About 40 picket Frederick fair to protest KKK Fair operators plan to denounce racism

September 25, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Chanting "Boycott the fair today" and "Go away, KKK," about 40 people picketed the Great Frederick Fair yesterday in protest of a Ku Klux Klan member competing in a demolition derby in a car painted with racist slogans.

The Rev. John L. Wright, president of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, characterized the driver's having bedecked his car with slogans and innuendoes a "violent act."

"There is nothing peaceful about this," Mr. Wright said as the two-hour, midday demonstration began. "They come out, we'll come out."

"Fair officers have a moral responsibility to make the right choices," said Janice Washington, a Baltimore-based regional director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We have no room for hate espoused by the KKK."

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the NAACP's executive director, was not in Frederick yesterday but said in a statement distributed last night that, while he understands freedom of speech rights, "I also understand that the black community and others concerned with . . . justice do not have to support institutions that allow exposure to oppressive symbols and organizations."

Fair officials allowed the car to compete Tuesday night after consulting with police and security officers as well as the vendor that ran the derby, and they said later that they had been concerned about violating the car owner's freedom of speech.

But Frederick attorney Willie Mahone, a member of a county watchdog group on racial issues, countered the next day that the car could have been excluded because the fairgrounds are owned and operated privately. His group, Concerned Citizens for Racial Justice, also asked fair officials earlier this week to denounce the KKK.

The issue was on the agenda for a closed, half-hour meeting of fair directors yesterday morning. Afterward, James S. Grimes, president of the Frederick County Agricultural Society, which runs the 131-year-old fair, said that directors would issue through their attorney a formal statement denouncing all racist groups and their activities.

The statement is expected to be available next week, another director, Del. James E. McClellan, D-Frederick, said late yesterday. The weeklong fair, which normally attracts about 200,000 people, ends tonight.

Told of the statement's timing, Mr. Mahone replied pointedly: "It seems to me that it doesn't take much to renounce the Klan and all that it stands for. I think this is something they should do, and get it out of the way."

Del. Thomas H. Hattery, D-Frederick, asked Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. Thursday for an opinion on whether the car could have been barred.

Indeed, Mr. Curran replied yesterday, "The fair could have barred this hateful and vindictive message." Alluding to several

Supreme Court decisions, he said: "The First Amendment simply does not apply to a private organization like the one that runs the fair."

He said the First Amendment applies only to actions of the government itself or of private persons acting at the behest of the government.

Among the groups supporting yesterday's boycott were the Frederick County chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Peace Resource Center, a Frederick-based clearing house for justice and peace issues.

"We're here to condemn a very blatant example of racism," said Melinda Sadler, president of the Frederick County NOW chapter. "Words which are written or spoken 'just for whites' are intended to segregate society, which by its very nature, opposes equality and justice for people and color."

Carrying signs that read "I love the Great Frederick Fair, but not the KKK" and "No to racism," pickets, both black and white, marched the length of the fairgrounds on East Patrick Street.

City police called the demonstration "peaceful."

One picket was Richard Simons, a Montgomery County resident and Frederick businessman who said he decided to participate after reading newspaper accounts of the incident.

"I just thought I needed to come down and bear witness. I just think we shouldn't be silent," said Mr. Simons, who noted that he hadn't participated in protests since the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.

Bill Asperger, a Flint, Mich., native who recently moved to Frederick, ripped up his $3 fair admission ticket in protest of the KKK car.

"I'm an average American citizen -- as many of us are," he said. "This is a beautiful city. I was disgusted, frustrated and saddened by the [incident]. I'm here to protest hatred."

A steady stream of people passed through gates during the two-hour boycott.

Yesterday was known as "kids day," when Frederick schools close so children can visit the fair free. "I think this is the wrong day to do it," said Shirley White, a fair volunteer who lives in Myersville. "This is a day for kids. They should have done it another day."

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