Racial Incident Flares in Middleburg African-American Families Harassed

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

Mary Blocker and her three teenagers have lived in a rural, blue-collar neighborhood in Middleburg for the past 3 1/2 years. But because of the color of their skin, she now wonders if it's safe for them to continue living there.

Blocker and her children are African-Americans in an almost exclusively white community. Though they experienced some incidents of racism during their first year or so, Blocker said, the problem escalated a few weeks ago.

About 8:15 p.m. on April 15, shortly after she had arrived home from work at an orthopedic clinic in Jacksonville, she heard a commotion outside her Cinnamon Street residence. When she and her kids, a 13-year-old daughter and 15- and 16-year-old sons, walked out to the front yard she saw something that both frightened and angered her.

"There were like 15 trucks parked in front of my house," she said. "I stood in the middle of my yard wondering what's going on. I heard racial slurs . . . and somebody said, 'Let's kill the . . . '"

All the faces they saw in the pickups were white, she said, and one of her sons recognized a couple of them as fellow students from Middleburg High School. She said someone in one of the trucks threatened to use bats to beat her children, though no physical assaults occurred.

The standoff ended when two of the trucks "proceeded to turn around in my yard . . . " Blocker said. She went back into her house and called 911. By the time an officer from the Clay County Sheriff's Office arrived, the pickup trucks were gone -- but not for long.

"They came back two more nights and drove through my yard again," Blocker said. "They didn't have their lights on. Now they're flying the rebel flags on their trucks."

Similar incidents, she said, have been occurring at another black family's home several blocks away in another neighborhood on South Dolphin Avenue where Shirley Turner lives with her children. Turner said she grew up in Middleburg and never experienced the kind of racial harassment and threats that she and her children have faced lately.

White youths in pickup trucks, she said, have driven past her home and through her front yard on more than one occasion, yelling obscenities and waving Confederate flags.

The question she and Blocker want answered is when are law enforcement authorities going to put an end to the harassment and threats. Officers issued warnings to several white students involved in the April 15 incident at Blocker's home and talked to their parents about it, but Blocker said the harassment has continued and nobody has been arrested. …