A group of local residents who were calling for Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe to resign just a few weeks ago over some racially insensitive remarks he made is now planning to hold a march and rally on Saturday to attract new voters in the city.
But one leader of the group said they no longer are asking for the mayor to resign or be removed from office.
The group, which formed through an association of Facebook users, calls itself Citizens Unite for Love and Community and has christened Saturday’s event “#IAMMOUNTAIRY.” The march in uptown Mount Airy will begin at 10 a.m. at the corner of Virginia Street and Main Street, near the museum.
Yvonne Green, one of the leaders of the group, said marchers will head south down Main Street, to the parking lot of the city municipal building — a walk of about 10-15 minutes for most people. Afterward, there will be a rally at the city municipal building.
“The community is invited to bring their lawn chairs and attend this free event which consists of keynote speakers, live entertainment and refreshments,” the group said in a written statement announcing the event. “The primary focus will be to attract new voters during the group’s first time voter registration drive.”
Green said the speakers will include a commissioner from Pilot Mountain, as well as “motivational and inspirational speakers.”
She also said the mayor’s removal is no longer a central issue for the group.
“We originally wanted to do that, when we saw on the city’s website that the mayor’s term was listed as ending in 2019. But the term ends in 2017…so now we’re just really trying to promote voter registration, (and) people being aware of who they are voting for.”
The Facebook Group, which appears to have around 1,100 members, sprung to life after Rowe was quoted in the Washington Post making comments many found offensive.
“African Americans often bring hardship on themselves,” he was quoted as saying, as well as “…when you see an African American boy with pants at their knees, you can’t appreciate them.”
The article quoted others making racially insensitive remarks as well, including a local minister’s wife who made similar statements about her belief that African-Americans often bring trouble and need upon themselves, but it was the mayor’s statements that captured most of the ire of local residents.
Rowe has since apologized for the remarks, an apology officially accepted by local NAACP leaders, and Rowe has been active in forming and leading the group Hope for the City. The 20-person committee is made up of people from different cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.
The mayor said the committee’s purpose is to improve race relations in the city.
“We are positioned to address the hurt, anger and controversy that have arisen among us,” Rowe said in talking about the group recently. “By working together in good faith and commitment to create a hometown suited for its entire people, we will create an atmosphere which embraces the talents, skills, abilities and ideas found in a diverse society.
“We will explore new opportunities for cultural, social and economic growth,” he said.
Thus far, the Citizens Unite effort has remained separate from that of the Hope for the City organization. Organizers say one difference is that rather than being an “official” agency, it’s more of a grassroots effort that grew from care and concern of many individuals.
“The wholesome image of Andy Griffith’s hometown Mayberry has forever been shattered,” the group said in response to the Washington Post article. “The public outcry from the citizens of Mount Airy is deafening. Many citizens are outraged to be characterized as racists, while others are supporting the Mayor (who has publicly apologized to the community since the incident).
“Citizens Unite for Love and Community is the grassroots movement that has emerged in the aftermath of the statements made in the Washington Post article. The mission of Citizens Unite is to ensure equal rights through eliminating race-based discrimination, encouraging acceptance and promoting involvement in local government.”
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News and may be reached at 415-4701.