On the list of the last places on earth one might expect to see a Black Lives Matter rally, Vidor might be at the very top. In its earliest days in the 1920s, the East Texas city, ten miles outside of Beaumont, was a Ku Klux Klan hotbed and all-white “sundown town.“ As recently as the 1990s, a very public fight against integration occurred. So when a Twitter account created just a day earlier appeared on Wednesday to promote a Black Lives Matter march in the town, social media users—especially people of color—were suspicious: Some questioned whether the event was a trap, while others shared their stories of ducking down in their backseat while passing through as children. “This is a set up,” one user wrote. “Texas people know if you’re Black you don’t even stop for gas in Vidor.”
Who set this up??????? Why are y’all going to Vidor??!?! Out of all of the places….
Black people…stay away from Vidor. pic.twitter.com/bfS0EMHlzy
— Attorney Marcus Esther (@MarcusEsther_) June 4, 2020
The Twitter account promoting the event, which has since been deleted, belonged to a woman named Maddy Malone. On social media, Malone responded to questions about the event defensively, even as others shared their fears about her town’s history and questioned whether the account belonged to a real person at all.
Malone, 23, is a real person, a fourth-generation Vidorian, and she told Texas Monthly that her interest in holding the event stems from the experiences she had at protests in Galveston earlier in the week. There, she says, she felt the power of a community coming together for a cause she believed in, and wanted to bring that home with her. It won’t just be locals at the march: a representative from the Beaumont NAACP told Texas Monthly that the Reverend Michael Cooper, the chapter president, will be giving the opening prayer at the event.
On the phone, Malone was less defensive than on Twitter. “People in the past have really set our town up for a bad reputation, and I understand why people would be scared to come out,” she told Texas Monthly. Her primary focus, she said, is sending a message to those who live in her town that her generation wants to fight racism.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Texas Monthly: What led you to organize a Black Lives Matter march in Vidor?
Maddy Malone: I went to a few of the protests in my area, and what better time to stand up and speak out against racism and hatred than now? Being raised in Vidor, I have a voice here. I can’t understand why people would hate others for the color of their skin. I don’t understand the police brutality. I don’t understand the racism, the prejudice. It stirs up this sadness inside of me. How is our generation going to be any different, and how is our town ever going to change, if we don’t do something about it?
I’ve had a lot of backlash: everyone’s coming at me sideways from my city, saying ‘Don’t bring that here, don’t do that to us, we don’t want this.’ But it’s just crazy—how are they not seeing what’s right? So this march is to show that there are people here who are going to stand up. If no one’s going to lead, and no one’s going to stand up, why not me?
TM: Are you trying to send a message to Vidor that there are people in their community who care about this, or to the rest of the world that Vidor isn’t racist?
MM: The march serves multiple purposes. One is that I want to honor the life of George Floyd. I want to shake my community and say, ‘Let’s do this, let’s be the voice of change.’ I want the world to see that Vidor isn’t just made up of terrible people who are racist and hate others—that there are some good people here. And not only are there good people here who are white, but there are also people of color here as well [according to 2019 Census estimates, people of color make up 3 percent of Vidor’s population]. So I want to end some of the rumors and say, ‘You can come here, there are people who care about you, we’re going to show the people who are full of hatred that love will overpower them.’
TM: Are you hoping that the people who come will be people from Vidor?
MM: Yes, definitely. I want as many supporters as there are from my community. Anyone can come out there—but if people can come out from my city, they can maybe influence others in their families. If their families see them marching, it can maybe inspire them to come out, and it’s a domino effect.
TM: How many people from your town do you think will come out?
MM: My expectation for this in the beginning was that maybe thirty people would come out. But now it’s in the news, and the NAACP is involved, so I imagine there will be over a hundred people for sure, maybe more.
TM: Will black people who come in from out of town be safe?
MM: It’s going to be a very safe environment. Vidor PD knows what is going on. They’re with us 100 percent. There are going to be multiple officers from town, the sheriff’s going to be out there, the constables, that kind of thing.
TM: What do you say to those who worry about how the police might treat a black protester?
MM: I’ve lived in this community my whole life, so I have an awareness of how people feel about certain situations. The cops who are going to be out there, they’re going to be for us. If someone of color from out of town is placed in a threatening situation, they would defend them as much as they would defend me. They’re on our side. We’re all looking out for one another, and I feel like it’s going to be a really peaceful time. I can’t tell people of color ‘Don’t be scared,’ but I can say that if people come out, they’ll see that we’re trying to change the community.