Residents cheer as Kentucky town rejects mosque
Town was site of historic 1896 ‘race war’
For Mayfield’s zoning board, it was about parking spaces. For the 250 residents of this western Kentucky town who reportedly cheered when the zoning board rejected a building permit for a new mosque, it was clearly about something else.
On Tuesday night, the Mayfield Board of Zoning Adjustment rejected a request from a local Somali group to build a mosque along the city’s East Broadway, a strip of commercial and industrial properties. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the board rejected the mosque application because of concerns there wouldn’t be enough parking in the area. (The area in question is pictured on the right.)
The Paducah Sun reports that some 250 area residents, packed into the hearing, “cheered” when the board announced its decision.
Now some observers suspect more than parking space concerns fueled the board’s decision, and the Courier-Journal reports that the American Civil Liberties Union is “trying to get more information” about the decision.
What’s more, the Courier-Journal reports the Somali group that had petitioned for a zoning variance to allow the mosque to be built weren’t present at the time of the decision — because security had refused them entry, not realizing they were the people behind the project. The C-J reported:
The Paducah Sun and WPSD-TV reported they did come, but were initially denied entrance because the room was full and officers did not realize they were there to represent the project. When the mistake was recognized, officials searched for them outside the building but could not find them, according to the reports.
The C-J reports that Mayfield has a Somali community numbering in the hundreds, who arrived last year to take up work at a local chicken processing plant.
Jeff Keith, a pastor at the First Baptist Church in Mayfield, told the C-J he hoped the Somali group could find another location for the mosque, so that the community wouldn’t feel “unwelcome.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mayfield … is a very neighborly area,Ã¢â‚¬Â he told the newspaper.
But that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, the western Kentucky town has an illustrious history of politically-motivated bannings and racial tensions.
In 1986, the local school board banned William Faulkner’s 1930 literary classic As I Lay Dying, after a parent complained the book is an example of “secular humanism.”
And towards the end of 1896, Mayfield was the site of what the New York Times dubbed at the time “the Kentucky race war.” The University of Kentucky Libraries database describes the incident like this:
A couple of days before Christmas 1896, white citizens of Mayfield, KY, were preparing for an attack in response to a report that up to 250 armed African Americans were seeking revenge for the lynching of Jim Stone and the “whitecapping” of African American families. The reports had come from Water Valley and Wingo, KY, and other nearby towns. White women and children in Mayfield were ordered off the street by 6:00 p.m. Homes were barricaded. A dispatch was sent to Fulton, KY, asking for a reinforcement of white men, and guards were posted at the railroad station. When a report arrived stating that African Americans were also arming themselves in Paducah, KY, the fire bell was rung in Mayfield and a defense was positioned in the public square to await the attack. The reinforcements from Fulton arrived by train a little after midnight. Will Suett, an 18-year-old African American, was also at the train station and was gunned down. Shots were fired at three other African Americans. Hundreds of shots were fired into buildings and into the trees. Four homes were burnt down. By Christmas Eve, the threat was over. The reinforcements were sent home. A mass meeting was called, and a petition signed by more than 100 African Americans asked for peace between the races. Three people had been killed, one being Will Suett, who had arrived by train from St. Louis; he was returning home to spend Christmas with his family in Mayfield.