Rights leaders to counter Klan rally

October 19, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Civil rights leaders in Annapolis are organizing a demonstration to counter a Ku Klux Klan rally scheduled for Oct. 29 at Lawyers Mall in front of the State House.

As the Klansmen demonstrate on one side of town, civil rights groups will march down Main Street, then congregate at the First Baptist Church on West Washington Street. The counter-protesters say they will not gather or march near the Klan rally.

Klan leaders have predicted that their demonstration could bring about the largest gathering of white supremacists in the city since the 1960s. But civil rights leaders say that they are likely to draw much bigger crowds.

"Annapolis is where a lot of people get their point across," said Imperial Wizard Roger L. Kelly. "We're going to say we need to get back to Republican politics."

"I think the Klan is misreading the political climate that exists in this county, and I think what they're going to find is they'll be roundly condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike," countered Ward 5 Alderman Carl O. Snowden.

The Klan demonstration comes just before the general elections and right in the heart of the state's capital, giving the rally what the Klan hopes will be a certain political overtone.

Mr. Kelly, who organizes in Anne Arundel County, said he expects between 60 and 80 Klansmen to demonstrate. While the group is not planning a cross burning, some participants will be dressed in the traditional white sheets and hoods. A separate Klan "security detail" will join the demonstration dressed in military fatigues, he said.

Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins condemned the rally yesterday.

"We have a sign out there that says 'Welcome to Annapolis.' Well, we welcome them to Annapolis like any other person, but in this case I don't welcome their message because this is America," he said.

Mr. Hopkins is to join Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall and state Dels. Theodore J. Sophocleus and John G. Gary, the Democratic and Republican candidates for county executive, a news conference tomorrow to protest the Klan's arrival.

The demonstration comes as the county rebounds from a series of racially charged episodes, most recently a fracas among county police officers and black youths at a roller rink in Crofton.

The Klan has stepped up its activity in the past few months, handing out leaflets in Laurel, Woodland Beach and other Anne Arundel communities. Its last public demonstration in Annapolis was in 1987 when three skinheads marched in front of City Hall.

Last October, the Klan held a rally on a farm in West River. That rally was met by a counter-demonstration of 100 South County residents carrying candles and signs reading, "Unite," "Value Diversity" and "Ban Racial Hatred."

Mr. Kelly said the Klan picked up "a good number" of new members as a result of the West River rally, but he would not say how many Klansmen live in Maryland. Civil rights groups tally about 100 members.

Mr. Kelly also bills the Annapolis rally as a recruiting drive and sees Anne Arundel as a good place to increase its membership.

But Klan critics see the rally as a desperate attempt to grab headlines, not a resurgence of Klan strength in the area. "They're a dying organization that refuses to admit it," said Lewis Bracy, who represents the Maryland Forum of African-American Leaders.

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