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Bill Kirby Jr.: Fayetteville woman making documentary about Market House fire

“The exposure could be a great opportunity for reconciliation and healing,” Tanesha Hendley says.


Far too many of us remember that spring evening of 2020 when a downtown march over the death of George Floyd turned destructive and left the historic Market House ablaze.

Tanesha Hendley, 38, remembers all too well.

“I was there with my brother,” she says of the night of May 30, 2020. “We were just there. We were not in the middle of the protest.”

She remembers seeing J. Cole, the rapper from Fayetteville, and Dennis Smith, another Fayetteville native of professional basketball acclaim, joining with Mayor Mitch Colvin walking down Hay Street with protesters toward the Market House.

There was tension nationwide, including in this community, over the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Protesters claimed police brutality and reminded us that “Black Lives Matter,” and they were saying as much at the Market House after an earlier protest along Skibo Road.

“It started so peaceful,” Hendley says about the downtown protest.

It later turned violent.

“I remember when somebody first threw something and I heard a window crack,” she says about the Market House. “And the crowd was in shock. That’s one of the reasons I left.”

Hendley says her brother saw that she got to her automobile in the nearby parking garage on Franklin Street. Once home, Hendley says she watched video and television reports of the fire at the Market House.

“I was kind of shocked,” she says. “I called my brother. We both were kind of shocked about it.”

When dawn arrived Sunday morning, the Market House was a structure of broken windows and char and scars. Other downtown businesses were also damaged. A community couldn’t believe the destruction of the night before. The Market House still remains shuttered and surrounded by fencing.

That May 30, 2020, evening polarized a community.

“Black Lives Matter,” members of the African American community and others cried out.

“All Lives Matter,” others countered.

And the Market House, where slaves once were sold, has become a focal point of controversy, with some wanting it demolished and others arguing it can be repurposed to tell its story for generations to come.

Documentary with a purpose

“I am learning that the protests,” Hendley says, “exposed a deep chasm in our community.”

A 2005 graduate of Fayetteville State University and a former Cumberland County Schools elementary teacher, Hendley found herself doing a lot of thinking about May 30, 2020, during the pandemic.

“I decided to take a film class and focus on the protest because I believe that the community was still dealing with the aftermath,” she says. “The film class I took was virtual and sponsored by the Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement in New York.”

Part of the class is to ultimately come up with an idea for a video or film documentary. Riley Wilson, the class instructor, listened as Hendley discussed her thoughts for a documentary.

“He said it sounded like a good idea,” she says.

Hendley began reaching out almost a year ago to people in the community for their thoughts on the protest that got so out of hand as police and firefighters followed orders to stand down as the Market House burned.

“So far, I have included footage of the protests and interviewed activist groups such as the Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce, the now-defunct Ville’s Voice, Let’s Make It Happen,” she says. “I was scheduled to interview the mayor, but that has not happened yet. I have also reached out to City Council members and more business owners downtown.” 

She also hopes to interview Police Chief Gina Hawkins.

“If we are able to get the profile together,” Hendley says, “I hope it encourages more people from both sides of the aisle to participate.”


Hendley believes her work can be informative with a positive purpose.

“We all see the headlines,” she says. “Maybe there is something beyond the headlines on both sides of the argument. Police brutality and social ills should not rob people of their humanity or the humanity of anyone else. We all share a common thread. We don’t have to diminish who we are. We have to look at the common thread because if we don’t, it will hurt us all. We have to address the issues and come together. We can’t push it under a rug. You’ve got to have a little bit of faith.”

Hendley hopes to have her documentary complete by spring.

“I’ve grown to love Fayetteville,” Hendley says. “The exposure could be a great opportunity for reconciliation and healing. However, I have not seen that yet. It’s a lack of empathy. … We need more listening or it’s not going away. The issue just festers. We need more listening, and we need to listen to everybody.”

Hendley has a documentary to finish.

And she has a story to tell to bring out the best of a community for all of us.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Market House, fire, documentary