Richmond Hill resident David London, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who said he was speaking as a “black man, a black husband, a black father and a black man in Richmond Hill," petitioned the city Tuesday night to take a number of steps to end what he and other residents have referred to as systemic racism in the community.
Among the initiatives London asked the city undertake were that it ban the Confederate flag from public display, remove the word “plantation” from “the names of housing areas, streets and businesses located in the city,” and rename Timber Trail to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
London, a West Point graduate and combat veteran who’s also served as a band booster at Richmond Hill High School and ran unsuccessfully for city council last year, read aloud from a prepared statement on the steps of City Hall during the public comment section of council’s regularly scheduled July meeting, which was held online due to renewed concern over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also among the requests, which London said came as a result of conversations with groups such as the NAACP and the Falcon Group, the city and community members, was that the city issue a proclamation regarding issues, including the city’s “determination to recognize and mark the vital role indigenous black people played in building Richmond Hill as an enslaved people,” and acknowledge the families “were never able to enjoy the fruits of their labor once their enslavement ended in Georgia.”
During his remarks, London praised local leaders for their efforts to make the city more inclusive.
Afterward, Mayor Russ Carpenter thanked London for his efforts and promised city leaders will take them into full consideration.
Here's the text of London's remarks to council:
Good evening, all. My name is David T. London. I am a 17-year resident of Richmond Hill. I am a member of the NAACP of Bryan County, but I do not speak for the NAACP.
I am a member of The Falcon Group, but I do not speak for The Falcon Group. I am a supporter of 912 Black Lives Matter, but I do not speak for Black Lives Matter.
I am a leader in a number of local and state organizations, but I do not speak for those groups tonight. I am a Husband, Father, Christian, Educator, West Point Graduate, Combat Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel. But tonight, I speak to you as a Black man, a Black husband, a Black father, and Black man in Richmond Hill.
On May 25th of this year, a Black man in Minneapolis, a Black man only 3 years younger than I am, was murdered when 3 police officers kneeled on his neck and body for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. In the 43 days since George Floyd was murdered, the citizens of our Nation and the residents of Richmond Hill have shined a light on policing and systemic racism in our society.
I am grateful that all of you (mayor and city council) participated in the June 1st Richmond Hill Peaceful Protest organized by The Falcon Group to stand with the citizens of Minneapolis, stand against systemic racism, and declare that BLACK LIVES MATTER. I am also grateful that our community participated in person and on Facebook in the June 13th BLACK PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE historical presentation about Richmond Hill’s rich African American history. Religious leaders, community leaders, elected officials, and city staff to include Mayor Carpenter and Police Chief Shores participated in online forums on racism that were broadcast through Facebook to our Richmond Hillcommunity.
Facebook has been ablaze with candid, sincere, sometimes raw, and sometimes confrontational discussions about what constitutes systemic racism, the many issues that surround it, and whether systemic racism exists at all. It has been a mind-blowing, fast paced, and unprecedented 43 days.
And as a Black man in Richmond Hill that sees the systemic racism and its effects on Black people and our whole community, I pray that we actually do something at the end of this community-wide discussion.
To that end, I offer several initiatives that our city and our community can implement to send a message that systemic racism has no place in Richmond Hill anymore and that together, Black people and white people, indigenous folks and transplants, old people and young people, and people of every ethnicity, gender, and persuasion can and will work together to rid our community of systemic racism.
I have spoken to members of the NAACP, The Falcon Group, the City of Richmond HIll, and the community at large to gather these initiatives. And there is a lot of support for them. Please see the attached list requested contents of a city proclamation and listing of the other 6 initiatives requested by residents of Richmond Hill. In each of these requested initiatives or whatever initiatives the City and the community come up with, please count me in as a partner with the City and the community. Sincerely, David T. London Richmond Hill Husband, Father, Resident
REQUESTED CONTENTS OF A CITY PROCLAMATION 1 - A proclamation by the city: (Words have meaning, ladies and gentlemen. Words need to be said by this city to mark this point in history so that our children’s children and their grandchildren know what Richmond Hill was about during this critical point in our nation’s journey of democracy.)
