'I can look in people's faces and see the hatred' Racial tensions simmering in Hanover, Pa.

July 17, 1991|By Carl Schoettler and Edward L. Heard Jr. | Carl Schoettler and Edward L. Heard Jr.,Evening Sun Staff

HANOVER, Pa. -- The young black man in the L.A. Raiders sweat shirt put his arm around his white girlfriend and said: "I can look in people's faces and see the hatred. It's just simply because we're black. They don't want us to be here because of the color of our skin."

Simmering racism sparked into confrontation in this old southern Pennsylvania town this week, mostly because a lot of white Hanoverians don't like to see interracial couples like Eddie Dunlap and Sandy Reese hanging out in Center Square.

"I don't think Christ would want it mixed up like that," said the 84-year-old retired farmer sitting on a Rotary Club bench near the Civil War monument. "That's one thing I wouldn't do."

Gangs of white youths armed with bats and knives and hockey sticks drove a small group of blacks and their friends from this square last weekend. About 400 more whites stood by yelling racial epithets.

Police prevented direct confrontation. They had arrested 58 persons, including 17 juveniles, by Monday night when the square started cooling down.

Mayor W. Roy Attlesberger clamped a 9 p.m. curfew on the town and declared law and order restored.

The fine old square was, indeed, peaceful last evening as sunswept shadows deepened behind the old brick People's bank that's now a dance gear store. The old guys who live in Hufnagle's Hotel Hanover had come out to sit in the fading sun.

"These colored guys have these overalls on with only one strap hooked and you know what that means," said 73-year-old Philip Gladfelter, who used to clerk in a department store. "You can see it from right here, them kissing each other and all."

Rumors abounded in the square: Hell's Angels and Pagan bikers from as far away as California were riding into Hanover. Bus loads of blacks were coming from Washington and Baltimore and New York.

"This is the biggest thing that's happened in this town in 30 years," said a guy named Dave who's got his name tattooed on his thin left arm. Eddie Dunlap and his friends regrouped at a playground in South Hanover. Eddie, who's 20, comes up to Hanover from his home in Westminster.

White Hanoverians say that blacks have been coming into town from Gettysburg and York and Maryland. They probably have a point. Hanover -- just over the Maryland line north of Carroll County -- has a minuscule black population. Only 22 blacks were counted in the 1990 census; there were 14,269 whites.

"Never had 'em here until that law changed," Gladfelter said. He apparently means a state fair housing act. "They couldn't rent a house in Hanover."

This is a town, incidentally, that celebrates its Civil War heritage. Union and Confederates troops skirmished near here on the way to Gettysburg. Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart held Hanover for the afternoon of June 30, 1863.

Eddie Dunlap got a citation for disorderly conduct Sunday night. It says he was disorderly in the following manner:

"Actor was part of a group using loud language and participating in a potentially dangerous event that served no purpose."

Dunlap thinks he was harassed.

"I'm not going to let somebody push me down and say 'Nigger, you don't belong on the face of this earth.' "

Melvin Thomas, 24, a black who has lived in Hanover for three years, came across the asphalt playground from the basketball courts.

The racial climate here has been "fair," he said, until last weekend. The few young black men in Hanover do date white girls, he said. Hardly any black girls live nearby.

Angel Clark, a pretty, wide-faced girl of 18, is one. She lives in McSherrystown, about two miles west of here.

"I date white guys," she said. "Color's skin deep. It don't bother me. If you're over 18, you can date who you want to go out with."

Everybody's heard racial slurs.

But Melvin Thomas said nobody's going to scare him out of town.

"I'll leave when I'm ready to leave," he said. He's a 6-foot-4, 215-pound athlete, which gives his words a certain authority.

White Hanoverians watch too much television, Thomas said.

"To them, all blacks have to be selling drugs or drinking alcohol," he said. "They don't stop to look at the people who are really doing this."

But plenty of whites deplored the confrontation in the square.

"It's stupid," said James Hall, 19, who was walking past a Chinese restaurant just off the square. (The 1990 census, by the way, counted 13 more Asians than blacks in Hanover.)

Hall said some of his black friends have quit talking to him. They've made him feel as though he has done something wrong.

His 15-year-old girlfriend, who didn't want her name in the paper, complained: "They're ain't a damn thing to do for teen-agers around here.

"The only choice we have around here is between the head bangers -- heavy metal people -- or the black people," she said. "I prefer the black people."

A 69-year-old woman sitting on a nearby bench said: "I don't blame the colored boys," she said. "I'd fight for my rights, too."

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