By Melissa Renee Perry
“It just breaks my heart. I cried all the way down the block,” said lifelong Evanston resident Colette Allen, former director of Family Focus Evanston early last Monday morning, as she stood in front of Haven Middle School. “My great-grandfather was lynched, so to see this a half of a block from my house hurts me to the core.”
Anthony Crawford, Colette’s great-grandfather, was brutally murdered by a lynch mob on on October 21, 1916 in Abbeville, South Carolina. A successful farmer, Crawford, 56, was beaten, stabbed, shot, and hanged in the town square for arguing with a white merchant about the price of cottonseed. When South Carolina’s governor declared that he could not protect the family from further violence, most of Crawford’s surviving relatives fled – many of them to Evanston.
Now, 106 years later, Colette, tears running down her cheeks, has come to Haven to join other Evanston residents who are providing support and safe passage to Black students returning to school after three nooses were found hanging from trees between Haven Middle School and Kingsley Elementary on Friday, May 13.
Charetta Williams, an Evanston resident and District 65 parent, put out the call for two safe-passage gatherings, one at 7:30 a.m. on Monday as students arrived at school and one as they left school for home later in the day.
“It is something that traumatized my children, as well as other children,” Charetta said of the hate crime. “I think it’s important that we come out and let them know that this is going to be a safe haven for them to come to.”
As parents and community members lined up outside Haven, many holding homemade signs of support with slogans such as “BLM @D65” and “You Are Loved,” and wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts, there was a communal sense of disbelief and anger in the air, along with passionate demands for accountability.
“My heart is breaking. This is not my Evanston,” said Kimberly Holmes-Ross, a lifelong Evanstonian, parent of D65 graduates, and Director of Community Engagement at Evanston Cradle to Career. “I can’t unfortunately say that I was surprised, because it is happening all over, but it is hurtful that it is happening here.”
Gabrielle Walker, owner of 4 Suns Fresh Juice, 1906 Main Street, has a son at Haven and one at Kingsley.
“We were all repulsed. I had a long drive yesterday morning and as I sat in the car, I cried and I said, ‘I just can’t be silent,’’” she said. “There are some things that I’m willing to die for, and this is one of them.”
Holmes-Ross said that organizers hope to continue the safe-passage gatherings through the remainder of the school year by getting local churches and organizations to participate in rallying attendees.
“I’m really hoping that this will continue for the rest of the year, to show some solidarity,'' she said.
Along with the grassroots gatherings outside the school on Monday in response to Friday’s local hate crime, that evening the NAACP Evanston North Shore, Evanston Own It, and Evanston’s religious leaders held an interfaith rally at Fountain Square. The event drew about 200 residents to respond to racial terror in Evanston and to the racially motivated massacre that took place on Saturday, May 15 at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York in which an 18-year old white man murdered 10 Black shoppers and injured three others.
“We are concerned locally about nooses being hung outside Haven Middle School and we are concerned nationally about the focused murder of African Americans in Buffalo, New York,” said NAACP Evanston President Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors as the rally began. “We are concerned, but not just concerned, we are outraged.”
Nabors, who is also Senior Pastor of Second Baptist Church, ended his speech with a passionate call-and-response chant with attendees to “clean out” all forms of racism and hate.
Nine more Evanstonians spoke: Mayor Daniel Biss; Pastor Monté Dillard of Evanston Own It and First Church of God; Rev. Khalif Crutcher of New Hope Christian Methodist Church; Rabbi Rachel Weiss of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation Eileen Wiviott of Unitarian Church of Evanston; Pastor Michael Kirby of Northminster Presbyterian; and Charetta Williams. ETHS sophomore Malory Frouin, who had not been scheduled to speak but requested time just before the rally began, spoke passionately about her experience living in Evanston (she’s lived here for almost a year) and called white residents out on their inaction.
“I want to start off by saying we’re not doing enough,” she said. “My experience in Evanston has been white liberals trying to out-liberal each other instead of supporting Black people in Evanston. Why do I, a 15-year-old girl, have to come to a protest to say that my life matters?”
Rev. Khalif Crutcher, who was born and raised in Buffalo, said that many of his childhood activities were less than a mile away from Tops Friendly Market.
”I’m standing before you as a son of Buffalo, the city that has raised me. The city that has taught me much of what I know,” he said. “As I reflect on the massacre in my hometown, I’m reminded of my childhood. Now, we hashtag Buffalo Strong, when in reality this has unearthed the long- standing racial tensions that are present in the city.”
Several speakers addressed the toll and fatigue that accompanies frequently attending rallies in response to racist violence.
“The Black experience is beautiful, it is the many things that we have to deal with that is exhausting,” said Rev. Monté Dillard.
“Friends, I am tired of coming to these events of lament,” said Rev. Eileen Wiviott. “I am tired of being angry. I know that you are too.”
Mayor Biss agreed.
“I’m running out of things to say at these events,” he said. “We haven’t really seen a different kind of America, so we’re thinking already in the back of our minds about the next time we have to do this.”
But along with grief and anger, speakers called passionately for action, accountability, and community.
“Friends, we have a job to do. We must call our elected officials and demand the passage of further voting rights,” said Rev. Khalif Crutcher. “We must demand liberation. Evanston! We have a job to do.”
“The days of good intentions are over,” said Rev. Michael Kirby. “We must move beyond intention to action.”
Rev. Monté Dillard centered his speech on faith and prayer.
“There are individuals that will never like me because I’m Black, and I don’t have time to pray ‘God, change their heart.’ I have time to pray, ‘Lord, stop them in their tracks,’” Dillard said.
Moving forward, there are several upcoming events and actions that you can take to make a difference.
Tonight:, residents are asked to speak at the District 65 school board meeting to share their experiences with racism in the district and how it has affected your family and students. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Joseph E. Hill Administration building. Speakers must sign up before the meeting begins.
Ongoing: Charetta Williams will continue to organize safe passage gatherings to support Haven students every day until the end of the school year, one in the morning (7:20 am) and the afternoon (2:30pm). Lastly, on And on June 13th, Evanston’s interfaith leaders will hold a community rally at Fountain Square, to announce their unified support for reparations in Evanston and nationally.