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NAACP leader retracts comment

Controversy continued Monday night over Halifax County Little Theatre’s upcoming production of Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” which premieres on The Prizery stage Thursday night.

During a joint meeting of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and Halifax and South Boston town councils Monday evening, NAACP President the Rev. Kevin Chandler retracted his statement quoted in Monday’s Gazette-Virginian.

Chandler, along with two other area ministers and Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White, addressed the governing bodies concerning controversy that has spilled into the community surrounding the upcoming production of the play “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Before Chandler addressed his concerns about “the situation that’s going on in our community,” he retracted a statement he made to the newspaper that said he would publicly speak against the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

“That was incorrect, but I must say that Mike Freshour, who you all know is the assistant to the commonwealth’s attorney, is the person who is directing this play and who is also responsible for bringing this hurtful, vile, insensitive play to our community,” Chandler told supervisors and councilmen.

He explained he was speaking against the play because of the ‘n’ word that he said is used in the play “some 40 times.”

He noted the NAACP is not opposed to the book but is speaking against the play because it is a form of entertainment.

Chandler concluded saying the NAACP has presented its position to Halifax County Little Theatre and Director Freshour saying they “do not support it or condone it no matter whose mouth it comes out of.”

Responding to the NAACP president’s comments on Tuesday, Freshour said, “Let me start by specifically stating I do not condone, encourage or approve of the use of the ‘n’ word in my personal or professional life; Rev. Chandler’s allegations to the contrary are absolutely false.  Moreover, his suggestion that the use of the word in the play is ‘entertainment’ is also false and misleading; this play is designed to make the audience think rather than laugh.  I would never be associated with any production which used the word in a humorous fashion, to the contrary, the play specifically lets the audience know that the use of the word is not acceptable.”

Commonweath’s Attorney White told supervisors and councilmen she had contacted Chandler Monday telling him she expected a public apology to the 11 employees of the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

“Rev. Chandler told me on the telephone this afternoon that he would publicly apologize. I never heard that tonight,” she concluded.

Rev. William Avon Keen, pastor of Traynham Grove Baptist Church and state president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he was opposed to the production of the play and was speaking out to let people know that “we do not support the use of this word in any form or any fashion.”

Rev. Frank Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church on Ferry Street, said he was not making a final plea to halt the play.

“I come tonight to plead for your help,” Coleman said urging governing bodies to put policies and laws in place to protect the welfare of the community.

“Please make it your proactive priority to put something in place, whether it be a policy or law, whether it be a body or committee,” he said, “so that we can more readily curtail this kind of fracturing in our closely-knitted community in order for our community to grow in harmony and peace.”

Following the comments from the ministers and commonwealth’s attorney, town councilmen and supervisors briefly discussed the “sensitive situation” which has arisen in the community concerning the play.

Supervisor Chairman William Fitzgerald and other leaders suggested the joint governing bodies work together to revive a human relations council to continue the race relations dialogue which began with the forum held at The Prizery last month.