Pulse of the Voters: Gainesville residents talk views on statues, importance of civic engagement, voting

Today’s political climate has been one of heated debate. After the death of George Floyd during an arrest in late May in Minneapolis, protests spread throughout the nation calling for police reforms and better treatment of Black people. The Register asked some area residents what their take on the nation’s future is for the latest Pulse of the Voters installment.

Carolyn Hendricks

Longtime Gainesville City Councilwoman Carolyn Hendricks says she believes everyone — no matter their race, sex or religion — should be treated equally.

Hendricks, 60, said she thinks the town’s Confederate monuments should be removed but not destroyed.

“I think they should be put into a museum because it’s American history,” Hendricks, who was first elected in 2003, said. “You can’t just wipe away history.”

There are three Confederate monuments in Gainesville — one at Leonard Park, one at Moffett Park and one downtown on the lawn of the Cooke County Courthouse.

Hendricks, who affiliates with the Democratic Party, said many people think Confederate flags and monuments are racist.

“If the monuments were removed, I think people would have more unity and come together,” she said while adding there would be better socialization across the nation.

Hendricks also thinks protesting is OK — as long as it doesn’t lead to looting and rioting.

“People, regardless of what their belief is, they should have the right to express themselves,” she said. “ … I like the way Martin Luther King did it. The nonviolent way.”

She said she strongly encourages people to get out and vote or register to vote if they haven’t already done so.

“Democracy should not be a spectator sport,” Hendricks said. “It should be something that we participate in.”

Hendricks said she is retired.

James Hughes

James Hughes, 68, said he, too, affiliates with the Democratic Party.

He said he is hoping the political climate will change soon.

“To me, there’s not enough compromising going on and it can only hurt in the long run,” he said. “I don’t know how anything will change until people just start voting and listen to the issues and just know what we should be doing.”

Hughes said there’s a misinterpretation with the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, which gained new steam in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“Someone mentioned about how all lives matter, which is true, but I think what has failed to be understood is that white lives have always mattered,” he said. “ … It’s time for the Black lives to matter because there is no such thing as Black privileges but there are for white privileges, so I think we need to recognize that.”

Hughes serves on the MLK Committee, a nonprofit organization that hosts events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. each year in town, and is chairman of Gainesville’s annual Juneteenth celebration.

He thinks the Confederate monuments should be removed “because it is a reminder to me of what it really represents.”

Companies have recently been announcing that they are changing their branding, like removing the likenesses of Aunt Jemima from a pancake syrup bottle and Uncle Ben from Ready Rice packages. Those moves are meant to combat racism, the companies have stated.

Hughes, who is Black, said he believes the changes are a knee-jerk reaction.

“I look for that syrup when I get ready to go buy,” he said, adding he perceives the branding as complimentary of Black people’s cooking.

Hughes works as a paraprofessional with the Sanger Independent School District.

Leannya Craven

Leannya Craven, 48, says she affiliates with the Republican Party and encourages people to vote to make a difference.

She said she believes the racism issue has been blown out of proportion today.

“I’m mixed,” she said. “My father is half African, half Samoan.”

Craven said there was “still a lot of racial tension” when she grew up in the 1970s.

“And if you were a mixed child you kind of got a double whammy,” she said. “I’m not pretending to know what it is like to be totally Black, but I don’t know what it’s like to be totally white either.”

She said her mother, who is white, taught her to see character, not color.

“…If you look at history, every single country in the world has a racist element,” Craven said. “You always find the bad apples.”

She said there are peaceful ways to go about change. Rioting, she said, isn’t one of them.

Craven said the human race is emotional and that’s part of the problem.

She said she thinks everyone wants change in an instant instead of sitting back and having a discussion first.

“Yes, there is racism but it’s not like it used to be,” Craven said.

She also thinks the Confederate monuments in the area don’t need to be removed as they set a reminder of the past so history hopefully doesn’t repeat itself. However, Craven does believe that there should be monuments erected to “show how far we’ve come.”

As for companies changing the way they market their goods?

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Craven said. She doesn’t see Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima branding as racist, and thinks their removal reflects companies jumping on a “bandwagon” so as not to lose business.

Craven lives on the “outskirts of Gainesville” near Spring Creek Road and is self-employed, she said.

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