Carloads of people began arriving at Bluffton Eagle’s Field just after 5 p.m. May 31 for a 6 p.m. parade protest called United, Woke & Fed Up.
The event, organized by the Bluffton MLK Observance Committee, was one of the first public responses in the area to protest the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, and to demand justice for his death.
Adhering to social distancing protocol, organizers asked everyone to remain in their cars. Many wore masks as they attached handmade posters to the sides of their vehicles or mingled with friends.
By 6 p.m., the parking area was filled to near capacity with an estimated 300 vehicles. Officers of the Bluffton Police Department led the processional out of the park, turned onto Bluffton Parkway and proceeded to Old Town, driving down Bluffton Road and May River Road, then back to the field on Buck Island.
A rally was held afterward, with speakers including Bridgette Frazier, a member of Bluffton Town Council and organizer of the event, Mayor Lisa Sulka and others.
Over the next week, graduates of Bluffton High School’s Class of 2018 staged three additional protests. The first drew just eight people, said Desiree Bailey, one of the organizers along with Walter Wheeler.
Additional events were planned and held by various groups, including a nine-minute period of silence organized by the Bluffton Police Department June 9, and a rally at Oscar Frazier Park June 10, planned by graduates of the Class of 2020.
The event held June 6, at Campbell Chapel AME Church on Boundary Street, brought in nearly 300 people, most of whom walked a one-mile route around Old Town carrying signs and banners.
In a pre-march rally, speakers included Mayor Sulka, Bluffton PD Chief Chris Chapmond and Rev. Dr. Jon Black, pastor of Campbell Chapel.
“These young people are the ones tired of us not making change,” Sulka said, “so they took it in their own hands to make change. We’re looking now at how this town can be a role model for every other town in this country – and it could happen because of y’all.”
Chapmond expressed the support and solidarity of his officers and department. “We’re on your side,” he said.
Rev. Dr. Black told of his experiences as a black man being stopped by police in other cities for no apparent reason. “I never knew if this would be the time I would die,” he said. It didn’t matter that he had earned five graduate degrees and was an officer in the U.S. Navy.
“We’ve never seen so many young people out, standing together across every socio-economic barrier, and saying the same things,” Black said. “We believe you will change our world. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Before and after the march, a group of residents, including 20-somethings Chip Jenkins and Darion Allen, asked attendees if they were registered to vote. If not, they offered a registration form on a clipboard and encouraged to sign up right there.
Kathleen Mardel reported later that more than 30 new voters had been registered throughout the week.
Following the Old Town march, when asked why it was important to her to organize such an event, Bailey said, “This is important to all of us. It’s because I look like I do, and I’m black and this is also my struggle and all of my friends’ struggle. And it’s all of our fight to make change and evoke change in Bluffton. And not only in Bluffton but nationally – to make a change, to make a different.
Bailey pointed out that the fight is for equality for all, in a positive way. “I just want people to know that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not anti-white, or anti-police – we are anti-racism. And until there is no more racism, we will not stop fighting.”