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West Memphis revisited 

Race-divided city now finds blacks pitted against one another.

Page 6 of 7

The reformers have become increasingly vocal in their denunciation of their opponents, which now include the city's white power structure, allegedly corrupt Crittenden County blacks, allegedly do-nothing black elected officials in city and county government, and the state and national NAACP. In an e-mail dated Sept. 28, 2011 to the Crittenden County NAACP members, Afrika wrote, in part, "We have all these Afrikan[sic]-American officials ... Most of these "negroes [sic] are bought, paid-for, rented, leased, borrowed, sold-out, and or simply foolish."

Pointing out the tiny percentage of blacks in West Memphis who work for the city, he called on the members to "do simple research. Find out how your leaders make a living. Who do they work for? Who are they contracted through or by? Who are their spouses and family members employed by? Do they represent you or their employers and bosses? They may be your friend, fraternity brother, or even your pastor, but whose interests do they really serve? As responsible adults and particularly black people whose entire reality has been shaped by systematic injustice for generations, we have a moral responsibility to do so ..."

On Facebook at ourview.naacp, the rhetoric of the reformers is even harsher — inflammatory and racist, says the Evening Times. Interviewed for this article, managing editor Gary Meece said in an e-mail that Afrika "is not a spokesman for the black community, though he styles himself as such. ... [he] is a troublemaker and a publicity hound but that does not make him newsworthy. He and his chapter were bounced out of the NAACP for his racist rhetoric." He has also said that Afrika has libeled him and members of his staff, and individuals are considering legal action. Afrika, who also ran and was defeated for a position on the West Memphis School Board, responded to Meece's charges by saying that he is a "liar." He acknowledged that questions have been raised about whether he is actually a legal resident in the second ward. He has a home in Marion but his business, Afrika Books and Cultural Center, is located in Ward Two in West Memphis. No "Johnny come lately" to the civil rights struggle in West Memphis, he says that he and his wife were two of the plaintiffs who brought the redistricting litigation.

Whatever the final outcome of the litigation in Judge Hill's Court, Afrika's leadership has become a bone of contention in the black community. In an interview on Nov. 2 with him, Hubert Bass and Lawrence Brown, who acted as Afrika's campaign manager during the recent Ward two election, it was acknowledged that none of the black city councilmen supported Afrika's council candidacy. On Nov. 6, Afrika received 611 votes, finishing third in a three-person race for a seat on the council against two other black candidates.

In his recent e-mail, the Times' Meece said that "generally individuals of all races get along well here ... there is some residual racial resentment ... No doubt there are incidents of mutual distrust ... ."

So long as the subject of race is avoided in West Memphis, a recent and very short visit suggests support for the view that at least in public "all races get along well here." On the other hand, an outsider would be hard-pressed to dismiss an e-mail from Crittenden County Election Commissioner Pat Henderson, who described meetings of the Crittenden County Democratic Party as events where "everyone consistently sits with all the whites on one side and all the blacks on the other side. If there are disagreements that require a vote, all the whites vote together, and all the blacks vote together."

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