The June 23 Board of Aldermen meeting had many areas of conversation focused around a recent Branson Black Lives Matter protest against a store that sells Confederate flag merchandise.
A proclamation was even issued by Branson Mayor Edd Akers to promote unity and condemn hate speech.
The proclamation stemmed from a viral video taken during a Sunday, June 21 protest outside of Dixie Outfitters, that featured a woman draped in a Confederate battle flag who stated “I will teach my grandkids to hate you all,” “suck on this” while shaking the flag and “KKK belief.”
The aldermen meeting began with public comments, which is a designated time to allow residents to share their voice on community issues.
Several individuals spoke about the protests and about Dixie Outfitters on 76 Country Blvd.
“Since Sunday’s protest at Dixie Outfitters, where active members of the KKK and League of the South counter-protested, there is now a ‘Boycott Branson’ hashtag trend going viral and a video with nearly 10 million views,” stated one of the public commenters. “The world is watching Branson and aware of where our community stands at the moment on symbolic racism and hatred. Is this what we want for Branson, or can we make the change and move forward as a community to make Branson truly welcoming for people local and tourists alike? This is our chance to do what’s right.”
Another individual spoke directly about Dixie Outfitters and their presence on the widely traveled 76 Country Blvd.
“So ask yourself this, why is Dixie Outfitters allowed to be on 76 after all the information that has been given to you?’ she asked. “Let me remind you that the counter-protests in support of Dixie Outfitters brought in members of KKK and League of the South who supports Dixie Outfitters as well. The Confederate flag incites violence and that many historians, political scientists, states the flag itself is a symbol for racism, slavery and division. How is that a welcoming family-friendly community? For our tourists that come visit this town, which includes 76 being the main attraction, what message are we sending as a community allowing that to happen in the entertainment district?
“This particular business is despicable, especially due to the ownership and what they represent. Cleaning up 76 Blvd by removing all visible Confederate memorabilia from the entertainment district is imperative. Zoning regulations need to be reevaluated. Change needs to happen in this town.”
Her comment about the owners refers to media reports that a co-owner of the business worked in the 1990s to adopt a highway in Arkansas on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan.
One individual requested immediate responses from the aldermen regarding their views of the KKK, which got the following response from Alderman Larry Milton.
“I despise the KKK,” responded Milton. “I despise any organization that is violent and violent towards people for the simple reason of the color of their skin. I don’t believe that organization should be in the United States of America, maybe not the world. So, my personal opinion is I see no room in the United States for the KKK and those that have those beliefs.”
Others waited until a designated time at the end of the meeting reserved for aldermen to report on a variety of issues. Then, other aldermen, the mayor and city administrator voiced their opinions, which ranged from disapproval of the KKK, disgust regarding the tactics that led to the death of George Floyd and concern of outside influences on the city of Branson. No city official directly addressed Dixie Outfitters or the Confederate flag.
“Being from the South and knowing the history of the KKK and the other issues we talk about has been very, very painful,” said Alderman Bill Skains. “It almost brought me to tears to sit there and listen to that lady (who) said that she hated people and that she wanted to teach her children and grandchildren to hate. That’s very painful. This community, that does not represent us by any means and the strongest means. It does not. I agree with Larry, I abhor the Ku Klux Klan, exactly what you said. I think we need to publicly renounce her statement and condemn exactly the same. That is not our community, that is not what we stand for. We stand up and we salute the flag and we say that we’re going to protect all rights, and then something like this happens.... I do not wish to be silent, I do not think this board should be silent. We need to very strongly say that we don’t like what’s happened.”
City Administrator Stan Dobbins, who was Branson’s police chief before taking over as city administrator, condemned the police tactics used in the case of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota and talked about his time training police officers in defensive tactics.
“I’m going to say something that some of you won’t be happy to hear, but I’m going to say it anyway. That woman was appalling in her behavior we were talking about. I’ve been a police officer for 40 years. I’ve arrested members of the Ku Klux Klan, and I’m not going to tell you I’m sorry that I did it,” said Dobbins. “But, I’m going to tell you this: My son-in-law’s black. He comes to this town all the time and never has a problem. Not one. So it makes me wonder where all the mouths and voices come from that say, ‘oh my God, the city of Branson has a problem,’ when you can drive 30 miles down the road and be in Harrison, Arkansas. If you want to find the Ku Klux Klan, you go to Harrison, Arkansas.
“I am proud of this community, I am proud of the people that live here, I am proud of everything that we do and every one of the members of this police department does everyday to protect everyone’s right to speak. I am perturbed and angry with what occurred with George Floyd. That man should have never died. It was a tragedy. I have been a police officer for 40 years. I trained officers in the police department academy in defensive tactics. There is no defensive tactics ever taught on the face of the earth that I’m aware of that tells you to put a knee on a man’s neck and hold him there. That’s wrong. We address the problem, we do not become the problem. We address problems by communicating with one another.”
At the every end of the meeting Akers discusses the effects of outside influences on the city of Branson.
“This has been a very difficult time for lots of people. I guess I’m concerned watching the video, watching others who were there. It seemed like there were a lot of people that I didn’t recognize as Branson people,” said Akers. “I don’t know whether it was staged that this lady came into town. We can’t find out who she is. She gave a name, but apparently a fictitious name. It’s sad that we have the outside influences that we’re having that are coming into the community and causing issues for us.”
Although the woman in question gave a different name to a reporter, an online profile shows that her name is Kathy Jenkins and she is from the Branson area.
On Wednesday, Dixie Outfitters posted a comment on their Facebook page, criticizing the categorization of the protests as peaceful.
“Thank you all, for the support you have shown, from people calling around the country, to locals stopping in to say they love our little T-shirt shop!” the post stated. “A lot of media attention has been brought to our store. Not by OUR actions or words. We have not spoken to the media, for the simple fact they MISREPRESENT the true, as you are seeing now. No one has spoken to the media, that represents OUR store. These socialists & antarchists , that hate America, hate Christian values. came to our town, While we were closed, trying to instigate violence! Claiming to be peaceful protestors, but the part you did not see in the “media”, was anything but that! You can not believe the media folks! These “peaceful” protestors have burned churches, taken over police departments, dragged people from their cars, looted, destroyed towns, torn down historical statues....yet the media & weak-minded politicians STILL call them “peaceful protestors”!
The Branson Police Department, and Mayor Edd Akers, have both issued statements that all seven protests that have taken place in Branson, including both protests at Dixie Outfitters, have been peaceful.