What Happens When Dave Chappelle Buys Up Your Town
As Chappelle’s comedy made him a controversial figure nationally, some of his Ohio neighbors have been getting mad, too.
By Tyler J. Kelley
America’s most reclusive comedian isn’t hard to find. Dave Chappelle hangs around downtown, buys coffee and shops like any other resident of Yellow Springs, Ohio. He smokes cigarettes and chats with passersby. He knows people, and they know him.
Yellow Springs is a special place. “Growing up here, literally on any given Saturday or Sunday, in any house that you walked into, there was going to be someone who was Jewish, someone who was an atheist, someone from a different country, somebody who was a person of color,” says Carmen Brown, a Black village council member whose family has lived in the town for 150 years. “There was going to be a clown, an astrophysicist, a janitor and a doctor—all hanging out.” Chappelle is a product of this environment, this culture of “discourse without discord,” she says.
A sign at First Presbyterian Church sums up village politics: “10:30 a.m. Sunday, an eco-feminist interpretation of Genesis 1:3, in person, masks required.” Chappelle has called Yellow Springs, population 3,700, “a Bernie Sanders island in a Trump sea.” The town was a stop on the underground railroad and an early home for formerly enslaved people who’d bought or escaped with their freedom. Coretta Scott King was one of the first Black pupils at Antioch College, the famously liberal outpost where Chappelle’s father, Bill, taught in the music department and co-founded the civil rights organization Help Us Make a Nation, or H.U.M.A.N.