For nearly a year, a group calling itself the Corbin Racial Justice Initiative has been meeting concerning in part to a planned event next month commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the 1919 incident when 200 African Americans were forced out of Corbin on a freight train.
During that time, the group has received a lot of criticism for its efforts, and two members of the group, Nathan Flynn and Wayne Riley, spoke to the Corbin City Commission during its regular monthly meeting Monday in an effort to clear the air about what the group is trying to accomplish, and what it isn’t trying to do.
They promise that their intentions are good.
“I am not here to destroy Corbin or anything of that sort,” Flynn said.
Flynn said the planned Oct. 29 event will “acknowledge those events and sort of look forward to the future. We will just provide a place for that to be acknowledged and remembered. There have been criticisms of the group from around the city, and we just wanted to come and personally address some of those criticisms and what we are doing to address them.”
The group describes itself on its website as a coalition of community members, who are working in partnership with local and state organizations to promote racial justice in Corbin and beyond.
Flynn noted that there has been criticism about the name and of the group, and the group has decided to no longer using the name Corbin Racial Justice Initiative, but hasn’t yet come up with another name to replace that.
“The name has been something that has been pointed out to us as maybe not being a suitable name for maybe a healthy sort of conversation about racial equity in southeastern Kentucky, so we are no longer going to be using that name. It will no longer be on any of the materials for this October event,” Flynn said.
“We have also received criticism over the involvement of some of the filmmakers and authors, who have been responsible for certain publications and notoriety for Corbin for racism. We have been told that maybe their inclusion for this event might not be appropriate for the sort of negative light they painted on Corbin in what seemed to be a self-aggrandizing act in making the film and writing the book,” Flynn said.
He noted that the person behind the 1991 documentary, “Trouble Behind,” was originally supposed to speak at the October event, but he will not be speaking now.
“We have other speakers planned,” Flynn added.
The University of Kentucky Appalachian Center has provided a $5,000 grant to help facilitate the event in order to help create a community conversation.
“There are no other plans around UK’s involvement. There will be no publication. There will be no unwanted publicity around it. We just wanted to clear that up. There is no ongoing book or publication or any sort of exterior thing going on,” Flynn explained.
“This is just a group of community member that wants to make a change to help Corbin progress and to highlight that for the world. Corbin is not the same Corbin of 1919. We really would like to be an organization that welcomes all people, doesn’t alienate anyone, and doesn’t make anybody feel uncomfortable. We want everyone to feel open to speak their minds. We are willing to be open minded to change based on the community’s input. We hope that we are sort of addressing some of the criticisms and trying to limit any negative impact this group would have.”
Flynn said that he would like for the city to reconsider working with his group in the future.
Riley, who is African American and now lives in London, noted that he came to area after Hurricane Katrina struck along with other Louisiana residents, and found the people of Corbin and its churches to be among the most welcoming groups that he has encountered.
“I told everyone the only way I wanted to be a part of this was if the city was a part of it, and it was done in a tasteful way. I am not here to destroy Corbin or do anything of that sort,” he said.
“I think Corbin has just been gouged at so much that we need to try and do something in a positive way to say this is not Corbin today.”
Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus thanked the group for coming and noted that the commission would take the request under advisement.
The Corbin Racial Justice Initiative has a meeting planned for 6 p.m. Monday at the Corbin Middle School Library to discussed the October event. The public and city officials are invited to attend.