Hundreds of local residents gathered on the steps of Columbus City Hall to peacefully but loudly condemn the bigotry and racism displayed in Charlottesville, Virginia, calling for local, state and national representatives to join them.
“I wish all of you could stand here and see what I see,” Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop told the estimated 400 individuals who attended the vigil at 7 p.m. Sunday, organized only hours before through social media and word of mouth.
“I hope Columbus can be a leader,” he said of the city’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, where a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally Saturday, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others.
Lienhoop pointed out to the crowd that the Civil War had ended more than a hundred years ago, yet there still are people who are trying to fight it over again.
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The mayor pledged that the city will continue to lead the state in human rights, to make sure people understand the city’s commitment to standing against the kind of racial hatred exhibited in Charlottesville.
“Racial hatred has no place in our city, our country or our world,” the mayor said.
Lienhoop was one of about a half dozen speakers who addressed the crowd from the city hall steps. Many of those in attendance carried signs and American flags. There was a wide ethnic and age diversity of people at the vigil — there were babies being carried by their parents, youngsters carrying signs and senior citizens with peace signs on their T-shirts.
Kevin McCracken and his wife Laura, of Columbus, were holding a unique American flag, one with 38 stars that they had obtained on a visit to Gettysburg. The flag is a replica of what would have flown over Fort Sumter in the first battle of the Civil War.
“In some ways, it’s the opposite of the Confederate flag,” Kevin McCracken said as he held the flag in the crowd. “We see so many Confederate flags flying and we wondered what the opposite of that would look like.”
He said the couple went to the vigil to support equality, peace and unity.
Alexis and Ethan Carr, children of Jason and Michelle Carr, Columbus, were sitting on the concrete border near the sidewalk, each waving a small flag before the vigil began. Propped up against the wall was a sign that said, “The world needs more love! Be that love,” with hearts and a peace sign in place of the “o” in the words.
Collaborating partners for the event include Bartholomew County Indivisible, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, First Presbyterian Church, SURG-Showing up for Racial/Social Justice, Black Lives Matter, Bartholomew County Democrats and others.
Pastor Felipe Martinez, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, welcomed the crowd to the vigil, saying those who had gathered at City Hall were standing together in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville, Virginia.
“We gather to condemn the hate-filled vision of white supremacists who are using bigotry and violence in a futile effort to weaken our unity as a nation,” he said. “We gather as part of our continuing work for racial justice across the United States and here in Columbus, Indiana.”
Martinez received a rousing round of applause when he noted that those who attended the vigil came from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, from communities of faith or traditions that do not espouse a faith, but that “we come united in purpose to call out racism and hatred no matter what its disguise.”
Hanna Omar, representing the Islamic Society of Columbus, Indiana, urged elected officials to call out the cowardly acts of those in Charlottesville for what they are — “domestic white supremacy terrorism.”
She urged those at the vigil to remember the importance of tolerance, integrity and most importantly community and to stand firm in condemning racism and bigotry.
Elder Fred King, associate minister at Calvary Community Church of the Apostolic Faith, was interrupted by applause several times as he spoke from the Bible in the book of Acts and its teaching that God made all nations from one blood.
“There is no such thing as a white supremacist,” he told the group. “We are all the same. God may have made our skin different colors, and we may have come from different parts of the world, but he still made us all the same. From one blood, God created all races and we are all equal.”
King described what happened in Charlottesville as disgraceful and also said it was a shame that President Trump would not single out the white supremacists for the racial unrest that occurred there. “That is his base and he would not condemn them,” King said.
Ian Kohen, who chairs the city’s Human Rights Commission, urged the group to work to change the hearts and minds of those filled with hatred for those who are different from them.
Describing the confrontation in Charlottesville as being instigated by people who were armed with hate, Kohen said no one should be afraid to speak against hatred and bigotry.
“I’m very proud of Columbus for this show of solidarity,” he said.
At the end of the vigil, Nic Cable, who is leading the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, asked for a moment of silence before leading a prayer asking listeners to remember the racial terror experienced by those in Charlottesville and to remember that another day lies ahead.
Cable asked that a story of love would flow through the future of the community and be visible as a sign of strength that would bind the Columbus community together.
“In all of these ways, we will fight for love and love will win,” Cable said.
Those who attended the vigil took a group picture on the steps holding their flags and signs — and at one side was Matt Callaway, Columbus, whose sign said: “My Dad fought the Nazis and so will I.”
“I just made it,” he said of the sign. “The ink may still be wet.”
Callaway said his father, Dr. Glenn E. Calloway, was part of the fight in World War II, something several vigil participants mentioned that they too had family members in that war against the Nazi regime.
“I’m in this for the fight,” Callaway said. “I just wanted to show my support. I wanted my head to be counted. I wanted this town to look better. I’m heartsick that we are in this fight in our own country.”