KKK rallies at Harpers Ferry

group hosts counter-rally

November 30, 1999|By TARA REILLY

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. ? Amid yells of "white power" by Ku Klux Klan members and counterprotests calling for death to white supremacists on Saturday, a celebration promoting peace and love was taking place just up the street.

A group of churches sponsored Fall Festival at Bolivar Community Park in Bolivar, W.Va., an event meant to encourage and celebrate harmony among neighbors.

"There were children everywhere," said Alexis Coleman, pastor of Camp Hill-Wesley and Engle United Methodist churches, both in Harpers Ferry. "It was great. They were just laughing and running, and that's what life is about. It should be a celebration."

Coleman estimated 150 to 200 people turned out for the event. Those numbers appeared to be more than the Klan or counterprotesters drew a short distance away at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.


Local United Methodist, Episcopalian and Lutheran churches formed a coalition called Love Your Neighbor, which sponsored the festival, Coleman said. Once word was out about the event, other churches decided to participate, she said.

She said it was important for Love Your Neighbor to hold the event Saturday to keep children away from the shouting taking place in Harpers Ferry.

"Why do people want to do that?" Coleman said. "There's a better way to work out your problems than yelling things to one another. Why you want to spend your time doing that is beyond me."

Love Your Neighbor's festival included a chili cook-off, pumpkin painting, pumpkin carving and face and nail painting.

Coleman called it a successful ecumenical event.

"We're all part of the community," Coleman said. "I think people had a really good time getting to know one another."

The scene wasn't as joyous in lower Harpers Ferry near the train station at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

A small group of World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan members held a rally, which, for the most part, consisted of shouting Klan views over a loud speaker.

Shouts of "white power," criticism of the media and calls for an all-white America could be heard. Other statements blamed minorities for the ills of society.

A small group of supporters stood several yards away, some of whom held up a large Confederate flag as the Klan spoke.

Nearby, Klan protesters shouted "Death to the Klan." Some waved Communist flags, and others held signs calling for violence against white supremacists. Some signs contained vulgarities, and others called Klan members "scum" and described them as a "human waste."

Katherine Kirkland drove about an hour from Lorton, Va., to oppose the Klan. She said she did not believe in racism.

"Being here is better than not doing anything," Kirkland said. "You have to let them know there's opposition."

Liam Madden, 22, of Quantico, Va., held a sign that said, "Hate ignorance."

He said a friend asked him to attend what was his first "anti-racist" protest.

"Racism is something that needs to be opposed," Madden said.

Madden didn't say whether he agreed with what the counterprotesters were saying, but said, "I agree with anything that is against racism."

A number of police, some on horses, and park rangers were on hand to keep the scene under control.

Lt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Park Police declined to say how many police were at the park because of security purposes, he said. The U.S. Park Police has staffed other Klan rallies at national parks, including at Antietam National Battlefield in June and at Gettysburg (Pa.) National Military Park last month, he said.

He said Saturday's rallies didn't result in many problems, but that two juveniles were taken into custody by the Harpers Ferry Police Department for wearing masks. He said wearing masks is illegal in West Virginia.

"We want to make sure everyone is safe," Fear said.

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