Rosebud Residents Denounce Racist Displays Targeting NAACP March | St. Louis Public Radio

Rosebud Residents Denounce Racist Displays Targeting NAACP March

Dec 10, 2014

Rosebud bills its downtown as a "magnificent mile" full of antique shops, restaurants and other stores.
Credit Stephanie Lecci

The city of Rosebud, a small town about 70 miles southwest from St. Louis, is trying to reclaim its image after NAACP protesters were met there with aracially charged counter-protest.

About 150 counter-protesters lined Highway 50 in Rosebud on Wednesday, Dec. 3, as the NAACP marchers passed through on their "Journey for Justice" to Jefferson City to call on police departments to end racial profiling.

Rosebud Mayor Shannon Grus said most of the counter-protesters were respectfully shouting or holding signs supporting law enforcement, Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson and the grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson in Michael Brown's shooting death. But farther east on Highway 50, outside of Rosebud, someone set out a box of fried chicken and a bottle of beer. Other counter- protesters in Rosebud shouted obscenities and even hoisted a Confederate flag.

Two days after NAACP marchers met a hostile counter-protest in Rosebud, a sign remains further east along Highway 50 near the city of Gerald.
Credit Stephanie Lecci

In a letter she sent to a local newspaper, Grus called these actions “completely disrespectful and honestly sickening.” Now many in the communityare speaking out to say the deeds of a few don't represent their whole city.

“Everybody I’ve talked to in here, no one has been happy about those few that made all the noise. I haven’t talked to anybody who is proud of that," said Beth Klenke, owner of Cuppa Joel coffeehouse.

Klenke said the march was peaceful and that the NAACP protesters had a right to express their opinions. She said many Rosebud residents also wanted to express their views, but some people moved away when they turned into "personal attacks" because "they didn't want to be associated with that."

Beth Klenke of Cuppa Joel coffee shop said many residents wanted to express their counter opinions to the NAACP protesters, but that personal attacks went too far.
Credit Stephanie Lecci

It may be hard for some of the approximately 400 residents to square a racist display with their view of the small town with a "magnificent mile" of restaurants and antique shops. It's not uncommon to hear allusions to Mayberry and Norman Rockwell and phrases like "quaint" and "true Americana" when describing Rosebud.

Some think the fact that residents and business owners got an early warning the protest would come through town may have escalated apprehensions.

"I think there was a lot of fear in this area of what happened in Ferguson and it was the fear of the unknown of what these protesters were going to do," said Tom Wright, owner of Old Factory Antique Mall. " They said it was going to be a peaceful protest in Ferguson and you saw what happened there."

Wright said the incident has been blown out of proportion. As he drove his buggy along Highway 50, Wright said he heard people call Michael Brown a thief and a thug, but he did not hear any racial slurs. He also said the counter-protesters who had tried to block the marchers' path moved out of the road when asked by police and that claims that the NAACP's bus window was shot out were false.

Tom Wright (right) and Debbie Thorson own The Old Factory Antique Mall, located in a converted shoe factory. Wright said he didn't hear any racial slurs during the counter-protest.
Credit Stephanie Lecci

"I think that a lot of the people that did turn out were there just to make sure that nothing happened in their community as far as destroying it or looting or anything like that," he said. "Sometimes things get carried away a little bit and people get caught up in the moment and say things they don’t mean to say."

Two days after the incident, the only remaining signs to be found along Highway 50 read "We Support the Grand Jury," "We Support Darren Wilson," and "NAACP Racist," and they were posted outside of the city lines.

Some residents, like former mayor Clyde Zelch, believe most of the hecklers weren’t even from Rosebud.

“I’m sure we’ve got a few people who are just like those in Ferguson who would say or do something they should not do," he said. "But I didn’t think everyone from Ferguson was burning the place down, and I don’t want people thinking these few dingbats represent all of us.”

A sign supporting the grand jury decision met NAACP marchers along the side of Highway 50 outside of Rosebud.
Credit Stephanie Lecci

During the march, Zelch said he held up a sign saying “The Grand Jury Got It Right" and "Justice Was Served." But as a veteran, he said he respected the marchers' right to protest, even if he disagrees that there are a lot of inequalities.

“I think most of the time that is in someone’s head," he said. "In this country now, in my opinion, you are born just as free and as zeroed out as I am, and you make your life the way what you want it to be. It is a bad thing for any of us, no matter what color, to try to make up excuses for why we don’t have everything and anything we want.”

While the U.S. Census Bureau says Rosebud is 97 percent white with virtually no black residents, Zelch says it’s more diverse than people think.

"There have been different families living here, Pakistani families, who are far darker than you or I," he said. "They never had any problems, so I think Rosebud is an ideal town to raise a family in."

But that hasn't stopped the accusations of racism. Zelch said he learned his personal contact information had been posted online after he received an anonymous text message calling him a racist.

Former Rosebud mayor Clyde Zelch now runs a pioneer homestead and village he built himself off the grid a few miles outside of downtown Rosebud. He held a sign supporting the grand jury decision as NAACP marchers came through town.
Credit Stephanie Lecci

Other business owners have also felt the impact of the "vile and personal attacks," said Angie Clancy of Clancy's Market Place.

“We have a Facebook page, and I just recently received a message from someone who said they’d never stop in Rosebud again, because they don’t want to support racists," she said. "I don’t normally comment on those comments ... but I just felt I should. I said I was so sorry to hear that and hopefully you wouldn’t judge the whole town by the actions of a few."

The former St. Louis County resident said she supports law enforcement and the grand jury’s decision. But she also said she strongly believes in the "right to protest and get things done," and, to a certain extent, understands the marchers’ call for changes in policing.

"Sure, there’s changes need to be made all over the place, and for those marching through, kudos to them for picking up the valor to do that," she said. "If they feel so sincere about these issues, there must be validity to them. We need to look into what’s going on if they feel this way, because no one should feel ... they are being punished or targeted."

Angie Clancy of Clancy's Market Place said while she supports law enforcement, she also respected the marchers' rights to call for police departments to end racial profiling.
Credit Stephanie Lecci

"They weren’t doing it because they felt like marching down the road Wednesday afternoon. They had a real purpose," Clancy added. "I empathized with them and their courage. They're trying and that's wonderful. I back them 100 percent."

And Clancy hopes people will back Rosebud, too, for being the "peaceful, patriotic, respectful town" she knows it is.