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It had been stuck in time culturally, too. Until recently, racism was rarely discussed.
Floyd’s death affected people here deeply, however, and sparked a movement.
“It changed Decorah, in a way where they cannot close off from what is happening all around,” says Maria Leitz, an educator.
But not everyone reacted in the same way.
“People were really sad about it,” says Leitz. “But I was really mad about it.”
Maria Leitz, right, and Nikki Battle are fighting for racial justice in town
As the trial of Derek Chauvin – the former police officer accused in Floyd’s death – unfolds, she pays attention, and watches some of the testimony.
“I do hear snippets,” she says. But she has tried to limit how much she sees: “It’s just so emotional.”
With the trial underway, and as more protests take place in Minneapolis, people here are fighting racism with new energy.
Leitz is now part of a committee – Decorah Human Rights Commission – a group that was established in 2006 to investigate housing and other complaints, but that had languished.
“We’re sorting out what Decorah can do,” she says. She and other members of the commission have encouraged business owners to put specially designed, black-and-white “All Are Welcome” stickers on windows, promoting an accepting environment.
In addition, Leitz helped to organise the town’s Black Lives Matter march, and made posters: “My sign said: ‘Change.'”
Not everybody marched but most supported the idea, reflecting a trend of open-mindedness.
More than half of the people who live in rural areas said they sy