STARKVILLE — Usually, applause is considered a good thing.
But when the boardroom at City Hall erupted into clapping Tuesday evening following a presentation from former police chief Frank Nichols, it drew a quiet rebuke from Mayor Lynn Spruill.
“Please don’t do that,” she said under her breath, but loud enough to be heard in the microphone.
Nichols, speaking to the mayor and board of aldermen during their regular meeting, had just finished publicly calling out city officials for not formally acknowledging Black History Month in February.
“I’m disappointed that the city did not publicly acknowledge Black History Month,” Nichols said. “I’m not here to criticize. My purpose here is to work together so we cannot let this happen again.”
During his speech on behalf of the Starkvegas Juneteenth Committee for Unity, Nichols directed the board to a letter he sent them on Feb. 24, where he first expressed his disappointment.
“Black History Month is a time where we recognize the key role, contributions, and sacrifices of African Americans throughout U.S. history,” Nichols told the board Tuesday. “It honors all Black people in all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people who were first brought over from Africa … to the ones living today in the United States.”
Nichols argued for the merits of recognizing Black History Month, saying it celebrates diversity, unites people, teaches people history beyond textbooks and helps people to understand the importance of Black stories.
Nichols, who served as the city’s police chief from 2014 to 2019, also challenged the audience to take the city’s actions concerning Black History Month into account when they vote in future elections.
“I’m telling anybody, it doesn’t matter what color you are, don’t vote for anybody who can’t respect you enough to acknowledge who you are,” Nichols said. “Do not vote for them if they can’t respect you enough to recognize Black History Month.”
In Nichols’ letter to the board, the former chief also included a list of more than 20 names of former city employees and “local trailblazers” he felt could have been acknowledged during Black History Month. This included names like Harold Williams (the first African American to be elected to the board of aldermen), sitting Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins, Former Ward 7 Alderman Janet Self and current alderman for that ward, Henry Vaughn.
Nichols left the board with a question.
“Since 1976, every U.S. president has acknowledged Black History Month with a proclamation,” Nichols said. “My question is: Why didn’t the city of Starkville do that?”
Spruill told The Dispatch after the meeting it was not an intentional slight against the Black community, and she would be happy to work with Nichols in the future to address the issue.
“It’s Women’s History Month, and we’ve done nothing. And if I’m not pro-female, I’m not anything,” Spruill said. “It is no reflection on the appreciation we hold for all of our community. It is nothing that we have deliberately disavowed or deliberately chosen to do nothing about. It wasn’t something that someone came before us with a request. If he wants to bring it before us next year, I’m happy to do it.”
After the meeting, Vaughn said he felt “a little guilty” for not doing more.
“I think there were some great comments, and I think we really failed to recognize Black History Month,” he said. “… We are there to make a difference, and we are there to be leaders. There is a lot of Black history in Starkville, and that goes unnoticed.”
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