Mondale Robinson, the Enfield mayor who garnered nationwide attention and death threats after toppling over a decades-old Confederate monument in his town, will be one of the featured speakers at a two-day “State of the South” conference this week in Durham.
Robinson is the fiery, newly-elected mayor who in September asked the governor and state attorney general to investigate death threats that targeted him after he summoned a friend with a tractor to knock over a Confederate memorial that had stood in a public park for over 90 years in his overwhelmingly Black hometown of less than 4,000 people.
Robinson will be a featured speaker at True South: Reclaiming Southern History & Narrative, on Friday at NC Central University, sponsored by MDC, a downtown Durham-based nonprofit that for the past 25 years has assisted Southern leaders, institutions and communities with tools, resources and strategies “to advance equity, particularly gender and racial equity—and economic mobility,” according to the MDC website.
MDC was founded more than a half-century ago, in 1967 as the Manpower Development Corporation as part of former state governor Terry Sanford’s North Carolina Fund. MDC partnered with the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity and the National Association of Manufacturers to design job training programs with the goal of assisting poor and displaced workers transition from an agricultural to industrial economy,”and from a segregated to an integrated workforce,” according to its website.
“This is our inaugural, in-person State of the South event,” MDC spokeswoman Clarissa Goodlett told the INDY on Thursday afternoon. “For the past 25 years we’ve issued a State of the South report, and decided this year to do an in-person event because we really wanted the community to be in the same space together, to convene and provide input. We appreciate their lived experience and expertise.”
Goodlett says the report is usually made public during the spring. But MDC officials wanted to “reimagine” the report. In addition to hosting an in-person event, MDC sponsors webinars, online platforms, and videos that can all be found on the nonprofit’s website.
The Durham event is the first in a series of in-person conferences that MDC has scheduled to take place this year and in 2023 across the South, including in Charleston, South Carolina and the Mississippi Delta. The public’s input from the in-person events will also inform MDC’s State of the South report that will be made public next year.
The event is free to the public. But “due to the overwhelming response, the event is currently at capacity and we’ve closed our registration portal,” Goodlett stated in the email to the INDY.
Goodlett on Wednesday asked media outlets to not report Robinson’s appearance until Friday, owing to “safety concerns and threats” against the Enfield mayor Robinson.
“It’s true,” Robinson texted in an email to the INDY Thursday afternoon. “They didn’t want my name on the event until [Friday] because they were afraid it would attract white supremacists.”
“They ain’t did shit,” Robinson replied when asked whether governor Roy Cooper or attorney general Josh Stein had provided him with more support following the death threats.
Robinson then sent the INDY the recording of a call he recently received from “the loyal white knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”
The KKK representative did not threaten Robinson, but he did inform the mayor that he had won “the dumbest n***** of the month award” for calling on the governor to investigate the threat of white terrorism in Enfield.
“While the n****** are shooting each other and running up the crime rate with gang violence, he wants to worry about Confederate monuments,” the caller concluded.
The event resumes Friday morning at the NCCU Student Center where some of the Triangle and surrounding region’s foremost scholars and politicians, municipal leaders and activists will participate in a series of panel discussions centered on equity.
Robinson will join NCCU Law School professor Irving Joyner and Duke University historian Adriane D. Lentz-Smith for a panel discussion about the history of policies and systems, and how they were designed to either include or exclude people and communities from prosperity. The panelists will also discuss how policies can be redesigned to be inclusive and reparative, according to a program agenda obtained by the INDY.
Officials with Raleigh’s arts, parks, recreation and cultural resources will host a late morning discussion about one of the city’s most preeminent green spaces. Their discussion is titled Reclaiming the Past, Reimagining the Future: The transformation of Dix Park in Raleigh.
The panelists will explore how cities can recognize the “traumatic histories of public spaces while envisioning new possibilities” in order to serve local communities, according to the program agenda.
Robinson will also participate in an early afternoon discussion, “Building an Inclusive Democracy: Increasing access to and accountability within our political systems.” Robinson will be joined by Jay Augustine, pastor of the Hayti District’s St. Joseph AME Church, and Irene Godinez, executive director of Poder NC, a Latinx advocacy nonprofit.
The three panelists, along with moderator Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies, will discuss voting rights, including inspiring communities to vote, protecting the voting process, and holding elected leaders accountable.
Durham city council member and small business owner Leonardo Williams will participate in a discussion about creating economic opportunities in communities that have been historically excluded from avenues of prosperity.
Meanwhile, Nate Baker, a city planning commission member, and Anita Scott Neville, director of Hayti Reborn, along with Brandon Williams, an organizer with the Walltown Community Association, will talk about community responses to gentrification and displacement in Durham.
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