While remembering the first enslaved Africans to arrive on America’s shores, elected leaders and residents said Tuesday there is no room for racism and hate in Orange County.
The Orange County commissioners approved a resolution condemning an Aug. 24 rally by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough. The resolution also condemned white nationalist, white supremacist, neo-Nazi and other hate groups, and urged state and national leaders to also denounce the threat posed by those groups.
In a separate proclamation, the commissioners voted to commemorate the arrival of colonial America’s first slaves in 1619.
The unanimous actions capped weeks of protest that brought Confederate flag wavers, the KKK and hundreds of Orange County residents and anti-racist supporters to downtown Hillsborough.
County resident Riley Ruske called the resolution condemning hate groups “another in a series of county government attacks” on citizens’ rights to free speech and public assembly.
It’s not about free speech, Hillsborough resident Latarndra Strong responded. It’s about terrorism.
“We’re under attack,” said Strong, founder of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition and an organizer of Saturday’s anti-hate march. “The people of color communities are terrified after the KKK showed up. I think you have a responsibility as leaders of this community to stop the nonsense about free speech when we have violent organizations recruiting in our community.”
Commissioner Mark Marcoplos agreed, saying what was written on KKK flyers distributed Saturday and said at the Aug. 24 KKK rally goes beyond free speech. Commissioner Renee Price called for all local elected officials to work together toward a solution.
“When we have people coming into town with guns on their hips threatening people, we have to have the intelligence to understand what the difference is between free speech and terrorist threats,” Marcoplos said. “We’re going to have to learn to make those decisions and protect people in this community.”
No hate in Orange County
Dozens of residents, shopkeepers and passersby met the Klan on the courthouse steps when word of the group’s Aug. 24 rally spread. Orange County
Sheriff Charles Blackwood said he learned afterward that some Klan members at the demonstration were armed — a violation of state law — and at least two people would be arrested.
The Sheriff’s Office has not yet named the suspects or made any arrests.
In response to the rally, members of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action and hundreds more marched Saturday to the courthouse to protest hate. A prayer vigil was held Sunday at the Old Slave Cemetery on Margaret Lane.
Although a KKK leader told a local news station the group might return to Hillsborough last weekend, members instead left racist and anti-gay Klan recruitment flyers outside multiple homes and businesses. Police are investigating, town officials said Tuesday.
The town has experienced several pro-Confederate, racist and anti-hate events this summer, sparked in part by the street-corner Confederate flag rallies held over the last year. Some in the small group of Confederate flag bearers are affiliated with the Confederate heritage group Alamance Taking Back Alamance County, or ACTBAC.
ACTBAC has targeted Orange County in recent years for local decisions that limited the size of flags after a mega-size Confederate battle flag was raised on U.S. 70, banned Confederate symbols in the Orange County Schools, and removed of the words “Confederate Memorial” from the Orange County Historical Museum.
An anti-Confederate flag sign outside a Hillsborough chocolate shop in July further flamed the tensions and drew national attention to the issue.
Commissioners Chair Penny Rich noted her conversation with a Caswell County commissioner about the Aug. 24 Klan rally. The Loyal White Knights is based in Pelham in Caswell County. The Caswell County commissioners planned to approve a similar resolution, Rich said.
Slave trade proclamation
The arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown on Aug. 20, 1619, is being remembered nationwide this year, including with a recent New York Times series, The 1619 Project. Orange County will commemorate the anniversary through July 31, 2020.
The “20. and odd Negroes” who arrived on the Virginia coast 400 years ago were all that remained of 350 people kidnapped and loaded onto a Portuguese ship in Africa. About half of those who started the journey died at sea, and roughly 60 were captured by English pirates when the Portuguese ship docked in Mexico. The pirates later traded those African slaves with Jamestown settlers for food.
Their arrival marked the entry of the American colonies into the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which lasted from the early 1500s to the mid-1800s and eventually uprooted 12.5 million Africans.
Allison Mahaley, with Orange County’s Human Relations Commission, urged the commissioners to dive into acknowledging that history and educating the public, not just because of their position but also because most of them are white residents. The commission and other groups began commemorating the 400th anniversary earlier this year with music festivals, events and symposiums.
More events should be planned to educate the public and acknowledge the history of Africans in America, said Mahaley and Annette Moore, director of the Human Rights and Relations Department.
“We still see the trauma of this infectious disease,” Moore said. “Throughout the 20th century, textbooks either glossed over slavery, often not treating it as a part of the American story, or fed students tales that masked the reality of slavery, some even telling students that Africans were better off enslaved. What has this practice led to? Lack of understanding, confusion, tension and polarization.”
Anna Richards, the descendant of slaves and president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, said she has seen “things today that I thought I would never see in my lifetime, things that I thought my children would never have to confront or worry about.”
“I have been shocked and appalled at the lack of information and knowledge about the true history of this country,” Richards said. “That’s not particular or peculiar to the South, although I know that many Southerners want to uphold our treasonous history from this region as the true history of the South. We need to understand our history lest we repeat it.”