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CRUSH OF COMPLAINTS

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Only a few people were allowed inside council chambers at a time as a sizable crowd turned out to speak against — and some for — Halifax Town Council member Jack Dunavant. Left, Jack Dunavant. Right, Councilman Mike Trent. Above, A number of people at the meeting staged a brief sit-in before they were led outside by Police Chief Stuart Comer.
SoVaNow.com / August 13, 2020
Halifax Town Council found itself quickly overwhelmed by a crush of citizens who turned out Tuesday night to condemn Council member Jack Dunavant for his letter to the editor, “Killing America,” that has spawned protests in its wake.

The normally quiet and lightly attended work of Council was anything but on Tuesday as dozens of people came to voice their outrage with Dunavant. A handful of others came out to defend him, including his daughter Sarah, who read from a written statement blaming “today’s politically correct cancel-culture society” for the uproar over her father.

“Jack did not intend to hurt anyone by stating facts. The vicious diatribe that has ensued and threats lodged at my father, for trying to do good and open dialogue for positive change is abhorrent and reprehensible. Just for the record, being offended doesn’t make you right,” she said.

But more speakers came to decry what they see as racism in Dunavant’s letter, and call for his removal from Council. Their efforts to prod Council into taking action were dampened by the limit on the number of people allowed inside Halifax Town Hall. Many in the crowd were asked to step outside and wait for their turn to speak, which only raised the level of ire.

“I love this community, people have been equally hurt by the limited response from members of Council,” said Ebony Guy, granddaughter of late civil rights activist Cora Tucker, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “Coming here today and being kicked out of a public meeting essentially, is one of the most horrendous things I’ve ever witnessed.”

Inside Council chambers, five seats were made available to the public, and three were taken by Sarah Dunavant, Dan Elam, and Mitzi Thompson, all of whom offered remarks at the podium. Mayor Dexter Gilliam asked Police Chief Stuart Comer to lead most members of the audience outside, where they would have a chance to step back inside and speak. Halifax Council does not livestream its meetings for remote viewing.

“I’m not trying to withhold anyone from listening, we just don’t have the space in here,” said Gilliam.

Council member Mike Trent, whose wife, Blair, is a co-founder of the Halifax County South Boston Unity Project, which has called for Dunavant’s ouster, provided his support for the mayor’s explanation. “These rules have been in place since April, they are to keep people safe,” Trent said.

Gilliam said the seats are made available to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. In contrast to the multiracial crowd that came to the meeting to protest Dunavant’s letter, all five seats were taken by White attendees.

Council members ended up hearing from nine speakers — most of them highly critical of Dunavant.

Taquan Logan, who was first to speak out for Dunavant’s ouster, presented a petition he gathered with some 880 signatures. Logan read from portions of Dunavant’s letter that noted the high rate of wedlock births in Black families and referred to “the good colored people” of his youth. Logan responded, “We are in 2020 and I don’t considered to be called colored by anybody and a lot of people stand behind that as well. Other races have children out of wedlock. We are here to show we will not tolerate these words by anyone on a board. We feel like if someone is in that position, then we are not being treated equal by other people making decisions in the town.”

Beverly Smith, another speaker, told Dunavant, “We are a new generation, and you may have done great things in the county, but what you have said erased all that from my eyes. You don’t see people of color as equal and you should be replaced with someone who does.

“I’m floored, that you a person in leadership feels this way toward other people in our county and how the rest of you guys [other board members] can let him sit up here on the board. I’m in disbelief and think Mr. Dunavant should resign immediately,” said Smith.

Barbara Coleman Brown, president of the Halifax County NAACP chapter, also called on Dunavant to resign. “His attitude is not one that fosters inclusiveness in this community. He lacks concerns for how his expressions are in actuality received by the community which is evident by his interview with the two papers. He lacks vision for the future and the community, therefore does not belong on any board.

“Go back to the good ole days. Good for who? It is my contention that you sir, only experienced the privilege of visiting black homes. Never the experience of being in a black home or being part of a black family. You sir refuse to except the privilege you have grown up with throughout your entire life,” she said.

