Large crowd gathers to stand against antisemitism and hatred

Tuesday morning, the Sandhills Coalition for Peace, Love and Justice, along with the NAACP, joined together in unity with nearly 100 people from across North Carolina for the Take Back the Bridge event in Vass.

Sandhills Coalition for Peace, Love and Justice is a new coalition that was formed by a diverse group of community leaders. Barbara Rothbeind of the Sandhills Jewish Congregation, Charles Oldham of Sandhills Pride and O’Linda Watkins-McSurely of the Moore County NAACP are the founding members, along with members of other nonpartisan faith and cultural organizations. 

The ideology of hate demonstrated by the placement of banners over one of the main entranceways into Pinehurst and Southern Pines and the December attack on our electrical grid has stirred the group into action. Recognizing that silence can be construed as complicity, the coalition members call on individuals, political, business and faith leaders to join with them and strongly condemn such acts of hatred.

In December, antisemitic signs were found hanging from bridges on two separate occasions in Moore County. The Take Back the Bridge event was held at the Highway 690 bridge over U.S. 1 in Vass where the first sign was found on Dec. 18. The Town of Vass issued a statement days later stating all forms of hatred from any group will not be tolerated. The large crowd was reminded of that Tuesday as Vass Mayor Eddie Callahan was asked to speak.

Watkins-McSurely opened the ceremony by giving thanks to the Town of Vass and welcoming everyone.

An elder from Fryes Chapel opened in prayer. His prayer was about unity and being as one.

Callahan took the microphone, and the crowd chanted, “Thank you. We love you.” Callahan thanked the coalition for recognizing the Town of Vass “for what had to be done,” referring to the public statement on taking a stand against antisemitism and hatred on the town’s website and Facebook page.

Callahan spoke about how Vass is a small town built on diversity nearly 350 years ago.

“I just want to thank everyone for being so supportive as we had to address the issue; it would have been much better if it never occurred,” said Callahan. “Everything happens for a reason. God moves to do things we don’t understand. I take this as one of those times because he brought us all together.” 

Large crowd gathers to stand against antisemitism, hatred

Callahan closed with, “I just want to thank everyone for their recognition, and we take it with love. Highway 690 and all roads may go in different directions and may not end in Vass, but they end in the hands of God.”

Rothbeind thanked Callahan, the town council, and the Town of Vass for facing hate speech head-on.

“We are honored to be partners, friends, and champions of justice. Our congregation will not forget this sign of unity as we continue to stand in the name of love, peace, and justice,” said Rothbeind.

Oldham also spoke at the event. “We know what the banners that hung here said,” said Oldham. It was clear and intended to be clear because it was all in writing.” 

Oldham spoke about the recent attacks, not just on Moore County, but across the nation, such as the banners and the power grid attacks.

“When people turned a blind eye to extremism and terrorism, everyone pays a price,” said Oldham. “We have to be steadfast, and we have to show it’s not who we are, and it’s not something we can accept in this community.”

Crowd gathers to stand against antisemitism and hatred

Watkins-McSurely reiterated her opening statement to close out the ceremony by saying, “The NAACP, which has been built and led by multiracial group in Moore County for almost 80 years, is proud to help organize this tribute to the Town of Vass. The neo-Nazi and KKK sign that hung right here said bring it all down. This disgusting anti-Jewish sign hung on this bridge does not reflect the belief of our community. We are so proud to stand in solidarity with Vass Town Council for their brave statement.” 

Watkins-McSurely let out a plea to encourage leadership throughout the county to join them and stand with them against racism.

“We encourage all organizations, municipalities, and local governments to stand against hatred and racism with the same bravery and tenacity,” said Watkins-McSurely. “We must form a strong coalition of people from all walks of life to help support the creation of a bonded community.” 

For further information or to join the coalition, please contact Barbara Rothbeind at [email protected] (910) 603-0600 or Charles Oldham at [email protected] (704) 572-3372.

Photos by Sandhills Sentinel Photographer Melissa Schaub.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Article and video by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Curtis Self. Contact him at [email protected].

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