A race about race

Published 11:43 am Saturday, March 8, 2014

As we speak, the city of Franklin’s mayor, superintendent of schools and school board chairman all are African-American. Both the city council and the school board have a 4-3 African-American majority. And yet, as we stand only two months away from another round of elections for the position of mayor and three city council seats, one of those contests has already become a race about race.

Ward 3’s incumbent city councilman, Greg McLemore, and one of his two challengers, Jamaal Whitehurst, have come right out of the gate making the upcoming election a referendum on race. In a recent article in The Tidewater News (“Franklin candidates file for office,” Cain Madden, March 5, 2014), McLemore was quoted as saying, “It is a sad state that there is an African-American majority council, and nobody is advocating issues of African-Americans, or poor people at large in Franklin.” He did go on to say, “There are plenty of poor white people in the community that people are not being represented.”

For his part, Whitehurst stated that, “The changes that council has made to utility bills are making it tough for the African-American community in particular,” adding, “Then to add to those bills, is just hurting the community more.”

In Franklin, this has become a tired refrain, and one that does little to empower either the African-American community in particular or the community at large. The third participant for the Ward 3 seat, Rosa Lawrence, has yet to take such an approach. Having previously represented Ward 3 on city council, Lawrence said, “I can’t say that this will be a new beginning, but let’s move forward. I am not for mud slinging. I want to run a positive and business-friendly campaign.”

Both contestants for the Ward 5 seat, the only other contested race this year, have yet to publicly define any of their key issues as ones specifically relating to race. Mary Hilliard, the longtime incumbent has said, “I want to continue to serve the people, and to try to enhance the growth of the city of Franklin.” Not the African-Americans of Franklin, but the city of Franklin.

Ward 5 challenger Ricky Sykes also took a conciliatory approach when asked why he was running by stating, “Anything I can do to help the community, I want to do that,” he said. “I feel like we need to do anything we can to help out with the schools, job creation and recreation. I just want to be given the chance to work for you.”

When asked to comment on Hilliard’s record of representing the Ward 5, Sykes said, “Mrs. Hilliard has done a fine job. I have much respect for her, but I think people need a change.”

Schools. Jobs. Recreation. Positive. Business friendly. Those are the types of words and topics that can unite a community – both its black and white citizens – that is interested in moving in a positive direction. Continuing to add a racial component to each and every issue, even when one may not exist, will not.

McLemore and Whitehurst may both have interesting and valuable contributions to offer to the discussion regarding Franklin’s future. Starting the conversation by constantly bringing up race will cause many not to listen.

TONY CLARK is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or tony.clark@tidewaternews.com