Tam Cole began her remarks by referring to the public comment guidelines set by Council. “I’d like to remind this board you started this meeting with the request to not use derogatory of defaming language. This is ironic because of the reason we are all here. There was defaming, derogatory, and demeaning language. I’m asking you to follow your own standards … I’m asking you to do what is right. Our community is broken, we don’t know where anyone stands. Well, we do know where Mr. Dunavant stands.

“We are not asking for anything miraculous. We want to be respected as part of this community,” she said.

“I’m here as a citizen,” chimed in Miles Perkins, one of the White speakers who came out to support the citizen complaints against Dunavant. “I don’t want Council to think it is a Black-White thing. I was hurt [by the letter] and know we can do better, I know that we can. I look forward to seeing you outside of here in a friendly manner. I hope we can be the town I love so much.”

Coming to Dunavant’s defense was Mitzi Thompson, commander of the local Halifax County Militia group.

“We are here to serve our community or serve you today in any capacity to protect, defend and serve,” said Thompson. “We are diligently working and training to be proficient, and we are here to protect our constitution. Having a councilman express his first amendment rights, I do not feel that there was ill intent involved. His intention came from the heart.”

Dan Elam, a close friend of the Dunavant family, offered testament to what he described as Dunavant’s rough manner but good heart. “I’m sure like [me], you’ve had an argument with Jack Dunavant. Look, Jack certainly doesn’t prescribe to be politically correct on certain things, but I will tell you there has never been any ill intent,” said Elam. “We live in a society that thrives on conflict and throwing rocks. I do know Jack’s heart is in the right place and cares about minorities. Jack had no ill intent.”

Tracey Rumer of Raleigh, N.C. who is active in local animal welfare causes, said she “whole-heartedly agree[s] with what he wrote. Everyone is given the same opportunity in life and some choose to live off the government. Who teaches them this? They’ve gotten used to living off the system instead of providing for themselves,” she said.

Although 20 persons signed up to speak at the meeting, only nine choose to do so. One speaker, John Slagle, addressed the controversy with the Confederate statue at the courthouse.

After the public comment portion of the meeting was over, Dunavant and Trent were the only members of Council to address the furor the letter has caused. Speaking after Trent, Dunavant said, “My intent was never to offend. I apologize to those who may have been offended by bringing light to a national problem.

“It has taken a great toll of black people. I’m a numbers guy, they show us where we have descended from. We are ruining this country by taking the father out of the home. That’s not only bad for the country but bad for Christianity. I love all people of goodwill. I will do anything for this town and county. I hope we all can come together. Something good can come from this. If we all work together something goodwill come from this.”

Trent, acknowledging that he and wife Blair have differing views on the letter, apologized for the messiness of the meeting, which at one point saw attendees staging a sit-in on the council chamber floor before they were ushered outside by Comer.

“This has been a difficult time for me and my family. I think there are problems with the letter,” said Trent. Addressing Dunavant directly, he continued, “You have done great things for this county, but I think there are some offensive things in the letter. There is a lot of concerns from business owners. What you listed are societal problems. When you pass a societal problem on to a group of people who have been historically discriminated against, it’s been difficult for the town,” especially by placing town employees in “an impossible position.

“A lot of hard working people were hurt. This town in more divided than it has been in my lifetime. Let’s all remember we have humanity. Our job is to protect this town. All of on council need to do better,” Trent said.

With no additional items of new business or old business, the meeting was adjourned.



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Comments

Sounds like trent should resign as well due to conflict of interest. Is that guy and his trouble maker wife native to the town or county?

Comments

Dunavant has done irreparable damage to race relation and Halifax Town Council (all white). If he was a man of honor he would abide by the petition and leave. He should hang his head just like he did in the news photo. Disgraceful human!

Comments

Let"s see, they were expecting a overflow crowd and they have the meeting in the smallest space available. And, they allow Jack Dunavant's daughter to have one of the few seats inside. I believe we saw a set up. Make it as difficult, and uncomfortable on the black folks to speak in front of a all white group of people. Good job Jack. You love "colored" people, right?

Comments

Everyone involved was informed it was limited seating and that it was based on a first come first serve basis. They allow people to enter 30 minutes prior to start. The first 5 to enter, got the seats. It was really just that simple.


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