Car adorned KKK-style stirs furor in Frederick

September 23, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- A decision to allow a car adorned with Ku Klux Klan slogans and symbols to participate in a local fair has outraged civil rights leaders in this Western Maryland county.

"We are appalled that the officials of the Frederick County Fair Board permitted this vehicle to participate in [the Great Frederick Fair]," said Johnnie Mac Twine, president of the Frederick County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"And we are even more appalled to actually be aware that the guy who entered the vehicle made it known that his vehicle was dressed for KKK purposes and that he was a member of the KKK."

Fair officials decided not to disqualify Donald Toms' car, painted with slogans such as "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" and "We have a dream, too," from the Tuesday demolition derby after consulting with police, fair security officers and others, said James Grimes, president of the Frederick County Agricultural Society, which runs the 131-year-old, family-oriented fair.

Besides painting slogans, the Thurmont man -- a KKK member and veteran driver in the derby -- placed an orange traffic cone painted white with black eyes, resembling a hooded Klansman, atop the car.

"The consensus was that there weren't any regulations that prevented such an entry or language or any other type of display on a car," said Mr. Grimes, a local businessman and city alderman who is running for mayor in the November election. "Although we certainly didn't concur with the purpose or the message, it was a legal entry."

The incident has prompted fair officials to tell the amusement vendor that runs the popular demolition derby to change language in application forms to prevent a recurrence.

Maryland KKK Grand Dragon Roger Kelly said the white supremacist group will fight any attempt to bar its members from future derbies. He said any such attempt would be unconstitutional and would infringe on free-speech rights.

"If they're going to try and stop this in the future, it's not going to work," he said. "They know that they can't do that. We wouldn't hesitate a bit to fight that."

Mr. Toms, a 39-year-old mechanic, said he plans to enter the derby with a similarly painted car next year because he believes "everything I wrote on the car."

"A lot of things people do offend me. The way the government takes tax money and feeds all those foreigners . . . offends me," he said, using a racial epithet.

Mr. Toms, an 11-year veteran of the derby, said he painted the car "just to be different" and expected controversy. Last year, he painted slogans against Gov. William Donald Schaefer on a car.

This year, he was eliminated in his derby heat, but another driver borrowed the car to continue the competition. The second driver, Jimmie Willis of Frederick -- who said he is not a Klansman -- won $100 for his third-place finish.

Mr. Toms "wants the recognition for the Klan, and I want the money and the trophy," Mr. Willis said. "I never knew he was a Klansman."

Gary D. Hughes, a Frederick businessman and mayoral candidate, said fair officials' decision to allow Mr. Toms to drive his car was "inappropriate and insensitive."

He asked Mr. Grimes to disqualify the car.

"I don't think they should have done it," said Mr. Hughes, who is black. "The Klan doesn't represent what Frederick city or county are about. It has no place with the fair.

"You go to the fair thinking it's a family event, and up pops a little message like 'support the Klan.' "

Mr. Twine said the NAACP has received complaints about the car but hasn't planned any demonstrations or other protests. He said the weeklong September fair, which attracts about 200,000 people, is popular among blacks, who make up about 12 percent of the city and county population.

But Mr. Twine still criticized Mr. Grimes.

"He is a city alderman, and as an alderman I think he should have made a judgment that the vehicle should not have been permitted," Mr. Twine said.

"He chose to go the wrong way. We will not sit by and tolerate these kind of activities at these events."

Frederick attorney Willie Mahone, a candidate for city alderman and counsel to the local NAACP, has called a news conference on the issue for 1 p.m. today at his office. He declined to comment yesterday.

Other minority leaders -- including William O. Lee Jr., the city's only black alderman -- were sympathetic to fair officials.

Mr. Lee said he was offended by the language on the car but doesn't think officials could prevent the car from participating in the derby.

"I think he has a constitutional right to do that," Mr. Lee said. "I think the attitude to take is not to give them any publicity and keep this low-key."

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