From being called the N-word on the streets to being stared at in local stores, the Black residents in this small town don’t have the privilege of staying hidden. Here, their racial identity prevents them from opening doors that others in the community didn’t even know could close. The Black community has endured racism that much of Monmouth chooses to ignore.
Having grown up in small towns across the country, Pastor Frank Morris, 61, maintains that this city is unlike anything he’s experienced before. He’s lived in Monmouth since 1994 and detailed that some of the first encounters he had in the city were incredibly vicious. “I worked the graveyard shift for a while at Circle K,” said Morris. “While I was there, within a 15 month period, there were four occasions where life could have gotten very violent. People coming in to buy beer and they didn’t like the N-word telling them that they can’t buy beer. Or the, ‘you don’t talk like a Black person so I’m going to come back there and fix you.’ attitude.”
Morris recounts one specific incident in which customers at his place of work became hostile and aggressive because he refused to sell them alcohol since they appeared to be under the influence. He also recounts that that incident was the only time he trusted the Monmouth Police Department to help him. “That was the first and only time that I relied on the police to take care of me,” said Morris. “I will not typically call the police because of the extra attention that I receive being a Black person.”
During his 27 years in the city, Morris has become well-known in the community for his role as a pastor at New Life Ministries. During his service, InnerCup, he challenges his predominantly white attendees to acknowledge the microaggressions and implicit biases that Black people face in the city, admitting that more often than not, his integrity as a pastor is challenged as well. “Here in a small town, people don’t have nearly the awareness that I do,” said Morris. “If I were to speak at my level, they won’t get it. So, I come down and speak at their level and try to push them up so that they understand where I’m coming from.”
He explains that members of the community don’t acknowledge that the little comments and “jokes” made at the expense of Black people aren’t just words. “If someone confronts me, my first reaction is fists up and I don’t physically do it but their reaction is always, ‘Oh, I was just kidding’,” said Morris. “No, you weren’t. You don’t understand that that’s not joking in my language and in my experience. What you just did, what you just said is a violent action.”
With such a small Black population, Morris feels that the city lacks the Black representation and leadership that would force other residents to recognize how widespread the injustices really are. Similar to the sentiments expressed by Salinas-Oliveros, Morris thinks that Monmouth residents would much rather have the Black community stay quiet and hidden.
“But now you’re hearing us and in hearing us don’t push us off to the side again,” said Morris. “We can improve your lives if you choose to listen to what we are saying. And that’s me. I’m going to be the one that’s heard. Like it or not, I’m still here. Like it or not, I’m going to keep spewing these things at you.”