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2012 Chair Lynching

Timeline

On September 26, 2012,
the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance was contacted by an employee at Peach Plains Elementary School in Grand Haven to report chairs hung by ropes from trees above a sign that reads
"Take Back Our County in November" at a residence across the street from the school. This caused discomfort for staff and children began asking what it meant.

That same morning, Ottawa County Sheriff's deputies stopped and spoke to the homeowner about the chairs. Later that afternoon, Diversity Alliance staff approached the homeowner. The homeowner indicated that the hung chairs are a political statement referencing Clint Eastwood's speech regarding President Obama at the Republican National Convention in August. Diversity Alliance staff provided information regarding the historical context of lynching in the United States - noting that 3,446 black people have been identified as killed by lynching between 1882-1968* - and encouraged the homeowner to consider that hanging a chair representing a black person has strong racial implications. The homeowner advised that he was not going to take down the chairs, as it is his legal free speech right to hang them from the trees.

On September 26, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance was contacted by the principle at Peach Plains Elementary School in Grand Haven to report chairs hung by ropes from trees above a sign that reads "Take Back Our County in November" at a residence across the street from the school. This caused discomfort for staff and children began asking what it meant. Later that afternoon, Diversity Alliance staff approached the homeowner. The homeowner indicated that the hung chairs are a political statement referencing Clint Eastwood's speech regarding President Obama at the Republican National Convention in August. Diversity Alliance staff provided information regarding the historical context of lynching in the United States and encouraged the homeowner to consider that hanging a chair representing a black person has strong racial implications. The homeowner advised that he was not going to take down the chairs, as it is his legal free speech right to hang them from the trees.

 

On the evening of October 04, The Diversity Alliance held a community conversation in collaboration with Grand Haven Area Public Schools to discuss the issues surrounding this incident. The meeting was held at the Grand Haven Community Center.

 

Approximately 50 community members attended and were invited to share their feelings about the display. A few individuals shared support of the hanging chairs and felt that concerns about racial overtones were overblown. The majority of individuals who spoke at the event expressed varying degrees of concern and offense.
  • A parent shared that his two bi-racial daughters have seen the chairs hanging and it has been very painful for them, as they understand their history.
  • Another parent shared that her third grade son asked if it represented a person, and if they were going to kill that person.
  • One man shared a discussion with his adult son currently serving in the military in Afghanistan. After discussing the hanging chairs, the son stated that he took an oath to protect everyone's rights, including free speech; however, hate speech in our country directly impacts him, the troops he serves with, and our country, every day in Afghanistan. The son said that we need to think about how speech affects our troops and the perceptions created about our country in the rest of the world.
  • A parent shared that at first she was embarrassed, but after talking to her child, realized the need to learn what she can do to teach her child and other kids at the school to be tolerant and value diversity.
Powerful, emotional comments about the need for civility, kindness and valuing diversity were also expressed. Diversity Alliance staff also provided suggestions on how to discuss this topic with children, as well as information for adults to learn how to speak up and advocate for discussion.

"We try to separate intent from impact. It's impossible for us to discern the intent," said Andre Daley, Associate Executive Director of the Diversity Alliance, "How does the impact of behavior affect others? That's what we were asking folks to think about that evening."

About a dozen community members stayed later to discuss working together to design projects that promote inclusion in our community.

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*Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved 2010-07-26. "Statistics provided by the Archives at Tuskegee Institute."