Civil rights leaders plan to protest Frederick fair Klan car sparks call for boycott

September 24, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Civil rights leaders say they'll boycott the Great Frederick Fair today in protest of a car promoting the Ku Klux Klan being allowed to compete in a demolition derby earlier this week.

"We are alarmed by the incident that occurred here a couple nights ago," Johnnie Mac Twine, president of the Frederick County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said yesterday.

"The NAACP feels that all citizens who patronize and spend money at the fair should be able to do so without being subjected to intimidating slogans from organizations such as the KKK."

The unit is asking "concerned citizens" to not attend the fair from noon to 2 p.m. today. Protesters -- including some from the NAACP's national organization -- are scheduled to demonstrate outside the fair's main entrance on East Patrick Street.

Three nights ago, fair officials decided against disqualifying the car, painted with slogans such as "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas," because of concerns about infringing upon the driver's freedom-of-speech rights.

Donald Toms, 39, a Thurmont mechanic who says he has belonged to the Klan for a few years, entered and drove the car.

James Grimes, president of the Frederick County Agricultural Society, which runs the 131-year-old, family oriented fair, defended the decision yesterday. He also declined to comment on the NAACP's plans to boycott the fair -- an event that continues through tomorrow and is important enough locally to warrant the closing today of county public schools.

Maryland KKK Grand Dragon Roger Kelly said Klansmen will not counterdemonstrate because Mr. Toms "has done his thing and left."

Meanwhile yesterday, Concerned Citizens for Racial Justice -- a county watchdog group on racial issues that has existed since the Rodney King affair in Los Angeles -- asked fair officials to publicly denounce the KKK and distance themselves from the white-supremacist group.

Frederick attorney Willie Mahone, a city alderman candidate speaking for the group, said there is an "aura of ambiguity" about the decision to allow a self-proclaimed KKK member to ride in the derby. Besides painted slogans, the roof of Mr. Toms' car displayed a traffic cone painted white with black eyes to resemble a hooded Klansman.

"In effect, the fair became the vehicle for promoting the racist and separatist ideas and action of the Klan," Mr. Mahone said. "How can we, as an ordered society, ask our kids to say no to drugs, to say no to violence, to say no to unprotected sex, if we are unable to say no to the Klan?"

Frederick attorney Barry Kissin, also with the Concerned Citizens group, said fair officials would not have allowed, for example, a car with profanity and a middle finger sticking up to participate in the derby.

Mr. Grimes asked the citizens group to submit its request in writing for a 10 a.m. board meeting today.

He also said that clauses in derby applications already &r prohibited profanity on vehicles.

The vendor that runs the demolition derby will change language next year to prevent a recurrence of the KKK incident, fair officials said.

"I feel free in saying this: I don't think there is a board member who condones the KKK," said Del. James E. "Doc" McClellan, who chairs the fair's entertainment committee. "I agree with the decision that was made at the time."

The KKK's Mr. Kelly said the Klansmen would consider protesting next year if stipulations are written to disallow the KKK.

The controversy didn't appear yesterday to stop blacks and others from attending the fair, which celebrates the county's agriculture industry and attracts about 200,000 people.

"I don't pay it any mind," said Sylvia Smith, and Washington resident who is black and who visits the fair each year.

Her friend, Susan Hilton of Thurmont, said she heard about the KKK car from a friend, but dismissed the incident as the work of "a bunch of idiots."

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