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1 man with a 'Black Lives Matter' sign spurs 20-person demonstration in Du Quoin Saturday
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1 man with a 'Black Lives Matter' sign spurs 20-person demonstration in Du Quoin Saturday


DU QUOIN — Driving home from his overnight shift at the Perry County Counseling Center Saturday morning, Nicholas Tate felt called to join the movement across the country calling for an end to violence against black people by police officers.

He didn’t have time to plan a larger gathering, so decided he would do his own one-man protest.

“I just wanted to spark a movement for people to stand up for love,” he said.

On the way home, he picked up materials to make a sign. At Dollar Tree, he ran into a friend, Tenielle Worthington, and told her about his plans. She offered to join him, doubling the expected attendance count from one to two. They met up at 2 p.m. on a visible corner of Du Quoin, between the RollnUp Smoke Shop & Liquor and Taco Bell.

1 man with a 'Black Lives Matter' sign spurs 20-person demonstration in Du Quoin Saturday

Nicholas Tate of Du Quoin started out with a simple goal with his one-man protest Saturday:  100 honks in support of black lives. 

Tate carried a sign that said, “One Honk to Acknowledge Black Lives Matter.”

They set a simple goal: 100 honks.

“Within 30 minutes, we got that done,” said Tate, a 28-year-old African American resident of Du Quoin. The small town of about 5,700 is about 7% black.

But what happened Saturday afternoon surpassed Tate’s expectations.

“Some people drove by, they started honking, and before you know it, people that were honking were pulling over in the parking lot of the grocery store and they were coming and joining us,” he said. “We had probably 20 people out there with signs and stuff helping with the protest.”

1 man with a 'Black Lives Matter' sign spurs 20-person demonstration in Du Quoin Saturday

Protesters in Du Quoin on Saturday join people from across the nation in calling for justice and equality for African Americans. 

Though the reason for the gathering was a somber one, Tate said the unexpected response was heartwarming.

All week, Tate said he had been reflecting on the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed in police custody last Monday in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and other African American lives lost during interactions with law enforcement in recent years. A white Minneapolis police officer who was filmed with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd, handcuffed face-down on the ground, gasped for air and proclaimed that he could not breathe, has been dismissed and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Carbondale leaders reflect on George Floyd killing in Minneapolis

Protests have erupted across the nation — most of them peaceful. But some of the gatherings have turned violent and destructive, with fires set to cars and buildings, business windows shattered and confederate statues sprayed with graffiti. With the unrest escalating, Tate said he was a bit nervous to take a stand, concerned that people might get the wrong idea that he wanted to create an uprising in Du Quoin. At best, he thought he might be ignored.

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“I didn’t really expect anybody to come out, to be honest,” he said.

Instead, people like Maci Collins, 19, of rural Perry County, were inspired by his stance.

She had been driving home Saturday afternoon from a friend’s house when she saw Tate — though she didn’t know him yet — standing on the corner by himself with a “Black Lives Matter” sign.

1 man with a 'Black Lives Matter' sign spurs 20-person demonstration in Du Quoin Saturday

Cass Vandemere holds a Black Lives Matter sign made by Nicholas Tate at Saturday's protest in Du Quoin. 

“I had heard of protests all around, and then I saw this guy — one guy standing there with a sign, and his parents were behind him,” she recalled. “I honked my horn. I was super excited. I didn’t expect to see that in a small town like Du Quoin.”

Collins said she had never participated before Saturday. But she, too, was outraged by what happened to Floyd and many others. When she got home, she decided to quickly change clothes and then head right back out to join them. Collins is of mixed race and said that she has not personally experienced racism in Du Quoin.

But she said that her African American father and some members of the family on his side have had to deal with it. Collins said she wants people who have experienced hate and racism because of the color of their skin to know they are not alone.

“I felt something in my heart that made me want to show my love and spread the word — no rioting, no damaging, no violence — just all love and big smiles,” she said. “I just wanted to encourage others, and maybe I could do what he (Tate) did for me.

1 man with a 'Black Lives Matter' sign spurs 20-person demonstration in Du Quoin Saturday

Nicholas Tate and his dad, Ron Tate, at Saturday's protest in Du Quoin. 

All told, about 20 people joined the protest, which went for roughly three hours. One community member offered everyone sweet teas from McDonald’s, and Sonic donated free beverages to the protesters. A mother from Du Quoin brought two children carrying water for them, and joined the protest for a little while. In a Facebook post that evening, Tate said a member of the Du Quoin Police Department stopped by “offering us protection and love in these trying times.” “Shoutout to the men and women in blue upholding the law in our community,” Tate wrote.

Though the protests drawing the most attention are in major cities, Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said that small demonstrations like this are a reminder that people are concerned about issues of fairness and justice in rural towns, too. “Some people think every time someone protests that it’s negative,” Alongi said. “There are times when nonviolent protests can be very effective, and this is the time for everybody to have those conversations in their local communities.”

Tate said the response to the gathering was overwhelmingly positive, though not everyone appreciated their stance. A few people yelled hateful things, calling the protesters monkeys, boys and ignorant. But Tate said that it’s worth nothing that several of the people who joined the protest were white “and they took the heat and stood strong with us.”

Tate said that he has given up trying to explain the injustices that African Americans have faced in America to white people who claim they don’t understand. "We have 400-plus years explaining the condition of our country that certain people still refuse to listen to," he said. “If you don’t want to see it, you’re not going to see it." Racism, he said, is about hate — “it’s a lack of love.”

That’s why he said he appreciated those who did express love to him and the others who gathered. He said he wanted to thank everyone who came out, honked or followed up later with support “for showing Godly unconditional love to fellow humans.”

Photos | Southern Illinoisans hold demonstrations in response to George Floyd's death


On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​


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