Fifteen minutes before the start of Tuesday’s Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting, Johnny Hampton stood in the entrance of the courthouse, using a bullhorn to lead a crowd of about 70 protesters in chants of “Harry Must Go.”
More than an hour later, long after word had filtered out that Sanders, whose racist comments have sparked continuous protests and calls for his resignation, did not resign from the board, the chants continued with no apparent lack of enthusiasm.
“We knew he wasn’t going to resign,” Hampton said. “He’s not going to back down, so we have to be in this for the long haul.”
Although not surprised by Sanders’ refusal to resign from the board of supervisors, those who gathered at the courthouse did not feel as though their efforts were in vain.
“This is just our first step,” said Ernestine Taylor, 64, a Columbus business owner. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to smoke him out. He’s going to come out sooner or later.”
Sanders’ comments that sparked public outrage and Tuesday’s protest came June 15 after he voted to keep the Confederate monument placed on the courthouse lawn. In an interview with a Dispatch reporter, he said Black people had been “dependent” since slavery and hadn’t “assimilated” to American society as well as other groups.
Ezra Baker, at age 75 one of the older protesters, had a unique perspective and purpose for joining the demonstration.
“I was a civics teacher in Columbus for 24 years and I taught justice and equality to all of my kids,” Baker said.
While most of the protesters carried mass-produced “Harry Must Go” signs, Baker carried a sign made by one of his former white students, which featured an image of the Statue of Liberty with the words “Equality and Justice for All.”
“These kids, when you teach them, they learn and they will implement what you teach them,” Baker said. “I see all these young people, some of them my students. That young man, David Horton, who organized the first protest over Ricky Ball, was one of my students. It was the first movement we’ve had in Columbus for going on 50 years.”
Baker had a prominent part in that protest, too, which came after Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch dropped the manslaughter charge in May against a white former police officer who fatally shot Ball, who was Black, following a traffic stop in 2015.
“I was fired in 1972, me and two other black teachers,” he said.
Baker and the two other teachers were fired for refusing to cut their afro haircuts, but sued the school district and got their jobs back.
“Harry didn’t resign today, but this did have an impact,” Baker said. “If a man has any conscience at all, this has to have had an impact.”
Hal Moore, a Realtor and Air Force veteran, said Sanders’ comments will do irreparable harm to the community until he steps down.
“This is not ‘Resign for the Blacks,’ It’s ‘Resign for the whole Golden Triangle,'” Moore said. “We don’t want the nation to look at us and see this. That’s not what we’re about. I didn’t serve this country for over 20 years to see that.”
Hampton said he understands the decision to resign is ultimately Sanders’ alone, but he said protesters will continue to ramp up the pressure, perhaps shifting the protests to Caledonia, the heart of District 1, which Sanders represents.
“The people that keep putting him in office want him there,” Hampton said. “What does that say about those people? If it takes going down to Caledonia, we’re going to do that. We’re at the courthouse because that’s where Harry does county business, but we’ll take that pressure to wherever it needs to go.”
Although disappointed that Sanders still refuses to resign, Taylor said the protesters are not discouraged or even frustrated.
“We won’t allow ourselves to get sidetracked,” she said. “Everybody I’ve talked to in the Black community is smooth about it, very peaceful about it. This is what we are going to send out to the whole world: That we are a peaceful group of people who do not cause problems. The agitators might come in, but we’re going to resist all that agitation. We’re going to be peaceful.
“But we’re not giving up,” she added.
Reporter Yue Stella Yu contributed to this report.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.