Lifelong civil rights activist and founding member of The Freedom Singers Charles Neblett speaks during Thursday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Leitchfield. (Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette)
Lifelong civil rights activist and founding member of The Freedom Singers Charles Neblett speaks during Thursday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Leitchfield. (Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette)
Dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters took to Leitchfield Public Square this week for two nights of demonstrations.

Protests against racial injustice and police violence have been held across the nation in recent weeks, following the deaths of African Americans such as Louisville, Kentucky EMT Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed during a police raid of her home, and George Floyd, who died while in the custody of Minneapolis, Minnesota police officers.

The movement came to Leitchfield Wednesday night as protesters carried signs, marched around the courthouse square, and heard from multiple speakers.

Chants of “Say her name: Breonna Taylor;” “No justice, no peace;” “Black lives matter;” “I can’t breathe;” and “We want equality,” among others, could be heard across the square throughout the more than three-hour protest on Wednesday.

Among those speakers was Joseph Robinson, a resident of Grayson County for the past 10 years, who said he has experienced harassment and threats due to the color of his skin.

Robinson said that he does not condone hate or violence and is a peaceful person, but he wants justice for the victims of racism.

In addition to the BLM protesters, a contingent of anti-protesters set up across the street, chanting “All lives matter” and igniting heated debates between the two groups at various points throughout the evening.

Robinson asked one counter-protester to imagine how bad it feels for him to have to tell his 8-year-old son that he will be judged his whole life for the color of his skin.

“Racism is alive and well, my friend” Robinson said. “That is the cold, hard truth.”

Domeeka Goldsberry also gave an impassioned address to the protesters Wednesday night.

“Racism is very real,” she said, adding that African Americans want equality and the security of knowing their children can grow up in Leitchfield without fear and without hatred.

“All lives do matter, but right now it’s black lives that are in danger,” Goldsberry said.

Though she said she has experienced racism and hate throughout her life, including from authority figures such as her teachers, and particularly leading up to Wednesday’s protest, Goldsberry encouraged protesters to keep their event peaceful, “so we can prove to them we’re not just animals.”

“Racism is real in this town,” she said. “...The only way we can fix it is through unity.”

In closing, Goldsberry said the Black Lives Matter movement is only a beginning and she asked her fellow protesters to “be the change you want to see here in town.”

While tense verbal exchanges broke out between the protesters and the anti-protesters at points, there was no violence or rioting reported at either of this week’s demonstrations.

Among local law enforcement, Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins and Leitchfield Police Chief David Riley were stationed on the courthouse lawn during both protests to prevent possible physical confrontations.

Later in the evening on Wednesday, a male anti-protester ventured onto the courthouse square and said, “White lives matter,” before being quickly escorted across the street by law enforcement.

A second protest was held Thursday night, once again on the Leitchfield courthouse lawn.

Organized by Domeeka and Ashton Goldsberry, Thursday’s protest saw lifelong civil rights activist Charles Neblett attend and speak.

A Logan County resident now 79 years old, Neblett is best known for being a member of The Freedom Singers, who traveled the country for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s as part of the movement that led to the Civil Rights Act, as well as for performing with the group during the March on Washington.

Charles Neblett’s son, Kamero, introduced him and said the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement is not a new one, noting that his father began moving and acting towards civil rights in college, and still, as he nears 80 years old, is in the movement and willing to come to demonstrations such as those in Leitchfield because of his commitment to a better world.

Charles Neblett said his lifelong crusade against racism and racial injustice began following the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a young man around the same age as he, in 1955.

He said he heard about the story of Till and became sick knowing that it could have happened to him, so he became involved in the civil rights movement to ensure that no one else would have to go through that.

During his work, he traveled to areas such as Mississippi and Alabama, “places they were out to kill you,” but, he told protesters that, in order for the day to come when all are equal, they have “got to be willing to put it all on the line.”

Charles Neblett said he was glad to see so many young people at Leitchfield’s protest and that their standing up “makes all the difference in the world.”

Ashton Goldsberry later addressed attendees and said she helped organize Thursday’s protest because Leitchfield is her home and the place she has chosen to raise her children, and she does not want them to endure the racism she experienced growing up.

“Just because you don’t experience racism doesn’t mean it isn’t here,” she said. “My children will be loved here.”

Organizers said that parents must teach their children to be better so that, one day, there will not have to be demonstrations such as those held Wednesday and Thursday.

Thursday’s demonstration once again drew counter protesters, one of whom approached to express his concern that the Black Lives Matter movement means that only African American lives matter.

Protesters responded that all lives do matter, but African Americans are disproportionately at a higher risk of being mistreated, abused, disenfranchised, and killed.

Domeeka Goldsberry said that right now, black lives are being targeted, and they want to be heard and for people to understand that racism exists.

This sentiment was echoed by Robinson who said his life and his family have been threatened because he his black.

“I have a target on my back every day because of the color of my skin,” he said.

In an interview with The Grayson County News-Gazette, Domeeka Goldsberry said that while she is honored to have been a part of something larger than herself, as well as overwhelmed by the love and support shown during this week’s protests, the work would not end after they were through.

“We have to carry this on moving forward,” she said, adding that they must continue to bring awareness to the issue of racism in their community and strive to break the cycle by educating others.

“We pulled a rug out on protected, closeted racists,” she said. “What will you do now about that?”