Events held to promote peace, unity

August 29, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

SHARPSBURG - Of all the reasons Elena Smidt did not want the Ku Klux Klan to come to Sharpsburg - among them the facts that she could not park on her street and that Klansmen would march by her home - one was more difficult than all of the others.

"The hardest thing was to explain to my daughter the meaning of intolerance," Smidt said. "Basically, I told her that it's people that don't want to be with you just because you're not like them."

Smidt's 8-year-old daughter, Amanda Frey, immediately grasped the concept.

"'That's not fair' was her answer," said Smidt.

Smidt took her daughter to a peace and unity rally Saturday afternoon at Antietam National Battlefield.

She was joined by others who sought a nonconfrontational outlet to express their opposition to the KKK rally.

The event was one of several in Washington County on Saturday that countered the KKK rally.


Another peace and unity gathering was held at Taylor Park in Keedysville in conjunction with the annual Keedysville Ruritan Festival.

Malcolm Stranathan, pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Keedysville, said when he heard about the KKK rally, he knew he needed to do something.

"People had a passion not to allow the Klan event to be the overarching event of the day," Stranathan said.

Rally at Antietam

Lynda Sheppard, 49, brought her 4-year-old grandson, Tramel Johnson-Scott, to the peace rally at Antietam National Battlefield. Sheppard said she probably would have attended the KKK rally in protest had she not been watching Tramel.

"Morally, I cannot sit idly by and not do something to protest what's happening in Sharpsburg," she said as she sat on the grass at the battlefield.

Although Sheppard grew up in the area, she moved to California before moving back to Hagerstown three years ago. She said she left this area originally because she grew tired of the bigotry and the hypocrisy.

Sheppard could only shake her head in bewilderment about what was going on a mile or so away, and a world away from life outside of Berkeley, Calif.

"This is the 21st century. It amazes me," she said. "People say if you ignore them (KKK members), they'll go away. That's what happened in Nazi Germany."

As an openly gay man, Bruce Brooks said he has witnessed intolerance from strangers firsthand. He's been called names, chased down streets and been called less than a human being.

"When you see hatred and prejudice, you've got to take a stand," said Bowers, 49. "At my age, it's time to stand up and say something."

Concerns for their safety drove Bowers and others away from the streets of Sharpsburg and to the battlefield for the peace rally. He and several others were there in part to show support for the Hagerstown Metropolitan Community Church, which is open to everyone, but has a special outreach to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities.

'It created itself'

One of the people who helped organize the peace rally over the last five weeks was Jerry Randell. Only for a moment did he consider having an oppositional protest in Sharpsburg.

"There's a purpose in protests, and a lot of times that's to draw attention to a cause," he said, adding that the KKK rally likely was organized mostly for the media attention it could - and did - attract.

"We didn't want to feed into that," Randell said.

When Randell first heard that the KKK was coming to his town, a wide array of emotions overtook him. There was rage at times, but also a feeling that something needed to be done in opposition, he said.

After National Park Service officials told event organizers they could use Antietam, a plan started to form.

"It created itself. We didn't have to do too much except make the phone calls," Randell said.

Guessing the number of people who attended the rally was difficult, Randell said. Throughout the afternoon, two vans shuttled people from the battlefield's visitors' center to the rally site.

At the peace rally, seven musical groups were to perform, food was available and a storyteller spoke.

If others want to continue holding similar events on a regular basis in the future, Randell said he would pass the reins.

"I hope we don't have to do this again for this reason," he said.

Smidt - who noted proudly that she is 100 percent Latino, being from Argentina - was working at an arts and crafts table for children at the rally.

"To me, it's important to be involved in something that's nonconfrontational and makes a difference," she said. "Something that's positive, shows unity and tolerance."

Getting out of Sharpsburg for the afternoon was imperative, she said.

"It's disturbing. I personally do feel threatened by hateful speech," she said. "I understand First Amendment rights, but I don't think it serves much of a purpose to exclude people just because they're not the same as you are."

Peace in Keedysville

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