In lieu of recent happenings in the city of Petal I decided to write this impromptu entry in my blog. After all I am a class of 2007 graduate. ‘07 YOU KNOW!! Go Panthers. Anyways let’s get into this thang.
Petal, Ms has a population of approximately 10,454 residents according to the 2010 census. That population is made up of 86.1% Caucasian’s and 9.9% African-American. Originally a farming town it has exploded over the years with locally owned businesses, restaurants, boutiques and child care centers. It has boasted the title of No. 1 school district in the state for several years. This is what attracted my mother to this town. I began my early education in Hattiesburg after my mom moved back home from Georgia. Several people told my mom about what a great school system they had. We weren’t living in the best area at the time. My mom was a single parent of four children. She worked her ass off and she purchased a home in Petal. I was young but I can still remember people also telling her, “Be careful over there in Petal.” I never realized what they meant until someone called me a “nigger” for the first time.
Nothing phased my mom. She was raised in the Ms Delta where cross burnings were a usual thing. I grew up watching cashiers in this town place money in the prior patrons hand after having a jolly chat and then not say even hello to my mother and place her money on the conveyor belt as if her open palm contained a poison. I can remember the neighbors new boyfriend teaching the kids a new word that meant nigger lover. A mud shark is what he called her. How after all these years I still remember that day speaks volumes to pain it caused me. And her. We were friends and we loved each other. How could that be a bad thing? Even into high school I can remember my Caucasian girlfriend’s confiding in me about the black guy in third period they really liked but couldn’t date because their mom and dad would disown them. Not because he was a bad student, not because he was a bad guy, because he was a black guy. We had a great group of kids in my graduating class. And most of the girls dated the guy anyway and prayed to high heaven their parents never found out. Rebels. I still smile thinking about it.
It is my opinion that my graduating class, for the most part, was a tight group. We hung out together, we went to parties together, we organized events together. We had two Senior class shirts and most people bought both. Many classmates started in elementary in Petal and are lifelong friends regardless of color or neighborhood. Whether you grew up in Sheeplo or went to Carterville Baptist we didn’t let race keep us apart. If you stepped out of line you can guarantee someone was going to check you for it. Our class reunion was eventful to say the least but the love in that room after all those years was real. I didn’t have a car in high school I wasn’t so fortunate but I had friends that would come to my house to get me even though they lived just minutes from the school. We danced together at school dances. We ate lunch and breakfast together. Not because we had to, we wanted to. We didn’t care what our parents or grandparents thought. At school we could be who we were and we could be friends with who we wanted to be friends with. Race wasn’t going to separate us. After all this was the “Friendly City”. There are churches literally a mile apart. Christians. Or so we thought.
Fast forwarding back to 2020 Petal is in quite a bit of an uproar. Mayor Hal Marx it seems has pushed us into quite a predicament with his recent statements so much so that we’ve made national news. Miami Herald. BET. We’re in the headlines. Statements he made concerning the George Floyd murder (it’s not an incident, it’s a murder) started a social media frenzy. The town of Petal spoke up in a major way. Past teachers, former students, current residents and past residents all made themselves heard. Some posts even shared over 500 times. I agree with the sentiment that his comments do not speak for all the citizens of that town. Although it has its history and it’s racial undertones people of the community, black and white showed up to a City meeting last night to voice their concerns about the mayor. From what I could tell he wasn’t apologetic in the least bit. I ask the people of Petal to continue fighting. Do not let this fire die. Continue to push for what is right.
There are people who have been saying how they’re embarrassed to call Petal home. But after last night, I think you can be proud of the fact that there are people there that harbor no hate in their hearts. There are people there who know that NOW we cannot afford to be silent on the issues any longer. We are one race, human. And if your neighbors house is burning you don’t watch it burn for fear of the flames. You grab a hose too and you put it out together. Fire spreads. And the longer we watch this fire burn the further the flames will go.
People in Minnesota are rioting. They have burned buildings and they have looted stores. After a group of people have been silenced for so long there isn’t much left to do. I don’t condone looting by any means but I sure as hell understand it. One Petal resident and fellow graduate of Petal High School has been very active in this discussion and has been a voice to be reckoned with. Darin Farris. I’ve taken this directly from his Facebook:
“Rioting and looting is not the answer!”
No, it’s not. But let me paint a scenario for you: imagine your father, son, brother, sister, mother, daughter, best friend, cousin, etc. was murdered on camera. You know exactly who the murderer is. In fact, the entire country knows who he is, yet the man only loses his job and is allowed to walk the streets freely every day. What would your response be? I think many of us would agree that our response may be even more extreme than looting.
These people are hurt, they are angry, and they feel like they don’t have a voice loud enough to be heard. For some of them this is war, and I can’t blame them; “due process” has proven to be ineffective in cases like these.
And before you say “well most of these people aren’t related to him!” Try to understand that every black and brown person in this country knows it could have just as easily been their father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister.
So instead of trying to make sense of it, or expecting these people to have a rational response, or explaining that their response will cause more harm than good, ask yourself: how would you respond?
And to this I say thank you! Thank you for your boldness and thank you for tour voice. And to all the other people that have spoken up, thank you! We need you more than ever. Your voice will not soon be forgotten. I know there are protests planned for the city of Petal this weekend. I know that emotions are high and most people are rightfully angry. I think our city, despite the mayor, has the capacity to carry this out without harm. I’m praying for everyone in the small town that I call home. Continue to be a light in the world and let them see that we are a Friendly City.
“And I must say tonight that a riot is a language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years, it has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity!”
-Martin Luther King Jr.