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‘Rednecks For Black Lives’ urges Southerners to fight for racial equality

Prompted by George Floyd’s death, a new political movement called “Rednecks for Black Lives” has emerged on Facebook to urge rural Southerners to stand up for racial equality amid the wider cultural shift against racism throughout the country. “Are you a white person who comes from a rural or small [town] in the south?” the group asks in its mission statement on Facebook. “Are you poor and working class? We’ve been lied to and told to blame our troubles on people of color. We don’t believe the lies anymore! We are here to fight for the south!” The movement was launched on June 22 and has nearly 3,000 members so far.
Prompted by George Floyd’s death, a new political movement called “Rednecks for Black Lives” has emerged on Facebook to urge rural Southerners to stand up for racial equality amid the wider cultural shift against racism throughout the country. “Are you a white person who comes from a rural or small [town] in the south?” the group asks in its mission statement on Facebook. “Are you poor and working class? We’ve been lied to and told to blame our troubles on people of color. We don’t believe the lies anymore! We are here to fight for the south!” The movement was launched on June 22 and has nearly 3,000 members so far.

Movement emerges on Facebook amid wider cultural shift on race after George Floyd's death

Prompted by George Floyd’s death, a new political movement called “Rednecks for Black Lives” has emerged on Facebook to urge rural Southerners to stand up for racial equality amid the wider cultural shift against racism throughout the country.

“Are you a white person who comes from a rural or small [town] in the south?” the group asks in its mission statement on Facebook. “Are you poor and working class? We’ve been lied to and told to blame our troubles on people of color. We don’t believe the lies anymore! We are here to fight for the south!”

The movement was launched June 22 and has nearly 3,000 members so far.

The group’s creator, Gregory Otis Reese, a proud Kentuckian who as recently as a month ago drove around with a Confederate flag sticker on his car, said Floyd’s death and the resulting protests around the country forced him to rethink his stance on racial issues.

“The catalyst was the George Floyd killing,” he told WBUR during a recent interview with “Here & Now” host Robin Young. “And then this wonderful child on the news talking about her father’s death and saying, ‘Daddy changed the world.’ ... And when I heard that, I cried,” he said. “My own daughter was sitting there and she teared up. We realized then, you know, we need to be a part of this. We need to help change this world for this child, for her future, for everyone’s future.”

»MORE: Many Americans view Confederate flag as symbol of pride, not racism, poll finds

Following the self-reckoning, Reese said he had a change of heart and felt “disgust” about ever flying the Confederate flag, which is widely viewed as both a symbol of racism and white Southern pride.

“Some of us still are in the dark or want to stay in the dark about [the flag],” he told WBUR. “And it was an icon growing up as a child. You saw it everywhere.”

»MORE: As a candidate, Trump said Confederate flag should be ‘put in a museum’

Reese admitted that it took him some time to realize and admit that he was ready to change.

“You can sit back and say, you know, ‘Hey, this ain’t my fight.’ And a lot of us did for a long time,” Reese told WBUR. “But I want to be one of those out there pulling people into it because it is their fight. It always has been our fight. South, North, white, Black, brown, Latinos — everyone needs to get in this.”

Reese removed the Confederate flag magnet from the trunk of his car last month, just like Floyd protesters have toppled numerous relics of slavery and the Civil War around the country in recent weeks.

He replaced the decal with a self-made bumper sticker, which he calls a Southern pride flag — meant to represent all races, along with the phrase “Rednecks for Black Lives.”

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Reese’s new flag features rainbow stripes and two hands — one white and one Black — clasped in the shape of a heart.

The logo has become the brand identity of the Rednecks for Black Lives movement, which has teamed up with another social justice group called the Southern Crossroads Organizing Project for Empowerment, which is working to build an “alliance of membership-based organizations working for collective power and multi-racial alliances among poor and working class people in small towns across the South,” the group states on Facebook.

“This group was created for the Rednecks 4 Black Lives movement. We were inspired by @Southern Crossroads-fight4thesouth. We believe that Appalachian Americans and other self described ‘redneck’ people should stand with the Black Lives movement because we have so much common cause with the African American community and this is a place to come together and help make a real change,” the statement continues.

The movement is using the social media hastags #Rednecks4BlackLives, #Fight4TheSouth and #RednecksForBlackLives.

Beth Howard, organizing director of Southern Crossroads, came up with the slogan “Red Necks for Black Lives” and wrote about the meaning behind the word “redneck” on Medium early last month.

“I’m talking with y’all today — my fellow rednecks — to invite you to show up for Black Lives,” she wrote.

In her editorial, she explains how the term “redneck” originated in the mid-1800s as a derogatory description of poor Southern farmers and how the word was reclaimed by Southerners by 1900.

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Howard also talks about growing up in a poor, working-class mining family in rural Kentucky, saying society taught her and other poor white people to blame people of color for their struggles. But that narrative, she said, changed when she learned about the original rednecks’ struggle for justice.

“I want us to reclaim the word redneck,” she says. “And our history and that history is made up of people rising up together. That gives us hope — and we need a lot of hope right now.”

Many major American corporations have also become central to the current shift on American race issues, making public statements in support of Black Lives Matter, and like Reese, abandoning symbols and business practices seen as insensitive to people of color. Many companies are also pledging to tackle systemic racism by hiring more Black executives.

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More than 400 U.S. companies have also recognized Juneteenth, when America’s last slaves were freed, as a paid day off for employees, and now Congress is also considering legislation to make it a national holiday.