1 - Opposition to the indifference and systemic racism that allowed 4 police officers to casually kill George Floyd by kneeling on his neck and body for 8 minutes and 46 seconds;
2 - Proclaim Richmond Hill’s continued determination to recognize and mark the vital role indigenous Black people played in building Richmond Hill as enslaved people;
3 - Acknowledge that those indigenous families were never able to enjoy the monetary fruits of their labor once their enslavement ended in Georgia; 4 - Memorialize the racial history of Richmond Hill by placing comprehensive historic displays at the sites of the Kraft school for agricultural sciences and farming, the Carver school where local African Americans attended primary through secondary school grades once their enslavement ended in Georgia, and in other places as may be appropriate;
5 - Conduct a review of our arrest and sentencing data to identify racial disparities in those areas;
6 - Review and revise the policies of our police department to promote officer discretion and accountability, reduce use of force, and advance a community policing model;
7 - Task our City Manager with ensuring diverse and inclusive hiring for all departments and require implicit bias and race equity training for all staff; and
8 - Proclaim that the City will work collaboratively with residents, local businesses, and local organizations to dismantle systemic racism in Richmond Hill. Appoint a committee of volunteers to identify further steps the City can take to advance racial equality and reduce inequity in our city.
REQUESTED INITIATIVES #2 through #7:
2- Continue the great work of Richmond Hill historical bodies in expanding the inclusiveness of Richmond Hill’s diverse history.
● Continue the work of last year’s historical survey that established our historic preservation district so that it can mark even more buildings and sites representing Richmond Hill’s rich African American history
● Establish closer relationships with key organizations working directly with trying to protect the African American history of this region. Continue to invite residents to be a part of this important work by joining hour historical preservation bodies.
● I was moved to tears as I heard the stories of our community's history and heard that archaeological evidence refuting our telling of the Ogeechee River's history was found and intentionally covered back up. For this reason, I had to come to the good people I've come to know as mayor and city council to share ideas that came to me and were shared with me by others in this community. I want to work with the City, historical bodies, and community at large to close the loop on that archaeological evidence I just mentioned.
3 - Move the Robert E Lee Statue out of JF Gregory Park
● The statue was removed from the Ford Plantation many years ago when the Ford Plantation sought more diverse homeowners and was concerned that the statue might offend potential buyers
● The statue does offend many homeowners and residents of Richmond Hill
● I applaud the efforts the city is already taking to address this issue along with so many others in the community.
4 - Ban public display of the Confederate Flag anywhere in the City
● Just this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina defended NASCAR and Bubba Wallace, one of the sport's top Black stars, as they banned display of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events.
● In June of 2015, Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from a memorial on the state capitol grounds.
● In June of 2015, Governor Nikki Haley called for and implemented the removal of the Confederate flag saying that while the flag was "an integral part of our past, it does not represent the future" of South Carolina. "We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer" ○ Endorsing her call to remove the flag were Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and governors and then presidential hopefuls Scott Walker and Rick Perry ○ Among the legislators speaking in favor of removing the flag was State Senator Paul Thurmond, son of Senator Strom Thurmond, whose 1948 "Dixiecrat" segregationist presidential campaign helped politically re-popularize the flag.
● Following the Charleston shooting, the retailer Walmart announced that it would no longer sell items with the Confederate flag on them. ○ Shortly afterward, Amazon.com, eBay, Etsy, Sears, Kmart, and Target announced that they would also be removing Confederate flag items from sale ○ Google pulled Confederate flag merchandise from their shopping site.[ ○ Smaller flag retailers are also ceasing to sell it. ○ Valley Forge Flag, Annin Flagmakers, Eder Flag and the Dixie Flag Manufacturing Company, four of the largest U.S. flag manufacturers, also announced that they would cease selling Confederate flags. ○ This year, the US Marine Corps, and the US Navy, banned public display of the Confederate flag 5 - Erect JF Gregory Park monuments to Ellen and William Kraft, London Harris, Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and other important figures in Richmond Hill’s rich African American History
● Our community continues to showcase the history of authentic, indigenous African American descendents of slaves through works by our own: ○ Richmond Hill Historical Society and Museum ○ And the continuing historical presentation series by The Falcon Group called, “Black People Have Always Been Here”
● These showcases demonstrate the importance of these figures and how it will be fitting to erect monuments in honor of their important contributions to the Richmond Hill we enjoy today 6 - Remove the word “Plantation” from the names of housing areas, streets, and businesses located in the city
● Throughout our community and the entire southeast region, the word “plantation” hearkens back to the days of slavery. Some Black people find themselves unable to even look at apartments or houses that hold that word in the name of the community.
● Your support and action in removing the word from Richmond Hill names would be a powerful and appreciated statement recognizing the pain that still lingers from slavery
7 - Change the name of Timber Trail Road to Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Boulevard
● Since our city’s first historic MLK parade in 2019, indigenous residents and transplants alike have expressed a desire to have a Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard in Richmond HIll and to have Timber Trail road renamed to be that boulevard
● Historically, once a city holds its first MLK parade, it normally names a street in honor of this civil rights leader.
● This move would be a physical representation of support for the civil rights Dr. King fought and died for and its designation today would reemphasize that his work and the work of our great American democracy is not yet done.