On the same day a 3rd District Congressional candidate condemned the apparent unauthorized removal of two racially provocative billboards, he found himself being condemned by two Cleveland-based …
On the same day a 3rd District Congressional candidate condemned the apparent unauthorized removal of two racially provocative billboards, he found himself being condemned by two Cleveland-based organizations, one of whom called the campaign signage “offensive, irresponsible and racist.”
The latter reaction is credited to the leaders and membership of the Bradley County NAACP, whose collective voice was heard through the words of its chapter president, RaSharon King.
In a separate statement submitted to the Cleveland Daily Banner at about the same time, 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc. President Jonathan Porter challenged elected leaders in Cleveland, Bradley County, neighboring jurisdictions and throughout the district to speak out against Tyler’s advertising practices.
The 100 Black Men of Bradley County statement is published verbatim in an accompanying news story published in this edition of the Banner.
Before their removal — which reportedly occurred shortly after their placement — the billboards featured messages like “Make America White Again” (Highway 411 between Ocoee and Benton), and “I Have A Dream” (Highway 64 in Bradley County), the latter of which depicted the White House surrounded by a row of Confederate battle flags. Both billboards were apparently sponsored — and paid for — by Ocoee resident Rick Tyler who lists himself as an Independent candidate seeking the 3rd Congressional District seat now held by Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican.
While Tyler was hosting a press conference Monday afternoon at the site of the now-unused billboard, the two Bradley County organizations were making their own voices heard.
In her remarks — spoken on behalf of the local NAACP chapter — King called the billboards “counter-productive,” and charged that their messaging “does not represent the interests of those he [Tyler] would be required to serve, should he be elected.”
King also described the Miami native — who has a background of past unsuccessful political campaigns — as being “unfit” to serve as an elected public official.
The full text of King’s statement is published below:
“The Bradley County NAACP is opposed to the ‘Make America White Again’ billboard that was posted in Polk County by Rick Tyler. The billboard is offensive, irresponsible and racist. The statement on the billboard is counter-productive and does not represent the interests of those he would be required to serve, should he be elected. Moreover, this type of remark renders Rick Tyler or anyone making such a remark, as unfit to serve as an elected public official.
“The Bradley County NAACP finds Rick Tyler's comments deplorable. We urge all citizens of good will to reject such vile viewpoints and we encourage the voters of Bradley and Polk counties to hold him accountable at the ballot box.”
A brief look at the NAACP’s history closes King’s statement.
“Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors,” she cites.
Although it is not the first statement condemning Tyler’s practices since the billboards were unveiled last week, the NAACP’s response is one of two to emerge from Cleveland and Bradley County, alongside the detailed reaction by 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc.
Shortly after word — and photographs — of the billboards began dominating social media and mainstream media circuits, Fleischmann’s office released the following statement, “I totally and unequivocally condemn the billboard and Mr. Tyler’s message and will vigorously fight any form of racism in the 3rd District of Tennessee.”
A Polk County civic organization — the Kiwanis Club of Ocoee — also condemned Tyler’s billboards by calling them “repugnant.”
Before the billboard messages were erected, the Kiwanis Club there had held its luncheons at the Whitewater Grill, an Ocoee eatery listing Tyler as its principal owner. In a statement on behalf of the Kiwanis Club of Ocoee, President Chris Newton said the civic group would terminate its relationship with the restaurant.
In the June 23 edition of the Banner, Newton announced the organization’s intent.
“Due to recent statements and overtly racist billboards by the principal owner of the Whitewater Grill in Ocoee (Tyler) and himself a declared Independent candidate for Congress, the Kiwanis Club of Ocoee will never meet there again,” Newton said. “We are a civic club of inclusion and not exclusion, and find these statements repugnant. As a citizen of Polk County, I, Chris Newton, will never personally be back to this establishment.”
Newton pledged the Kiwanis Club would find a new meeting venue.
The former state representative pointed to a personal sadness at these types of developments within his Polk County community.
“As a former elected official and a native of Polk County, I hate to see our county being in the news for this type of publicity,” he said. “We have so much more to offer to visitors and to our residents.”
At his press conference Monday, Tyler told newsmen he will place a cross at the site of the “Make America White Again” billboard and its message will read, “Rest in Peace, First Amendment.”
Tyler also vowed to replace the disassembled billboards, though not in the same locations. On his campaign website, and in prior interviews, Tyler has indicated he wants to erect similar signage across the 11-county district which includes all or parts of Anderson, Bradley, Campbell, Hamilton, McMinn, Monroe, Morgan, Polk, Roane, Scott and Union counties.
In the same press conference where he brandished an unloaded AR-style assault weapon — which he said will be given away as part of a future campaign fundraiser — Tyler denied claims that he is a racist.
“What do they mean?” he offered at the outdoor briefing which was attended by three Chattanooga-based TV stations, one newspaper and a handful of area residents. “It seems that nobody can define racism in a coherent, systematical manner.”
An editorial published in the Cleveland Daily Banner in its June 26 edition also condemned the Tyler billboards.
An excerpt from the opinion piece reads, “Your words, Mr. Tyler ... your billboards ... epitomize the wrongs of past oppressors, unthinking and misguided legions like the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis of Adolf Hitler and the murderers calling themselves al-Qaida and the Islamic State. Your search for a better world doesn’t fall on deaf ears. But your approach leaves us dumbfounded.”
Also on Monday, Tyler said his future plans include a campaign bus on whose sides he’ll reprint the billboard messaging that was previously taken down. Those who oppose his messaging he described in the press conference as “ ... enemies of the First Amendment.”
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