The year 2020 was a monumental and defining moment for many Black Americans.
For months, millions of people marched for racial justice following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Public officials and companies made public stances against racism and promised changes in America. Some resulted in Confederate monuments around the nation to come down, but a Robert E. Lee statue in Calloway County still stands.
The marches for George Floyd prompted Sherman Neal II to write a letter to the Calloway County Fiscal Court to remove the confederate statue. After months of protest, a letter from basketball star Ja Mordant and the city signing a resolution to remove the statue, it still stands.
“Yes we’ve had discussions, yes we’ve had progress, yes we have a lot of support, but we haven’t had any tangible change,” Neal said. “And frankly there’s been no work done by the people we’ve elected to facilitate change I’m not even talking about make change.”
Neal said as people reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, they must remember all his teachings, and not just those of hope.
“We don’t believe in demonstrating for demonstration’s sake, we don’t have demonstration fever,” King said on NBC’s Meet the Press in 1965. “But we do feel that as long as the conditions of injustice and man’s inhumanity to demand and filtrate that state it will be necessary to demonstrate in order to bring these issues to the service and lay them square before the conscious of the nation.”
King demanded accountability and action. Like Neal, some protesters in Paducah, who marched for social justice have not seen much if any tangible changes from those in power. After the deaths of Floyd and Taylor there was a call to address race relations locally and review law enforcement practices.
McCracken County Judge-executive Craig Clymer had racial unity meetings with local activists, residents, city office holders, the Paducah-McCracken County NAACP, former Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless, current Paducah Mayor George Bray, representatives from the Paducah Police Department and the McCracken County Sheriff’s Office.
The meetings ended after three public session and law enforcement from both agencies looking at their current practices. In a July interview, Clymer sent a call of action to the community to “get off the couch and get busy,” about race relations.
Clymer said the meetings showed there wasn’t a major racial problem within local law enforcement, but proved there is distrust in the community.
Clymer now is raising money to erect a racial unity tower, funded by the community, off Interstate 24 across from a Confederate monument park. Bray said his administration is in the infancy stages of creating a diversity coalition. Harless, during her time as mayor, had listening sessions aimed at addressing racial issues in the community in June. Harless did not respond to a request for comment about changes or initiatives her administration tackled after the summer protest.
Community activists said demands for a community law enforcement task force and the removal of the Lloyd Tilghman Statue on Fountain Avenue have gone ignored by county and city leaders.
One Murray State University student and Paducah native, Areanna Orr, said after protests stopped she has seen change, but not meaningful change.
“I’ve probably seen more representation in like television shows, probably like commercials, I’ve seen more people of color and them trying to be more diverse when it comes to actors and things of that nature,” Orr said.
The protests last year in Paducah did give confidence to students who raised the issue on Paducah Public Schools Superintendent Donald Shively after a photo on him in black face surfaced in October.
“We had just had a protest a couple months ago for Black Lives Matter here in Paducah,” said Kiarri Jackson, who helped lead multiple walk-outs at Paducah Tilghman High School. “So, I was just thinking like if they can do it so can I and maybe since I did it someone else can think the same way I did.”
Jackson was unhappy with Shively’s punishment of a 40-day suspension, and still believes he should have been fired. She is happy people stood up for what they believed was right.
Neal said before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he read King’s speeches from the “The Letters from Birmingham Jail” to “The Other America.”
“The message changes in those five years from hope and a call of action in 1963 to accountability,” Neal said.