Saturday morning, June 27, a crowd gathered in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot in Brent at 11:00 a.m. as they prepared for a long walk. It would be the second voter registration drive in the form of a protest march in Bibb County. The first such march took place two weeks prior, on June 13th. Unlike the first time when they kept to the sidewalks as the made their way from Centreville’s Court Square to Brent, the group had this time attained an ALDOT permit allowing them to occupy the streets, preventing movement of traffic as they walked from the starting point in Brent, around Court Square in Centreville, and doubled back to the BCHS baseball field.
After the first march, some residents in the community stated confusion as to how a protest march and a voter registration drive were the same thing, saying the group’s intent was unclear. Some even called it deceptive to call it a voter registration drive, claiming the march was all about getting the Confederate statue on the Bibb County Courthouse lawn taken down. Helping to clarify the purpose this time, Brent Mayor Bobbi White spoke to the group before they got started.
“I hear a lot of people say ‘My vote doesn’t count,’” Mayor White said, “But your vote does count … Voting is an opportunity for change … Remember, the power is in your vote.”
A round of applause sounded when it was pointed out that Mayor White was the first African-American mayor of the City of Brent.
After the Mayor’s short prepared speech, the group bowed heads for a prayer and then assembled on Main Street, gathering just ahead of Brent Police Chief Nichols’ truck. The streets were blocked off for the march, but it became apparent as traffic came through that the street had only been blocked in one direction. March leader Chondale Rembert spoke to Chief Nichols, insisting that their ALDOT permit called for the full street to be blocked, and he was concerned oncoming traffic could pose a hazard. A few minutes later the entire street was closed off and the group began their journey.
Police officers from Brent, Centreville, Bibb County, and Alabama State Troopers led and followed the protesters, as well as lined the sides of the streets where needed to maintain safety.
Chants as they walked of “Black lives matter…all lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe” along with “No justice, no peace. No racist police,” and “Hands up…don’t shoot,” reverberated. “Say his name…George Floyd…say her name…Breonna Taylor” repeated along the route as well. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both African-Americans who were killed by police in recent months, made national news and have spurred protests all across the nation as citizens call for an end to police violence and racism within the criminal justice system. This, according to Bibb County Commissioner Rodney Stabler, is why this protest march is also a voter registration drive.
“People want change, but they’ve got to show up,” said Commissioner Stabler, “We need more people to come out and participate…and to make their voices heard at the ballot box.” Commissioner Stabler is the only African-American member of the Bibb County Commission.
Prior to the march, rumors spread around the community that the group’s plan was to come back through town after the protest and “burn down Brent,” and that busloads of protesters were being brought in from out of town. These and more such rumors proved to be completely unfounded.
The peaceful protest remained such, even as the group encountered a counter-protester and his friends holding a rebel flag in the Dollar Tree parking lot.
As he stood smiling at the protesters while waving his large rebel flag, some marchers began to yell obscenities at him in objection to the flag. When the group stopped moving and assembled facing the man, tensions rose but no one advanced. An officer approached the group and told them to stop yelling obscenities and move on, which they did. Some angry stragglers continued to yell but were encouraged by leaders to catch up.
When protesters finally reached Court Square and encountered the Confederate memorial statue, they paused and chanted, “Take it down!” Many people, both residents of Bibb and otherwise, have commented on social media that they believed removing or moving the statue was the primary goal of the group of protesters. Tempers have flared and conversations have turned to arguments over what should be done. Many say leave it, many say move it to somewhere more appropriate such as Brierfield Ironworks Park – a Bibb County Historical sight tied to Civil War history – and some say just get rid of it altogether.
However, whatever becomes of the statue, Saturday was not the deciding factor. While the future of the statue was obviously a concern of the protesters, tearing it down or otherwise vandalizing it was not the objective of the march. Some took a few pictures, and then they continued the march, circling the square and heading back across the Howard Cooper Bridge to their finishing point and voter registration tents, where they intended to impact the change they seek.
The voter registration drive was set up for families, with a bounce house for children and refreshments for all. The number of new registered voters resulting from the drive has not yet been reported.
Photos below courtesy of Latisha Lee