Counter rallies focus on promoting love

June 11, 2006


For the Rev. Malcolm Stranathan of Salem United Methodist Church in Keedysville, hearing that the Ku Klux Klan planned another rally in the Sharpsburg area was a case of deja vu all over again.

When the Klan planned a parade in Sharpsburg two years ago, Stranathan and other citizens planned their own "peace and unity" events in the area, hoping to draw attention away from the Klan.

In the end, few showed up for the Klan's activities. But those first events in response to the Klan gave birth to a new organization - "Love, Not Hate" - which mobilized citizens, churches and civic organizations to plan a daylong celebration of diversity Saturday at Keedysville's Taylor Park.


Upon hearing the news that the Klan planned a rally Saturday at Antietam National Battlefield, "there were a lot of people who were frustrated," Stranathan said. "So we put out the call. I still had the mailing list from the last time."

Stranathan said organizers "thought there would be about 100" attending the Keedysville celebration.

But that many showed up within the first hour, walking past the monument to the town's World War I veterans at the park's entrance, its red, white and blue Memorial Day wreath still leaning against it. All of the soldiers are listed, including "colored" troops Ray Fisher and George Henry Hopewell.

Another event held Saturday to counter the KKK rally was an interfaith worship service at Dunker Church on the grounds of the battlefield.

About 80 representatives from several area religious groups held a service that members said was intended to serve as a counterpoint to the Klan's activities.

"We don't want to do a counterdemonstration," Stranathan said at the worship service. "We would provide an alternative viewpoint to celebrate a community that promotes diversity and tolerance."

The interfaith service featured music from the Antietam Women's Ensemble, and offered warnings about being silent in the face of the Klan's efforts to promote a message that church members said was divisive and hurtful.

Calling the history of the Ku Klux Klan one of the darkest periods in American history, the Rev. Ed Poling of Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, in an address to the congregation, likened the need to oppose their message of intolerance to a calling that must be answered.

"Let them do their thing ... but to be silent is not an option for us." said Poling, who also serves as chairman of the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County. "We affirm that to keep silent in such a time as this is not acceptable."

At the center of Taylor Park, churches and civic organizations from throughout Washington County hosted booths providing information and activities. Young Life representatives provided face painting, and the teens from Salem United Methodist Church showed off their artistic skills with a little hair painting. The church had 10 to 12 youths helping, youth leader Sally Hull said.

Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church provided balloons that said, "Smile - Jesus loves you." Other balloons declared, "No room in my heart for prejudice."

Stranathan welcomed all comers by announcing that "we hear there are about 10 people at the other event."

Jenkins Odoms Jr., president of both the state and Howard County NAACP, traveled to Keedysville to help local president Samuel Key work at the organization's booth.

"I came up to support this outstanding occasion," Odoms said, adding that "Washington County has come a mighty long way" in race relations.

But the presence of the Klan "kind of wakes us up that racism and old Jim Crow are still alive," he said.

Nevertheless, Odoms was thrilled by the way the groups had "come together to show community and love. I think it's beautiful." And the presence of so many young people proved that "Jim Crow Jr. doesn't have the same effect as his father did," Odoms said.

Key said NAACP representatives from all over the state were coming in shifts to support the "Love, Not Hate" efforts.

"The neighborhood looks to see what we're gonna do" in response to the Klan, Key said. "We must get out here and be visible."

And the neighborhood showed up.

"I'm right down the street," Keedysville resident April Piston said. "I got the flier, and I thought, 'What a wonderful way to show support for the community.' I think it's wonderful."

Keedysville resident Laura Jones said she heard about the event at church.

"I wanted to give it support," she said.

"It's a nice community celebration," said Edie Wallace, president of the Sharpsburg Historical Society, which also had a booth in the park. "It's nice to do something like this in the southern part of the county - it lets people know we're still here."

Events were scheduled through the evening, said Jacki Stranathan, with an afternoon concert at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church and a Youth Fest featuring the Boonsboro band Perfidious.

Staff writer Robert Snyder contributed to this story.

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