KKK fliers stir concern in Cecil Co. Residents fear return of past racist image

September 24, 1990|By S. M. Khalid | S. M. Khalid,Sun Staff Correspondent

ELKTON -- The recent distribution of pamphlets bearing the name of the Ku Klux Klan has alarmed Cecil County's black community and raised concerns about a possible resurgence of the hate-group that flourished here 30 years ago.

While law enforcement officials have yet to arrest those responsible or determine if the Klan was, in fact, involved, residents fear the incidents will make it even harder to remove what they see as an unfair stigma of Cecil County as a hotbed of bigotry.

"Our image is unjustified," said Bernard James, president of the Cecil chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who has lived in the county 38 years.

Twice in recent months, pamphlets have been dropped by an unidentified person or persons in several towns around Cecil County, including low-income neighborhoods in Elkton and Chesapeake City.

The first pamphlet, distributed in July, declared certain areas off-limits to blacks and called on people to join the Klan. The following month a Klan recruiting flier was distributed in parts of the county, and the NAACP urged police to step up their investigation.

Last week, while about 30 people gathered inside the First Pentecostal Gospel Tabernacle in Elkton for a meeting of the state conference of NAACP branches to discuss the distribution of the propaganda, orange stickers stating "You are being watched by the KKK" were placed on cars belonging to four out-of-county NAACP officials.

"Everyone was a little upset," said Mr. James. "It was something that wasn't expected. Some of us were angry to see something done in broad daylight and people standing on the street corners telling us that they didn't see anything."

Although the meeting was publicized in advance, Elkton police said the perpetrators apparently knew which cars belonged to out-of-county NAACP officials. One of the cars on which the professionally done stickers were pasted was that of the state NAACP president, the Rev. John L. Wright of Columbia.

"We anticipate these things in Cecil County," said Dr. Wright, who recalled a similar incident after an NAACP meeting in Hagerstown four years ago. "You can't get too worked up about it. When you've become a veteran in this like I have, you learn to roll with the punches."

Elkton Police Chief C. T. Krammes said that his department, as well as the state police and the FBI, continued to investigate all the incidents but had no suspects. He downplayed fears that the incidents could be a signal of a resurgence of Klan presence in Cecil County, which is only 4 percent black.

"It could have been a couple of local rascals from our town," said Chief Krammes. "It's nonsense. What can I say? The NAACP does a good job working with the community up here."

Whether or not the Klan is responsible, some county residents are concerned about the effect the propaganda may have on Cecil's racial climate. Most residents describe the climate as relatively peaceful, but for some the image of robed Klansmen publicly marching through the streets in the late 1950s and early 1960s is a reminder of a troubled heritage of racial intolerance.

"People are tired of the racial tension," said Elaine Ceasar, the vice president of the tenants association in Sheffield Park, a low-income housing development. Mrs. Ceasar, a white woman who is married to a black man, said she has received three leaflets while black neighbors have not received any.

Mrs. Ceasar maintained that police and other authorities are too quick to downplay matters of racial intolerance in Cecil County, including the leaflets. "I think they're all trying to shove everything under the rug," Mrs. Ceasar said.

She added, however, that the blacks and whites in her neighborhood get along fine.

"Right here, blacks and whites live together," she said. "We have our arguments, but we all get along. I think it's outsiders that are responsible."

Some black residents, however, still complain of unfair treatment at stores in Elkton, Rising Sun and other county towns and maintain that white store owners are reluctant to hire blacks.

Yet, this county has made several attempts to improve its image in recent years, including a concerted effort to attract minority teachers to the school system to meet repeated demands by the black community.

Most residents do not think the Klan presence within the county is significant.

"Right now, I don't think the Klan is a real threat," said the Rev. Alvin Jones, 57, a member of the Cecil-Harford Black Ministerial Alliance, who has lived in Cecil County all of his life. "I guess they may be trying to re-establish themselves. But it might not be the Klan at all. There are other groups, like the Nazis or the skin-heads."

Still, Mr. Jones and other black community activists are anxious for law enforcement authorities to find out quickly who is responsible for the racist literature.

"The officials must get to the bottom of this," said the Rev. Huey L. Harris Sr., pastor of the Elkton church where Klan stickers were pasted on cars. "People are not going to stand for it."

Until the problem is resolved, Cecil County residents will continue to bear the burden of its old image, as Mr. James did recently at an NAACP convention in Detroit when his home was mentioned as the site of racial problems.

"This county is a little backward, but we're coming around," said Mr. James. "We've made some inroads. We have a lot of good people in this county, black and white."

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