Derry actor and civil rights activist Vincent Coyle has spoken of his abhorrence at the racial hatred which has resulted in recent tragedies in America following his visit to South Carolina to help address such issues.
Mr Coyle was a special guest at the first Justice System Awareness and International Day of Reconciliation at State House Capitol in South Carolina recently.
He was also in the State to act in a new civil rights film, ‘There Is No Right Way To Do Wrong’, an awareness project developed by acclaimed US author and film-maker Terrence Gallman.
The Day of Reconciliation had been launched back in march to reduce the risk of mass incarceration and divisions between communities.
During his time in South Carolina, Mr Coyle and Mr Gallman met with lawmakers, Mayors, church congregations, and diverse communities to begin what they have termed the “big conversation” to promote healing and reconciliation.
His trip occurred prior to the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police in cases like Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore- tragedies which caused shockwaves across the world.
The recent, racially motivated mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, happened close to where Mr Coyle and Mr Gallman were focusing their work and were filming.
Mr Gallman has made it his mission to educate his community on how the justice system works to proactively prevent more tragic occurrences. He enlisted the help of Mr Coyle to champion his cause.
The film ‘There Is No Right Way To Do Wrong’ is adapted from the play written by Terrence Gallman and incorporates his own book detailing his incarceration, ‘Finding Me’.
While the Day of Reconciliation was deemed a major success, Mr Coyle said that in the wake of the church shootings, the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and a planned rally by them on the same Capitol steps later this month was exacerbating an already volatile situation.
“This is raising the fears and the tension,” he said. “The KKK on the road again puts the fear into the black community.
“When I was there we started filming the justice awareness film, ‘There Is No Right Way to Do Wrong’ which goes from the death of Martin Luther King to where we are today, 50 years on.
“While I was there I took part in International Day of Reconciliation where a huge crowd turned out- the Mayor of Columbia (Steve Benjamin), Bishop (Ted Myers), whose congregation represents over 300 Protestant churches, the Catholic priest (Father Sandy McDonald) and we were accompanied there by the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernia, who turned out. The only flag on the State House Capitol steps was the Derry flag, the oak for St Columba, because that’s the chapter.
“I handed over what former Mayor of Derry Brenda Stevenson had given to me to the Mayor as a hand of friendship from one city known for civil rights to another- we are known through John Hume, Ivan Cooper, Vinny Coyle (senior)- and we were sort of alerted to Civil Rights by Martin Luther King.
“It was a sort of hands across, a hand of friendship from Derry, saying ‘we are with you’, that Ireland is there standing strong with you, especially with Carolina, as the No Go area for civil rights was South Carolina.
“To think 150 years after the Civil War the Confederate flag still flew on State House Capitol grounds. It is a sign of fear for the black community, they told me.
“After I was there the conversation about the flag began, and the question was raised, as a reconciling movement, would they move the flag to a museum. We basically have the same problem here over flags.
“For me to see that flag was like for me to see it on the roof of the Guildhall. How would Derry people react?
“Maybe next year and we are already organising next year’s for the 28th March, we can have moved on and reconciled ourselves to a better future but also reconciled to the past and history.”
He said they had also been putting together a TV programme about his visit in America which it is hoped will be aired nationally focusing on not just the visit but the link with the song ‘Amazing Grace’, which coincidentally President Obama led mourners in reciting in the wake of the South Carolina killings in Charleston.
The President also echoed the sentiments expressed earlier during the launch of the Day of Reconciliation.
The success of the Justice System Awareness and International Day of Reconciliation has garnered the attention and support of Newberry College, one of the US’ most notables historical education institutions.
Speaking after the South Carolina Senate on Tuesday voted to remove the Confederate flag, Mr Gallman told the Journal: “While we welcome the solution to relocate the flag from the State House we stood and started an annual Justice System Awareness and International Day of Reconciliation in March to begin the conversation.
“This is intended to remove the ills and prejudices from the past, present, and future that has created social and economic injustices that for too long caused tax payers too much money, disadvantage people their freedom, lives, and the opportunity to make this great land promising for all. This land is not just for those who harvest bountifully from the blood, sweat and tears of the disadvantaged.”