HISTORIC MARKER

Former members and current supporters cheer the unveiling of the city's historic marker commemorating the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party at the corner of Fifth Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Winston-Salem, N.C. in 2012.

An online petition is asking the city of Winston-Salem to remove a historic marker for the city chapter’s of the Black Panther Party — a sign that the petition says honors a racist and violent organization.

Wayne Pearce started the petition drive at www.change.org , a website that allows people throughout the world to start online petitions for various causes. Pearce’s petition had more than 930 signatures late Wednesday.

Pearce couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The petition demands that the Winston-Salem City Council remove the sign located at the northeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and East Fifth Street.

The petition also mentions a rally two weeks ago in South Carolina in which a leader and members of the Black Panther Party called for killing white people.

On July 18, members of the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panther Party held dueling rallies outside the State Capitol in Columbia, S.C., eight days after the Confederate battle flag was removed the Capitol grounds.

According to news reports, some demonstrators of the New Black Panther Party yelled, “Death to the KKK.”

“We the people feel that it is not in the best interest of the city of Winston-Salem or the state of North Carolina to honor such a racist and violent organization,” the petition says.

The petition drive to remove the marker coincides with a Confederate Pride Ride rally scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Central Park in King. Supporters of a Confederate monument at the Old County Courthouse in Monroe also plan to a hold a rally at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Union County town.

The petition and rallies come at a time when Americans are struggling with race relations in the aftermath of the June 17 shootings in Charleston, S.C., in which Dylann Roof, a white man, is charged with killing nine black members of the Emanuel AME Church. Before the shooting, Roof appeared in photographs displaying the Confederate battle flag.

Michelle McCullough, the city’s historic resource officer, said she didn’t know about the petition asking the city to remove the marker in honor of the Black Panther Party, whose chapter in Winston-Salem began in 1969.

The Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission and the city council approved placing the marker at its location on East Fifth Street in October 2012. More than 100 people, including city officials, attended the ceremony to unveil the marker.

The sign recognizes the Panthers’ social programs, including a free breakfast program for children, an ambulance service and medical screening. “These programs,” the sign reads, “brought meaningful change to Winston-Salem during a time of social and political upheaval and lent validation to the Chapter's slogan, ‘Power to the People — Right On!”

McCullough said that Citylink received a phone call on July 15 from Brian Queen of Winston-Salem who said he wanted the city to remove the marker.

“I got nothing against black people,” Queen said Wednesday. “I just said it needed to come down.”

Queen added that he will sign Pearce’s petition.

Nelson Malloy, a former member of the local Black Panther Party and a former city council member, declined to comment Wednesday on the petition. Malloy said that petition signers might have confused the New Black Panther Party with the original Black Panther Party.

Malloy said he is a member of the Black Panther Party Alumni Association.

Nationally, the Black Panther Party was founded in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., in response to police brutality and became an icon of militant counter-culture efforts to address racial inequality and oppression.

“None of our members would go to South Carolina and talk crazy like that,” Malloy said, referring the chants of the demonstrators with the New Black Panther Party at its South Carolina rally.

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