12 Unexpected Places Protesting George Floyd’s Death and Racial Injustice
Small-but-mighty peaceful demonstrations in small towns across America are bringing people together in recognition that things have got to change.
Protests in response to George Floyd’s death and to fight racial injustice are not only happening in big cities like New York and Los Angeles; they’re being organized and carried out in small towns across America. Calls for justice, equality, and change are no less powerful if delivered by a dozen passionate protestors in small-town America than if by thousands filling major metropolitan cities. Together, we can all make a difference, no matter what part of the country we call home.
Vernonia, Oregon (Population: 2,274)
Corrie Lynn Aiuto was motivated by the same feelings as others around the country after George Floyd’s death: shock, anger, and grief. She lives in the tiny town of Vernonia, Oregon, population 2,274, where 95 percent of the residents are white. Seeking meaningful change nationwide, she told Reader’s Digest that she organized a protest to spark a conversation about racism and to let her community know that there are those among them who stand against racial injustice. She invited a handful of friends to join her instead of posting a public request. By keeping the group small, she could ensure a peaceful demonstration. Between 6 p.m. and dusk, she and 15 friends waved signs as those driving by responded with waves, thumbs up, peace signs, and fists symbolizing Black power. Overall, the community responded positively, including Vernonia Police Chief Conner who dropped by the demonstration to show his support. Aiuto was pleased with the success of the demonstration and is considering her next steps. “I want to keep the conversations going,” she told Reader’s Digest. “I want to have clear goals and objectives to maintain the health and safety of our beautiful town.”
Decorah, Iowa (Population: 7,594)
More than 200 peaceful demonstrators filled a street in Decorah, Iowa, in support of other demonstrations around the country calling for racial justice and equality. The town of 7,500 is located in a very rural area in the Northeastern corner of Iowa and is more than 90 percent white. Police Chief David Smutzler attended the protest as did Brent Parker, the assistant police chief, holding a sign that read, “Use your privilege to fight for JUSTICE.”
Bradford, Pennsylvania (Population: 8,280)
Trevor Givan, a 21-year-old from Bradford, Pennsylvania, joined about 15 other protesters downtown in Veterans Square in Bradford, Pennsylvania, a town of just 8,000 people. The town is located in rural central Pennsylvania and is 94 percent white. The protestors were holding signs that read, “Check your white privilege,” “Silence is Violence,” and “Black Lives Matter.” The small crowd gathered in response to the death of George Floyd and to bring attention to racial injustices. “With everyone coming together as one peacefully, they’ll [the government] listen,” Given told The Bradford Era.
Fairfield, Texas (Population: 2,937)
Joseph Avent shared his plans on social media for a peaceful protest in his home, Fairfield, Texas, a small town of fewer than 3,000 people between Dallas and Houston. In response, over 100 people gathered in a park in the center of downtown then marched toward the town’s courthouse in protest of police brutality. The town’s population is about half white. Protestors of all ages and races held signs that read, “Black Lives Matter,” “See Us for Us,” and “Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes,” among others. Police rode alongside the marchers. At the end of the protest, the crowd kneeled for nine minutes to honor the memory of Floyd. “It’s really inspiring to see this many people who are really down for our cause and showing Fairfield all coming together,” Avent told The Reporter.
Adel, Georgia (Population: 5,298)
A small group of 50 people gathered on a street corner in Adel, Georgia, to promote the need for justice and equality. Adel is a very rural town of 5,000 people just a 40-minute drive from the Florida border. About half the residents are white. “We are small, we are going to keep it peaceful, but we need something to happen,” Brea Yawn, the protest’s organizer, told WALB News, With the support of local officials, the protest march dubbed a “Unity march,” by Yawn, ended at City Hall with a moment of silence and a prayer led by a local preacher.
