Starkville unites for Charlottesville

State Rep. Tyrone Ellis of House District 38 gives a speech during a unity vigil on MSU’s campus Wednesday night. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)

Less than a week after violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, left several dead and injured, dozens gathered in Starkville to highlight unity in the community in the face of racism and hate.

The Unity Vigil For Charlottesville was held Wednesday night at the Junction in front of Davis Wade Stadium on the Mississippi State campus and featured several speakers ranging from clergy to elected officials.

The entire event - organized by Indivisible Golden Triangle, a nonpartisan activist group - was conducted without incident or counter protesting, with the crowd coming together to sing “We Shall Overcome” to end the evening on a peaceful note.

South Carolina native Cate McAlpine, an MSU anthropology graduate student, attended the vigil after being shocked by the events in Charlottesville. McAlpine was vocal in lambasting the administration of President Donald

Trump for the rhetoric which she said reinforced the views of the “alt-right.”

“(The violence is) not as much of a surprise because we have been seeing a lot of violence involving issues with people being aggressive towards minorities,” McAlpine said. “I don’t want to say it was inevitable but I think we were all hoping something else would come out of this administration.”

Starkville native John Blue attended the vigil and said his city was welcoming, but could improve like any other place in terms of inclusion.

“There’s work that could be done and you will have your pockets of people who aren’t necessarily forward-thinking,” Blue said. “I think that we should be able to agree to disagree and do that respectfully and peacefully.”

Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill was the first public official to speak to the crowd, highlighting the potential had by the city to be an agent of change for the good.

“The closed mind is best opened by exposure to education and diversity and where better to open a closed mind than an American university town,” Spruill said. “Starkville can be that town.”

Other speakers included: MSU history professor Jason Ward; MSU mathematics and statistics professor and student Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel Seth Oppenheimer; Pastor Bert Montgomery of University Baptist Church; Rev. Sara Jo Adams-Wilson of Longview and Adaton UMC; Retired Rev. Lynn Barker and civil rights activist Dorothy Jean Isaac.

Longtime State Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, was one of the final speakers and used his own experiences as an African-American growing up in Mississippi to show both how far the country has come, and how much more work needs to be done on the road to unity.

Ellis used the example of his own ancestors, who were slaves, calling himself “a survivor.”

“America - we are better than this,” Ellis said. “Mississippi - we are better than this. We do not have to try to go back to 1933 and create Nazism all over again. We don’t need to be flying around a Confederate flag trying to prove something to somebody. The war is over. The Germans lost, the Confederacy lost, so let’s move forward.”