Ohio University students and Athens residents gathered in front of Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium to rally for racial justice in Appalachia, as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Caitlyn McDaniel, a 2015 OU alumna and Athens resident, organized the rally after she heard rumors about the Ku Klux Klan making a “resurgence” in southeast Ohio.
“I felt angry,” she said. “Appalachia is rich in culture and diversity. … Negotiating what it means to be Appalachian took many years to unpack, and I feel like it’s being corrupted. We will not bow down to racism and threats.”
Speakers addressed the crowd of approximately 100 people on College Green and shared stories about racism in their lives. One of the speakers was Ada Adams, who was introduced as a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a black slave from his home in Virginia.
“I choose to label myself as a black woman, but my veins run with multicultural blood,” Adams, a Nelsonville resident, said.
Adams recounted her story of leaving Athens after graduating from OU because she and her husband, Alvin C. Adams, could not find a job in the area as black people. Alvin Adams was the first black man to graduate from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in 1959. The two decided to move back to southeast Ohio after Adams Hall was named after Alvin.
“Anyone who says white lives matter too is coming from a place of privilege,” Adams said. “They have not walked in my shoes.”
Following a collection of speakers, Megan Cameron, a singer from the local band Amethystone, performed a song she wrote in November 2015 that has strong themes relating to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“You think you know who I am based on who you see before you,” she sang. “History cannot be ignored. It shows us a pattern.”
Cameron wrote the song as a call to action for white women to speak up for women of color.
“I’m used to performing, but I struggled because who am I,” she said. “I don’t know what people of different cultures or races have gone through. It was important to sing though because white people need to have a voice and be part of the movement or else they’ll just march in place.”
Tom Riggs, a graduate program administrator for chemical and biomolecular engineering, came to the rally to support students and faculty of all races and cultures.
“This was wonderful,” he said. “I came to make sure people know there are people here who know black lives matter indeed. … This is another opportunity for people to show that we’re not going to sit idly and let people destroy what America is about.”
McDaniel said she is proud to recognize multicultural students and citizens in the area.
“There are so many people of color in Appalachia, but how often as a community do we celebrate that?” she said.