Demonstrators protest police violence and racism in Marshall County Kentucky. (Photo: Courtesy Justin Warren)
“It might just be us and a couple of friends,” she told her husband, who is black, on a recent Wednesday, a fear that seemed all too real after she received threatening social media messages.
Three days later, Davis found herself among 300 residents carrying signs, chanting and marching past the downtown Christian bookstore, Republican Party storefront and old county courthouse. It left her thunderstruck.
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, especially for our county,” she said. “There has never been a civil rights protest here. This was the first one. Ever.”
While attention focused on protests and police clashes in the commonwealth's largest cities, dozens of demonstrations have popped up in rural, largely white towns across Kentucky, underscoring the protests' remarkable resonance.
As of Tuesday, more than 970 protests had taken place in about 400 cities and towns across the country, according to research conducted by the marketing firm Ipsos and teams from the Universities of Chicago and Oxford.
It's particularly notable in deep-red pockets of Kentucky, known as an arch-conservative state, and echoes the trend in small towns across West Virginia, Ohio, Oregon, Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas, academics said.
Hope and Dwaylon Davis, pictured with their children, helped organize a protest over racism and policing in Benton, Ky., part of a series that popped up in rural Kentucky towns. (Photo: Courtesy of Hope Davis)
“I’ve been amazed to see protests spring up in small towns … and a lot that have few African Americans in them, especially in Kentucky,” said Dewey Clayton, a University of Louisville political professor. “It says to me, something is different this time.”
“It seems like there’s a broader willingness for people to do more,” he said, with more realizing that “they’re going to have to do more than just say, I’m personally not racist.”
Protests are 'a pretty moving experience'
From Beaver Dam to Paintsville, residents in rural Kentucky turned out on street corners and town squares, from the handfuls to the hundreds, to publicly join the call to end unequal policing and systemic racism far from liberal, urban cities.