Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Group holds ILM sit-in at Hugh MacRae, calls for racial justice, park name change

Franchon Francees, the granddaughter of Civil Rights leader and member of the Greensboro Four Major General Joseph McNeil, addresses the crowd at the ILM Sit in. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Franchon Francees, the granddaughter of Civil Rights leader and member of the Greensboro Four Major General Joseph McNeil, addresses the crowd at the ILM Sit in. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

WILMINGTON — Diamond Bentley and Karimah Bradley intentionally held Wednesday afternoon’s “sit in” at Hugh MacRae Park, the center point of the city and a place were Black residents were originally not welcome.

The racist co-conspirator of the 1898 massacre and local developer donated land to the county for “whites only.”

“We’re occupying the space that we know the history of,” Bradley, 23, said Wednesday.

Bentley, 24, said when working with Bradley to come up with the sit in, they wanted to call upon history and needed changes. “Let’s do it at the park. Let’s do it. Because we couldn’t walk in here before. We’re not invited here,” Bentley said.

Both are unaffiliated with local organizations and said they wanted to offer an alternative platform to protest as a way of standing up for what they believe in. They agree with the protests but sought to offer a different experience that focused on elevating voices and artists from the community.

The ILM Sit In featured music, dancing, a drum circle, and local artists while attendees spread out on blankets in the park.

City Councilman Kevin Spears addressed the crowd, encouraging people to keep speaking up even if the momentum from the George Floyd-inspired movement slows. “One of my biggest fears, I’ll be honest with you, is that after a while, a lot of you will disappear. I want you to be dedicated. I want you to be down for this fight until you see a change. Not because it’s a trending topic. Because being Black is not a trending topic for me, it’s who I am,” Spears said.

Franchon Francees, the granddaughter of Greensboro Four member Major General Joseph McNeil, is a licensed therapist in Wilmington. Francees told the crowd the healing process may be messy before justice will arrive.

“I want us to feel comfortable, to feel safe, that’s what we’re fighting for. So yes, we want to get our end result, by all means, but before we can get to that, we need to be pissed off. We need to be angry. We need to cry. And we need to have space to do that,” she said.

Among other things, a group of local activists has been calling for the park’s name to change, but officials have not formally taken up the topic in meetings and have no immediate plans to consider alternatives. The signs were vandalized, then removed and repainted by the county earlier this month. Monday, a sign titled “Alexander Manly Park” was affixed on top of a Hugh MacRae sign before it was removed later the same day. Alexander Manly was the editor of the Daily Record, North Carolina’s only black newspaper before it was burned in 1898.

Educated in the local public school system, Bradley and Bentley are also calling for the 1898 massacre to be included in area curriculums. Both said they didn’t become aware of this history until college.

Given the turnout and mood of the event, Bentley said she was overwhelmed with gratitude. “It was all a dream and now that it’s actually happening, it’s exactly what I thought it would look like. People filled with love and compassion,” Bentley said.

View more photos of the event below:

Some attendees wore shirts bearing the hashtag “neverforget1898” referencing the nation’s only known coup d’état held in Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Attendees signed petitions to change the name of Hugh MacRae Park and advance other racial justice causes at the sit in. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Attendees watch as a speaker addresses the crowd. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Community leader Rebecca Trammel films a speaker a the ILM Sit In Wednesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Some attendees wore shirts bearing the hashtag “neverforget1898” referencing the nation’s only known coup d’état held in Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Diamond Bentley (right) announces the winner of a raffle prize at the ILM Sit In. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A performer dances to music Wednesday afternoon at the ILM Sit In. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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