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Black Lives Matter: Rally draws support from over 200 concerned community members

By Staff | Jun 12, 2020

About 200 Eastern Panhandle residents gathered in front of The Wall on German Street to participate in a Black Lives Matter rally on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Over 200 people from around the Eastern Panhandle gathered together in front of The Wall, which surrounds McMurran Hall’s lawn, to participate in a Black Lives Matter rally.

The idea for the peaceful demonstration was mentioned on Facebook by Shepherdstown resident Mark Kohut two days before the rally, and although it had no planned schedule, a series of impromptu speeches filled the majority of the two-hour event.

“We have come to most of the rallies that have been held here over the past five years, and this was by far the largest,” Kohut said. “I’ve never seen such a turnout before. It shows that the pent-up demand for justice is very real here and all over the nation.”

The community members who spoke during the event agreed with Kohut’s conclusion.

“My name is Tony Russo, and I’m a recovering racist,” said the Shepherdstown resident. “I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘I’m not racist.’ I’ve got news for you. If you’re a white person and you say that you’re not a recovering racist, you’re a racist.”

A rally member walks along the sidewalk in front of The Wall on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

According to Linda Beach, she was part of one of three groups of African American employees who worked for federal law enforcement who were “forced to move” from Washington, D.C. to the Eastern Panhandle.

“When I came here, I faced racism in Berkeley County. I should have moved to Jefferson County, I love it here!” Beach said, mentioning she has experienced racism in many job-related areas.

“We had an assistant director there who only had a GED,” Beach said of the federal law enforcement agency she works for, explaining that he oversaw a number of employees with graduate degrees.

While Beach acknowledged her difficulty in the work place, she said racism can be found in every area of her life, due to peoples’ assumptions about black people.

“My son told me he and other young black men feel like they’re walking around with a target on their backs,” Beach said. “They got this [negative] preconception about black women, but we have the same desires for our children as white women. We all bleed, we all have hearts, we all love our family! We’ve got to stop looking at the color of our skin, and start looking at each other’s hearts.”

Tabitha Johnston

Shepherdstown resident Rosemary McKee said her first awareness of racism may have been when her white parents hosted two African American boys in their home for a summer and persuaded their neighbors to allow their neighborhood pool in Washington, D.C. to integrate so the boys could swim with their family. That experience became one of many McKee’s mother was involved in over the course of her life.

“My mother was a civil rights activist who shut down restaurants pretending to be the wife of an African American man,” McKee said, mentioning that, 50 years later, the racism her mother had worked to end is still prevalent through the U.S. “The problem is, it hasn’t changed!”

Her own two sons are mixed race, and even though they are light-skinned enough to be considered white, she is aware of the struggles they might face in the future.

“Young black men should not be scared,” McKee said.

Berkeley County resident Linda Beach speaks about her experience dealing with racism in the Eastern Panhandle on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

Asbury United Methodist Church Choir member Barbara Burger leads rally attendees in singing "We Shall Overcome" on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston