week in the newspaper, my response is this: Sean, let me stop you and anyone else from wondering because you specifically told me that (her vote on the name change) was the reason you could not reappoint me,” Coleman said.
Regarding her vote opting to change the school names, Coleman said, “I’ve always owned this vote and I still own it.
Ashland resident Samantha Willis also addressed the board during Citizens’ Time, and told board members the sight of men in white robes marching at the courthouse was disturbing, but the response to the incident was even more troublesome for the mother of two.
“It’s an affront to me and everybody who looks like me,” she said.
About a dozen speakers expressed similar views during the public comment period of the meeting, including at least three candidates currently seeking local offices.
Peterson’s statement made clear his position on the KKK and its rally and clearly defined his personal distaste with the message delivered by hate groups.
“Hanover soil is good for growing tomatoes, but it will not allow the seeds of hatred to take root. As stated before, we thrive on kindness, compassion and respect,” Peterson said.
The chair was joined by several supervisors who expressed their distaste for the rally and its message.
Ashland supervisor Faye Prichard and Chickahominy supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek posted strong statements opposing the rally shortly after the event occurred and reiterated those feelings at last week’s meeting.
Vice chair Scott Wyatt, Cold Harbor District, also denounced the rally and the KKK.
Following the vigil, Ashland Town Council member Daniel McGraw said the meeting delivered the right message.
“We were together,” he said. “It was nice seeing young, old, brown, white, young and old here. It was nice seeing the unity,” he said.” We, as Hanoverians, love our community and the people who live here and we don’t want anyone to come in here and try to disrupt that.”