Morehead City, North Carolina (Population: 8,780)
Damar Small watched protests unfolding around the country and after a sleepless night, he decided to take action in his hometown of Morehead City, North Carolina. “It’s a little town, but we can speak big,” Damar Small told the Carteret County News-Times. Morehead City is a small coastal town that is home to the North Carolina Seafood Festival and is about three-quarters white. The next morning he called friends and announced the protest on Facebook. On a Sunday afternoon, a group of 20 to 25 people made up of a racially diverse group of protesters, positioned themselves along railroad tracks in their small town. Cars honked and waved in response to their signs reading, “United We Stand,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “Fix The Problem, Don’t Be The Problem,” among others. Small estimated 75 percent of those passing by supported their efforts. Near the end of the protest, Small thought that a woman was insulting the group when she tossed something at them. Instead, it was a T-Shirt with the words, “I Can’t Breathe” across the front. “It made my day,” he said.
Prineville, Oregon (Population: 10,329)
More than 150 protestors convened on the sidewalk outside the courthouse in Prineville, Oregon, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Nearly the same amount of counter-protestors gathered across the street in the town that’s a three-hour drive southeast of Portland with a population of about 10,000 people. There were no arrests in the community, which is nearly 90 percent white, according to a release provided to The Bulletin by the Prineville Police. “Everyone in attendance can be proud of what occurred, and more importantly, what did not occur. … No assaults. No looting. No arson or reckless burning,” the Princeville Police stated.
Petal, Mississippi (Population: 10,600)
Demonstrators in Petal, Mississippi, a suburb of Hattiesburg, which has about 45,000 residents, including Petal, focused on comments from Petal Mayor Hal Marx following Floyd’s death. “Why in the world would anyone choose to become a #PoliceOfficer in our society today? #backtheblue #ThinBlueLine,” Marx wrote on social media. Protestors called for him to resign, carrying signs reading, “What the world needs now is love,” “Humane leadership now,” and “I can’t breathe.” The racially diverse group of protestors, in the town that is three-quarters white, says they will continue to protest until Marx resigns.
Canton, Illinois (Population: 13,000)
Dozens of Canton, Illinois, residents, including parents, children and grandparents, gathered at the main street quad to peacefully protest the need to come together as a community. The 90 percent white town is about a 40-minute drive outside Peoria and at 14,000 residents is the largest place in the county. “We need to spread awareness,” organizer Cassy Coulter told CentralIllinois.com. “We need to stop the hatred, we need to come together as one.” Their signs: “No Justice, No Peace” and “Stand Against Racism,” among others, as well as the protest, focused on peace and unity. The residents are planning future protests.
Beckley, West Virginia (Population: 16,000)
More than 50 people gathered at an intersection in Beckley, West Virginia, to peacefully protest the death of Floyd. The town of about 16,000 is 70 percent white and is located about an hour’s drive southeast of Charleston. Kelly Vanover and two friends organized the event after watching other protests around the country and viewing the video of Floyd’s death. The racially diverse crowd included all ages and even a few children. “It broke all of our hearts and we wanted to come together for the Black community,” Vanover told The Register-Herald. “If we don’t do this and come together, it’s not going to stop.”
Troy, Alabama (Population: 19,000)
Taylor Lolley, a Troy University student, stood on a street corner with signs alongside him that read, “He could not breathe. Can you?” The images of him posted online went viral. On May 29, a crowd soon joined him at the town square in Troy, Alabama, a college town of about 19,000. According to WDHN, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” and “What’s his name? George Floyd!” Drivers honked their horns in response to the protestors’ “Honk for Justice” signs. Lolly has set up a GoFundMe account with proceeds to be donated to a local organization benefiting local children.
Freehold, New Jersey (Population: 34,000)
Protesters, ranging from teenagers to seniors, carried signs and chanted “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” in the small central New Jersey town of Freehold, population 34,000, and nearly 90 percent white. The group gathered downtown and marched to the county courthouse while urging officers to kneel. According to Patch, when various protestors were frustrated that officers did not respond to the chants, “Kneel with us!” adult marchers urged the younger protesters to calm down and watch their tone. “Use your voice, not your fists,” said one woman. Another young woman said, “All we’re asking is for you to hear what we have to say.” Patch quotes a written statement by Police Chief Craig W. Dispenza: “The Freehold Borough Police Department has long enjoyed a positive relationship with the community that we serve and plan to keep that relationship on track.” The protest remained peaceful.
For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.