Words have meaning and power, especially the words of community leaders and their family members.
That’s the message Marysville’s Jermaine Ferguson wants people to know.
Tuesday, Ferguson posted a message on his personal social media page.
“Today it was a good day. Thank you, Mississippi!” the message read and it included a link to an Associated Press story about the Mississippi legislature removing the Confederate battle flag from the state flag.
While most of the comments were positive, Leslie Reams, wife of long-time City Council Member and Vice-Mayor Mark Reams, said she was not sure why Southern culture is less important than anyone else’s.
In 2017, Ferguson was one of five candidates running for three at-large city council seat. Reams won a seat.
Leslie Reams then posted a series of messages that some commenters said they perceived as racist, directing many of them toward Ferguson. She defended the culture of the Confederacy and said she was not wrong.
Eventually Leslie Reams posted that Mark Reams told her to post a disclaimer that he doesn’t agree with some of the things posted.
Mark Reams joined the online conversation to defend his wife and her words. He said he and his family are not racist. He said Leslie Reams’ grandfather is Native American. In private messages sent to commenters, Mark Reams said his wife, “has been upset with history being erased.”
Ferguson said he never intended to start a firestorm. He said he posted on his personal account and not on a community wide message board.
“My only intention was to share what I really thought was good news,” Ferguson said Wednesday.
He said he does not see the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of Southern culture or history.
“It really stands for white supremacy,” Ferguson said, explaining its origins and the intention of the Confederacy.
He said that following the interaction, he spoke with his pastor about how he should deal with the woman and her husband. He said he understands spouses can have different opinions, but also knows people are influenced most by those they live with.
“I believe our community leaders and their families have a responsibility of how they conduct themselves, even online,” Ferguson said.
He said the words community leaders and their family use, “set the tone and the parameters for the conversations that happen in our neighborhoods, in our parks and in our homes.”
Ferguson referenced recent legislation passed by city council affirming its, “commitment to a peaceful community free of violence and racism.”
“If a council member’s wife feels this way, was that just a show or was that genuine?” Ferguson asked.
He said that if Marysville is going to be a tolerant, welcoming community, this sentiment cannot stand.
“We need to make sure we tell people looking at our community that we don’t tolerate bigotry, that we don’t tolerate racism, that we don’t tolerate discrimination,” Ferguson said. “We need to stand for the idea that anyone, no matter what their race is, no matter what their religion is, no matter where they came from, can find a place to live, work and thrive in Marysville.”
Ferguson said that because he understands words have power, he is reluctant to loosely use the word “racism” easily. He did say that at best, Leslie Reams’ comments were tone-deaf and insensitive.
Mark Reams says the comments online show, “only half of the story.” He said his wife has been insulted and threatened. He said Ferguson has “selectively deleted some comments.”
Reams said Ferguson deleted his comments that the Reams family is not racist. That comment, however, was not deleted from the thread.
“My wife and I do not agree on everything. One thing we do agree on is our stand against systemic racism and nothing in her comments were racist,” Reams said this morning.
He said that his wife has a Native American ancestry and has been threatened as part of that heritage.
Ferguson and Mark Reams each said it is important for people to have the right to share their opinion and to be heard. Both have said everyone needs to be cautious about what they post to social media. Neither thought the encounter would generate as much attention as it has.
Mark Reams said he thinks because it was on a private page, the conversation should be private.
Ferguson said he didn’t think there would be opposition to his original post.
“I didn’t want that out there, I just wanted to post a story about it being a good day,” he said.
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