ORANGE — Young and old, black, white and brown, many in masks, hundreds of people marched in Orange on Thursday evening.
“Black lives matter!”
“What’s his name?” “George Floyd!”
“No justice!” “No peace!”
Signs aloft, their voices rising, many of the protesters on Madison Road clearly were angry. They were furious about the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck for nearly nine minutes.
But the mood of the protest was ebullient, not violent. There was hope in the humid air. In a town where a statue of a Confederate soldier stands sentinel in front of the historic courthouse, black people and white people walked the same road, chanting the same chants of outrage and shared determination to stamp out racism once and for all.
People interviewed in the crowd spoke of their desire to come together and end racial oppression once and for all.
“This is a good turnout. It makes me teary-eyed to see the turnout that we got,” said Alliyah Hughes as she surveyed the jammed sidewalks along Madison Road and Main Street at about 6 p.m.
A black woman born and raised in Orange, Hughes is a 2015 graduate of Orange County High School and a friend of the protest’s main organizer, Elisha Richardson.
Hughes described why the multiracial crowd meant so much to her: “Because growing up, we didn’t see too much support on our side of the field.”
S. Lisa Herndon, a black woman from Albemarle County, said the march in Orange was the second protest against racial violence that she has participated in, both times with her daughters accompanying her.
“We are here to make a difference,” Herndon said. “I am here to create a legacy for them. At some point, [racism] has to stop. Our ancestors envisioned a better day for us in 2020. We say, ‘No more.’”
Dan Goldeen, a white man from Charlottesville, said he participated in the protest in Charlottesville on Saturday. He was aware that people from Orange had come over to show their support, so he made the trek to Orange to return the favor.
“I’m a warm body and a supportive voice. And that’s what’s needed right now. If we’re going to make things change, we need to start town by town.”
Goldeen was unimpressed by the old man who’d yelled obscenities at the marchers as they made their way down the road. Goldeen said it brought to mind an image from “The Simpsons” — “old man shakes fist at sky.”
There were other counter-protesters in the crowd. Another elderly man, a familiar face in Orange who films people going about their business, was recording the march while holding up a large Confederate flag.
When a marcher invited the flag-holder to join the group and said he would protect his right to demonstrate, the older man looked tempted but remained on the sidelines.
Sisters Hannah and Morgan Haney, of Orange, were eager to explain why they were participating in the march.
Hannah Haney, a rising senior at Orange County High School, said, “I’m here because I’m white. I want to show I know my privilege and help everybody get the same privilege. I want to help everybody fight to end racism.”
Morgan Haney, a 2020 graduate of OCHS, said she wanted to support everybody involved in the march. Though white, she stressed that race is not the only reason people experience societal oppression: “I’m a minority. I’m a woman and I’m gay. It’s not fair to be treated differently because you’re a minority.”
Striding alongside the protesters was Sheriff Mark Amos, who said he was marching in solidarity with the crowd.
“It’s a very peaceful protest. Everybody is here for the right reason. Hopefully, it will remain peaceful throughout the rest of the evening,” Amos said. “This group is one united group.”
Alluding to Floyd’s death, he said proper training matters for law enforcement officers in Orange, but just important is “having the mentality to do what’s right” and treat suspects “the way you’d want to be treated.”
Amos said he’d learned of plans for the march several days earlier and he and Orange Police Chief Jim Fenwick had been “running down Facebook rumors” ever since.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Locust Grove man this week in connection with terrorist threats. Although Amos said he didn’t know whether Michael Hanson, 24, had the Thursday protest in mind, he said there was ample reason to arrest him.
After the march, Orange resident Zachary Clay talked things over with his girlfriend, Ali Clovis, and his brother, Maverick Clay, as they stood in the parking lot where the demonstration had begun.
Zachary Clay, a postal carrier in Orange, said Floyd’s death was “inexcusable.” He said he joined the local protest because he’d realized something important over the past week.
“I believed white privilege was a myth. … Listening to the black community in the town of Orange has helped me understand I might be wrong sometimes, that it’s OK to have another view if it’s different.
“The other reason I came today was, this is my town. This is my community. And people are hurting. White, black — it doesn’t matter. They’re hurting in this town. … Seeing that has made me realize maybe I need to step back and hear what they say. … And I just want us to love and get along, and thankfully, we live in a good town. Right?”