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‘I’m done’: Fairhaven selectman says he will not seek reelection due to racism

In October, Leon Correy announced in an emotional Facebook post that he would not be seeking reelection.

Selectman Leon Correy, fourth from left, and Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison, third from left, at a Fairhaven Town Meeting in November. Town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts

Fairhaven, a town of 16,000 on the South Coast of Massachusetts, is known for its Colonial Era settlers, whalers and sailors, an American Revolution battle, and European-style public buildings.

It’s also 95 percent white, according to the 2022 census

Leon Correy, the chair of the town’s Select Board, has lived in Fairhaven for seven years with his wife and two children. In 2022, he was elected to the board. Before that, he founded the Belonging Committee, aimed at addressing diversity and inclusion in the town.

Correy, 46, said he is the first Black person ever elected as a selectman in the town. He’s finishing his two-year term in April, but in October, he announced in an emotional Facebook post that he would not seek reelection due to what he describes as racism and microaggressions he has faced as a town official. 

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“‘Hey Leon, nice house I thought you were poor. Why is he flexing about his education in a meeting that has nothing to do with him? Ironic a black man holding the same fire hoses that used to spray his people during the civil rights movement. He serves us, know your place and shut your mouth. I like you, you’re one of the productive ones,’” Correy wrote on Facebook on Oct. 28. “These are just examples of the things I have heard over the 17 months that I have been in service of a town that people thought was progressive.”

“Some of these statements are from people who thought they were progressive. Some were statements from people who voted for me. All are racist whether or not that’s their intention.”

Correy told Boston.com he chose to post on Facebook to educate residents about their actions and inactions.

“There’s never been a leader figure of color in the town,” he said. “In theory, I think the town thought it was more progressive or more liberal than it actually is. Then, when you got some people of color in positions of leadership, it’s been a learning lesson in who the town really is.”

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Correy described multiple instances where residents used racist slurs, targeted aggressions, or sometimes subtle microaggressions. He said after a Town Meeting, a man started yelling at him and had to be physically restrained by police, and that there are “secret Facebook groups” that target him and the town administrator, who is also Black.

“Acknowledging that there is a race problem in a town means just that,” Correy said. “It doesn’t mean everybody in the town is a racist.” 

Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison said she is the only Black woman running a municipality anywhere in Massachusetts. She and Correy make up the extent of town leaders of color in Fairhaven.

“He’s been incredible and very supportive and also very in tune with the community needs and wants,” Lopes Ellison said of Correy.

She said she’s disappointed he’s chosen to not run again.

“I’ve been trying to convince him otherwise,” she said. “I understand his decision.”

Racist graffiti found on Rogers School

A few weeks after Correy’s announcement, graffiti was found at the historic Rogers School that included the n-word, phallic images, and other expletives.

“I took that to be a sign that our community’s not really where it needs to be,” Lopes Ellison said. “Some people were justifying it that it’s just kids being kids, but it’s not kids. It’s adults that have taught these children.”

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Correy posted about the incident on Facebook, and said in an interview that Fairhaven officials worked quickly to remove the graffiti.

“I really appreciate the head of facilities because it was close to a playground, he couldn’t use or he chose not to use the acid that he would normally use to remove it,” Correy said. “He had to remove it by hand with just good old fashioned elbow grease.”

After the Rogers School graffiti, Lopes Ellison recommended to town officials to read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, followed by an entire reading list aimed at addressing the impact of racism.

Selectman Robert Espindola told Boston.com he read the book in an effort to learn more about racism.

“I … will just say that I respect Selectman Correy’s decision,” he wrote in an email.

Lopes Ellison, who has been town administrator for about a year-and-a-half, said she is seeing an active effort from many elected officials.

“It’s not the entire community but when the loud voices are what you hear, it becomes degrading,” she said.

Correy said he won’t return to public politics but is looking to run for a state democratic committee seat. He told Boston.com there’s a lesson for people of color in his story as well: “You don’t have to take it.”

“I am not letting the bad people win,” Correy wrote on Facebook. “This is 2023, not 1963. I don’t have to fight for you. My life is fine. I can pack my bags and move to another town. I can walk away from this town and never look back. I am a fighter and I was willing to fight with you but I am not willing to fight for you. I am not willing to fight everybody.”

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