Lye’Kesha Clark and her sister had been discussing recent events and seeing Black Lives Matter protests popping up all over East Texas’s small towns.
They knew Carthage needed one too. Carthage, Clark said, had been sitting silent on the issues that matter and it was time for everyone to come together and stand up for what is right.
“Until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter,” she said. “I feel like Carthage has been — we have our own racism in this town. People have not really just wanted to face it, you know, but it’s here! Not to just point no fingers, but right is right and wrong is wrong...
“It’s just time to stand up for what is right. It’s time to just stop sitting back and being quiet about things that really matter. If it happened to you, I wouldn’t be just standing back at home like ‘Oh, it’s them.’ I’d be here for you too. If it was you, I’d do it for you. I just feel like if it’s for me, people should do it for me too.”
Saturday’s march began in the heart of Cook’s Quarters and where Turner High School once stood. Cook’s Quarters is a historically-black neighborhood, and Turner the high school serving Carthage’s Black students before integration.
From there they went past an outdoor museum and the recently-installed African-American Wall of Fame, down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across the railroad tracks and into downtown Carthage to Anderson Park, where a crossroads of thoroughfares meant those driving through town couldn’t ignore them.
Many did not. They honked their horns in solidarity and stopped to chat with some of the protesters. Chants of “No Justice, No Peace” echoed off downtown buildings.
The people participating in the protest said their focus was on making sure racism and police brutality ends — that the people responsible for unjustly killing Black people be held accountable for their actions.
“We’re tired. We want justice. We want everybody held accountable for what they do. That’s it,” Carthage resident Marsha Alexander said. “We just want justice, and we want to see justice. George (Floyd), I believe, was the needle that broke the camel’s back. That’s why everybody is outraged. They do it, they get away with it, they throw it up under the rug, it’s no more...
“Everybody is mad, and if anybody says they did nothing wrong in what they did to him, you need to put yourself in that man’s shoes and see how you would do,” she said. “When he called for his mother, that brought tears to my eyes. Because his mother is dead. So I feel like his mother was there telling him ‘Come on son, you won’t hurt anymore.’”
The group would eventually number between 30 and 40 as more people joined, but a smaller group gathered earlier that morning in a parking lot at Hershell Beck Park to pray about the march and talk about ways to continue the fight after the protest.
Clark told her fellow protesters that the main thing was peace.
“That’s what we’re fighting for: peace, justice,” she said. “We can’t do ‘eye for eye.’ Somebody has to be the bigger person out of this whole situation. So we’re just going to go throughout this day with love, peace and joy that God has granted us today. And we’re going to stand up for what is right.”
Rusk-Panola NAACP President Bernice Smith said she was glad to see so many young people marching on Saturday. She encouraged them to continue fighting in the weeks to come, to show up for city and school board meetings, to vote in every election they could.
Things needed to change, she said. When a DPS trooper killed Calin Roquemore during a traffic stop in 2016, Smith said many in Panola County didn’t focus on the injustice that occurred. And a prayer vigil brought out some of the ugliness that still resides here, she said.
“When he was killed, the focus wasn’t on what happened and the injustice in it. The focus was more on the young man that committed the act than of the young man that lost his life, and that’s not right,” she said, later adding “I never thought that I would be seeing this still in these United States now. But you see it. You see it every day, and it needs to stop.”
One thing Katrina Sanders, of Carthage, said she wanted to see happen in Panola County was ending Confederate History and Heritage Month. It’s an annual proclamation brought by the Sons of Confederate Veterans group to the Panola County Commissioners’ Court. The idea of honoring a group of people who fought to keep slavery legal was disrespectful to Black residents like herself, Sanders said before the march began.
“There’s a lot of people, they say that Confederate is part of their history,” Sander said. “They have family members that fought in the Confederate army or whatever. But it’s about what the Confederate means, what they tried to do and what it means to us... A community is supposed to look out for everybody.”
Jeffrey Baines was protesting Saturday for justice and equality for all, regardless of race, creed or color. Right now, he said, you sometimes have situations where people of color are treated unfairly.
“If the person is being detained or arrested for something, let the law do what it’s supposed to do and not the men themselves,” Baines said.
Tyke Williams, of Carthage, said if the city can get together on Friday nights for football games, it can come together after the lights go off and work for change. Everyone gets along most of the time, Williams said, but there are also injustices still happening.
“Calin Rocquemore. Shot and killed in cold blood,” he said. “I have a cousin (Jonathan Williams) that was shot eight times. Murdered. Nothing’s been done about it. So it’s an injustice like ‘We don’t care. Kill them and throw them away.’
“We just want a fair chance in life like y’all give everybody else.”