Regional NAACP director says: ‘It is time now that we get some real change’ 

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Anne Pope, left, leans in to speak with Beverly Bardequez during the 2017 unveiling of a sign stating that the Rapp Road historic neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original Black settlers of the Rapp community came from Shubuta, Mississippi, where Pope was born.

ALBANY COUNTY — As Anne Pope grew up in Shubuta, Mississippi, Jim Crow laws were still in effect, forcing her to go to high school in a town roughly 10 miles away because her own town didn’t have a facility for Black people.

Now 82, and director of the northeast region of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Pope is witnessing a movement for racial justice that is often compared to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, which dismantled the laws under which she once lived. 

Since May 26, the day after George Floyd, a Black man, died as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, protests against police brutality have flourished around the country, including in predominantly white communities like Guilderland and Rensselaerville.

“It certainly has its similarities [to the Civil Rights movement] because it began with an issue,” Pope told The Enterprise, referencing Floyd’s death. “But the difference is this is ongoing. For instance, if we protested or marched back in the day, it would have been a one-day rally. It had a beginning and an end. With this, there’s a beginning, but I don’t see an end.

“And I like this,” she said. “I like that there are people who have time to give towards marching. And I am excited that they are committed to making a difference, and I see that they are making a difference. They’re able to stay with it and produce some results that are good.” 

The Enterprise spoke with Pope on the first Juneteenth to be recognized as a holiday by New York State, following an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo who also announced his intention to draft legislation next year that will make it an annual state holiday. The city of Albany, where Pope lives, and Albany County also declared it a holiday.

Juneteenth is a celebration of the emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865, officially bringing the whole country under the purview of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed two years prior. 

Juneteenth had been sanctioned only in Texas before New York and Louisiana recognized it this year, but it has been celebrated informally for decades by Black communities across the country, including for 17 years in Albany.

Cuomo’s executive order came days after he signed legislation that, among other things, bans the use of chokeholds by police, and gives civilians access to police disciplinary records.

“I do certainly applaud the governor for the work that he has done,” Pope said. “Starting with the coronavirus issue and going now through setting up the Juneteenth celebration … I’m very happy that he sees the need to do that, and that he has come out and written something about the police abuse and the killings. I certainly think he has gone above and beyond his calling.”

Pope said these changes have been a long time coming, and that it’s a more rapid response from officials than she saw in the ’60s, when she first got involved with the NAACP and participated in the Civil Rights movement.

“Our work was almost in vain because it has been very hard to point at something that has made a difference,” she said. “Not that many things had changed since we’d all been protesting and speaking out.”

Pope said, for her, the Black Lives Matter movement “just feels so good because for years we have talked about it. We’ve talked about injustices, we’ve had conferences on it, we’ve certainly set up community meetings around it. When something happens, we protest it for a while, and nothing changes.

“It is time now that we get some real change,” she went on. “We’re all tired of seeing a young Black man get shot and killed by the police and nothing happens … We’re going to see some moves now that are going to make a difference. We have young people who we certainly want to see grow up and not have to be afraid of white people or the police.”

Pope said that, locally, she wants more Black people hired in all levels of work, and less discrimination in other social areas.

“One thing that really upsets me is our people are not hired,” Pope said. “In these minimal jobs, they’re not hired. Governmental places, city places, wherever, you don’t see Blacks. It’s as if our people can’t use a typewriter or a printer, or be of service to clients. We can do all that, but we’re discriminated in hiring. We’re discriminated in housing. We’re just discriminated everywhere.”

Referring to the notion of companies hiring Black people in small numbers to give the appearance of diversity, Pope said, “You might see some token Blacks somewhere but you won’t see them in large numbers. It’s time-out for that … It’s time someone goes in there and sees how many people these companies hire that look like us.” 

As awareness of racial injustice spreads, conversations about being an “effective ally” have spread with it. When asked what she wants to see from white people who sympathize with the movement, she pointed to education, both intimately and systematically.

“I think that white families can begin to teach their children that we are people,” Pope said. “We are human beings. We are not someone to be laughed at or poked fun at because our skin color is different. That we’re all one; God made all of us and we’re all the same. And that we’ll be stronger if we support each other.

“Respect is very important,” Pope continued, “so our young people don’t need to go to school and be made fun of, or have teachers hold them back or not encourage them. We have some bright people in our race. Some of the brightest. But because they’ve been beaten down so much, they don’t know that, and I think we’re tired of that. I know I’m tired of it … I hope Black people can see the power in their presence.” 

Since the protests have started, some people have raised concerns about violence and property damage, which has afflicted Albany as well as larger cities like New York and Washington, D.C.

“I cannot see a connection between anger over the killing of George Floyd and throwing a brick through the window of a public library,” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said at a May 29 county press briefing. “I don’t see the connection between frustration with police and smashing out the window of a Black-owned business and stealing everything inside. That is not protest. That is not accomplishing anything to move a community forward.”

Some activists argue, though, that peaceful protests are too easy to ignore, and that the same people who decry violent protests are the same that criticize peaceful ones, like professional football player Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem.

“I’m not a violent person,” Pope said, “so I don’t understand it. But for people that do, if that’s their way of protesting, that’s their way of protesting. People can’t sit around and criticize and say it’s counterproductive. It’s not necessarily counterproductive because it puts some energy in the rally. 

“And,” Pope said, “I think that white people who sit out somewhere — and they’re the ones, I’m sure, who talk about the violence and whatever — they have to search their souls and answer ‘What have I done to answer the calls of justice and equality?’ They can no longer just sit and think, ‘Oh, look over there at that group of people. We feel so sorry for them?’ What have you done to make things better?”

She said, though, that while organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement may not agree with the argument that destructive protests are counterproductive, she questions the impact it has on protesters’ own areas, as Sheehan had in the county press briefing.

“I do wonder, ‘Why do they destroy those buildings and properties that are in their own communities?’” Pope said. “The way I would do it, if I were a violent person, is I would go into some upper-class areas. I wouldn’t stay [in my community]. I don’t know what causes them to do that, except they get to a point where they get so angry that, wherever they are, they begin to vandalize it.”

“I do understand that people get so sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Pope said. “And we do get tired. You form these committees and come up with a plan and present it to the people in power, and they just put it away somewhere and then it vanishes. 

“So I hope we’re on our way to make some changes not just here, but nationally,” she continued. “And Albany has to be a part of it.” 

 

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