A moment of silence, a moment of remembrance

Mike Milbrandt
First Congregational Church Pastor Okogyeamon spoke of the racism and injustices faced by African Americans at Monday evening's vigil for George Floyd.

“A moment of silence, a moment of remembrance,” those were the words that were spoken by Pastor Okogyeamon during a closing prayer at a vigil for George Floyd which was held on Monday evening at Smith Park.

Okogyeamon, who is Pastor of the First United Congregational Church of  Montevideo, was one of the guest speakers at the vigil to honor and remember Floyd, who died while being handcuffed and restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.

The incident has sparked nationwide civil unrest and violence, along with numerous vigils, peaceful protests, and prayer services. It has also shined a spotlight on the American racism which continues to plague the nation’s communities of color, despite advances made by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Approximately 75 concerned citizens attended Monday’s vigil in Smith Park, which was organized by Maggie Kluver in response to the ongoing events surrounding Floyd’s death while he was in police custody.

The vigil began with Audrey Arner and her daughter Malena Handeen singing “There are Angels Hoverin’ Around.

Kluver then welcomed those in attendance and thanked them for coming together during this time of great tragedy, not only for the family members of George Floyd, but for the country as a whole.

Kluver spoke of Montevideo’s own history with racism. “A lot of people don’t know this,” she said, “but Montevideo has a sad history of racism. In 1903, there was a black man who assaulted a woman in her home near Watson.

“Montevideo sent out a posse to look for him, and so did Milan. The armed posse from Montevideo had every intention of hanging him that night, but the Milan posse caught the man and eventually he was transported to the Glencoe jail for his own safety.”

Kluver went on to say that, at that time, there were a small number of African Americans living in Montevideo. “Follow­ing that incident, those people were run out of Montevideo, leaving their homes and possessions,” said Kluver.

During a title search for a law client, Kluver turned up a section of Montevideo City Code from 1940. “No persons of any race other than Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant,” she read.

Pastor Okogyeamon spoke next. “Racism is present here in Monte­video,” he said, “as it is in every place in the United States. All of us are impacted by racism’s history. We are here tonight, because all of us are directly and indirectly suffering with George’s family, as well as grieving about our shared history.”

Speaking about the history of racism in America, Okogyeamon went on to say: “History defines who we are. We were born as a nation who enslaved others, and stole the land of others. this meant impoverishment, and that impoverishment is still being felt today.”

After some more remarks by Pastor Okogyeamon, Dr. Chris Mato Nupa spoke of the racism faced by his people, the Dakota, as well as all Native Americans.

“From the moment the white Europeans set foot on our land, we have experienced racism. We have experienced genocide. In December 1862, 38 Dakota were hanged in Mankato; it was the largest mass execution in U.S. history.”

Speaking of Floyd George, Dr. Mato Nupa said: “I saw Floyd lying on the ground, handcuffed. The white policeman had his knee on his neck. He looked into the camera and I saw evil.”

After Dr. Mato Nupa finished his comments, Pastor Okogyeamon offered his closing prayer and invited those in attendance to recognize the racism in society, and he urged everyone to work together to challenge and overcome it.

Then, Celeste Suter read the names of many minority individuals who have recently died at the hands of police throughout the country.

There can be no just and civil society if racism is tolerated and allowed to flourish. There was no doubt that it was the opinion of everyone at Monday’s vigil that George Floyd did not deserve to die the way he did on a Minneapolis street in broad daylight.