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Community outreach group first to receive grant

August 25, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

A Ku Klux Klan parade and rally planned for Saturday in Sharpsburg has spurred a community coalition that is receiving financial support from a watchdog group.

The Southern Poverty Law Center awarded South Mountain Community Outreach $2,000 under the law center's Ten Ways to Fight Hate community grant program.

South Mountain Community Outreach is a coalition of local residents and private business owners that formed at a July 14 meeting in Keedsyville in response to the planned Klan event.

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Tafeni English, a Southern Poverty Law Center representative, said South Mountain Community Outreach is the first group in the country to receive the grant. She said the center awards grants to community groups that actively respond to activity by hate groups.

English said community silence about such events can send the wrong message.

"People aren't immediately affected. They feel like, if I'm just quiet it will go away. But silence increases the activity by the hate group," English said.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, the Klan is to march on South Hall Street then hold a rally at Lonnie L. Crampton Memorial Park. While the Klan is gathering, South Mountain Community Outreach will sponsor public events in Sharpsburg and neighboring Keedysville.

Group member Shannon French said the organization is not holding a counterprotest, but plans to offer activities that send a message of love, unity and inclusiveness.

"We hope to give youth an alternative to the Klan event, which targets young people," she said.

Local Klan Imperial Wizard Gordon Young said he expects about 100 people at the KKK parade and rally. He said he expects participation from area members of other groups such as the National Alliance, Maryland Skinheads, Keystone State Skinheads, Aryan Nation and Southern White Knights.

Young said he's concerned that the group has received outside financial support.

"When people hear the name Klan, they panic," Young said.

He said the group is not the Klan of the past known for random acts of violence, and the media is largely to blame for the Klan's negative image.

"Today, we are more of a political group to protect white rights," Young said.

Young, a KKK member for 15 years, said the rally will address such topics as gay marriage, affirmative action programs, gun control, border patrol and the influx of immigrants to the United States.

South Mountain Community Outreach has planned the following events:

· A peace and unity picnic will start at 9:30 a.m. with a prayer service at Dunker Church on Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg.

· From 11 a.m. to dusk, there will be a free concert, also at the battlefield, featuring eight bands playing bluegrass, R&B, blues and rock 'n' roll music.

Battlefield Chief Ranger Ed Wenschhof said the picnic is free, but admission fees will apply to people entering the visitors center.

Sharpsburg resident Jerry Randall said he wanted to send a message that the Klan does not represent all Sharpsburg residents. Randall worked with a Shepherdstown, W.Va., promoter to organize the concert.

In Keedysville, activities at Taylor Park will start at noon and be held in conjunction with the annual Keedysville Ruritan Festival. Events include a dance marathon with a $500 cash prize. There also will be children's events, live music and exhibits. At the Keedysville Library, area residents will hold public discussions on peace and tolerance.

Professional mediator Carl French, executive director of the Washington County Community Mediation Center, is part of the coalition. French said the group is receiving assistance from the United States Justice Department and National Park Service.

Reporter Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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