Ferrell Winfree

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Ferrell Winfree has worked for many years to battle racism in her East Tennessee home. In addition to organizing several successful community actions, Ms. Winfree founded Reaching Hands and participated in other education and anti racism initiatives.

Reaching Hands is a drama and awareness seminar group which she takes into schools and churches. Ms. Winfree also served on the Board of Knoxville Project Change, which is an anti racism initiative fighting institutional racism. In addition she served as Task Force Member of Nine Counties, One Vision Human Relation/Diversity Task Force which established a Race Relations Center in the Nine Counties Area.

Below is Ms. Winfree's narrative on the positive effect that anti-racism efforts can have on a community. Contact Ms. Winfree at fwinfrey@reparationsthecure.org.

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I'd like to cite a few examples of activities that have worked for me locally. If insight for your own labors is forthcoming, great!

A local elementary school had a mural painted on the hallway wall. It depicted a huge friendly bear handing the "world" to several children. We received words of concern from some of the African American parents that no children of color were in the mural. We contacted the principal of the school and his response was that "it did not occur to me." With some gentle talk, we assured him that it SHOULD have occurred to him as his responsibility is to ALL of his students. He asked the artist to come back and several of the children in the picture now reflect children of color. It worked that time, to simply speak to the issue.

A black church and a white church in our community came together and put on a children's play. The public was invited to the outdoor production. The local paper called me later for identification of the children in the pictures taken by their staff. I realized, as we talked, that none of the black children were in the pictures. I asked them to review their negatives and use some pictures of the black children also. They informed me that they did not have any pictures of any of the black children so I asked them to not use the pictures but to write the article using only the names of the children. When the paper was published, the pictures were used in spite of my objections. I went to the newspaper office with a letter to the editor objecting to the fact that no black children's pictures had been taken. I talked with the publisher and told him that he would print the letter or I would be in front of his building next morning with signs. I told him that even if, as he was saying, the taking of the pictures was not an intentional act of racism, the printing of the pictures after I had asked them not to, was openly racist and must be addressed and that I WOULD ADDRESS IT, one way or the other. The letter was printed along with an apology from the publisher for the lack of coverage of people of color in the community. I had challenged him to go back through his issues, looking for positive stories of people of color and he had done so and determined to make changes and those changes are still evident, both in that newspaper and the one where he is now publisher.

Our community is at the edge of a beautiful lake and we have fireworks there at the annual 4th of July celebration. I drove by prior to the event and saw the barge being prepared for the fireworks display and there was a confederate flag flying on the barge. I protested to the organization in charge of the event and they assured me it would be removed. I told them that this display could possibly be one of the reasons they did not have people of color participating in the event. I later learned that the flag was not removed. I called them again and was informed that the owner of the barge refused to remove it and was assured the organization would hire a different barge the next year and make sure the flag was not displayed. The next year I went to the area and the same barge with the same flag was there. I protested again and told them of my intention to boycott the event. I also was aware that county government funds were also used to help purchase the fireworks and planned to make this known to the public. The local NAACP asked me not to boycott the events as they would be obligated to go with me and when the "good ole boys" started shooting, they would be the first ones shot. I realized the truth in their concern and did not march in protest at the event as it would have placed them in jeopardy. I did, however, ask a couple of the members of the NAACP to attend with me a meeting of the sponsors of the event. I secured permission to speak to the organization at their next meeting. I was given 10 minutes to make my case. I made no opening statement but began to read from a page in the powerful, pictorial book, WITHOUT SANCTUARY. . .

"Hundreds of kodaks clicked all morning at the scene of the lynching. People in automobiles and carriages came from miles around to view the corpse dangling from the end of a rope...Picture card photographers installed a portable printing plant at the bridge and reaped a harvest in selling postcards showing a photograph of the lynched Negro. Women and children were there by the score. At a number of country schools the day's routine was delayed until boy and girl pupils could get back from viewing the lynched man."

At this point I was asked to leave the meeting but I reminded them that I had been promised ten minutes and I continued reading. . .

"After learning of the lynching of her husband, Mary Turner - in her eighth month of pregnancy- vowed to find those responsible, swear out warrants against them, and have them punished in the courts. For making such a threat, a mob of several hundred men and women determined to 'teach her a lesson.' After tying her ankles together, they hung her from a tree, head downward. Dousing her clothes with gasoline, they burned them from her body. While she was still alive, someone used a knife ordinarily reserved for splitting hogs to cut open the woman's abdomen. The infant fell from her womb to the ground and cried briefly, whereupon a member of the Valdosta, Georgia, mob crushed the baby's head beneath his heel."

At this point it was demanded that I leave and the meeting was adjourned. I said to them, "That is what that flag means to these people here with me tonight. If you don't understand anything else, you will at least know what that flag represents to them." The confederate flag has not been flown at the event again and the group contacted some of the black leaders in the community and asked them to confer with them as to how to make the event more inclusive and this was also accomplished.