This story was updated at 1:57 p.m. Sept. 3, 2019.
Hundreds of people marched from a cemetery in Hillsborough where enslaved people are buried into downtown to show a united front against racism after Ku Klux Klan members showed up in town last week.
Marchers carried anti-racism signs, signs supporting immigrants, rainbow flags, or American flags. The rally featured Native American, black, and white speakers. When a “racism alert” text service for Hillsborough was announced, many in the crowd paused to punch the number into their phones.
“We are united together,” Barrett Brown of the Alamance County NAACP told the crowd. “They can’t duck, they can’t dodge. They can’t do anything to keep us divided.”
The Hate-Free Schools Coalition and Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action organized the march and rally.
Caity McArthur, a core leader with Hate-Free Schools, asked marchers not to engage any Klan members should they show up.
“What Hilllsborough is about is not the KKK, it’s not the flaggers that come downtown,” said McArthur, referring to people who wave the Confederate flag on Hillsborough streets on weekends. “We’re going to march their hate right out of these streets.”
No one in a Klan robe or pointed hood appeared, but some Hillsborough homes and businesses were found littered with KKK recruitment flyers Saturday morning.
On Monday Hillsborough police said they are investigating the flyers and asked that anyone who received one or who has information about them to contact Sgt. Nick Chelenza at 919-296-9552 or by email at bit.ly/2lAtokK.
Latarndra Strong, the leader of Hate-Free Schools, said in an interview Saturday with the News & Observer that she hoped marchers would be inspired to keep working to counter racism.
“They are working and we’re going to keep working because we have these people with us,” she said.
The Hillsborough Police Department estimated 200 to 250 people attended. McArthur put the total at 700. Participants nearly filled the lawn outside the old courthouse.
On their way to the rallying spot, marchers stopped to admire Kerry Kester’s sign, “No hoods in my woods,” and her red cap with the message “Make racists scared again.”
Kester was pleased so many were marching.
“It shows we all have the same belief, that hate’s not going to be tolerated,” she said. “We’re all strong together to show that.”
Kester, 31, lives in Durham but used to work in Hillsborough. She said it was important for her to show up to oppose racism.
“Silence is compliance” she said. “I’m here to be loud.”
Linda Franzitta, 71, traveled from Virginia Beach, Va., to march with her son, CJ Franzitta, 42, who lives in Hillsborough.
“I’m just absolutely disgusted that this kind of thing can happen in Hillsborough,” she said of the Klan appearance. “It’s just shocking.”
Franzitta said she doesn’t go to many demonstrations. Saturday’s was her second she said, after a March for Our Lives event after the Parkland shooting.
Franzitta also has family in Charlottesville, Va., where Heather Heyer, a civil rights activist, was killed at a white supremacists rally two years ago.
“Charlottesville filled me with incredible fear,” she said. “We should all live here and be able to live in peace.”
Gerald D. Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP branch, compared the history of white supremacy to a disease inflicting the state.
Streets, schools, and bridges named for Confederates should be renamed, he said.
“We can’t defeat white supremacy if we keep honoring it,” Givens said. “We can’t defeat white supremacy if we keep defending it. Fold the Confederate flag, take statues down. Give it no honor, and don’t protect it.”
The crowd cheered references to Confederate statues at UNC-Chapel Hill and in Durham being torn down, removals “lead by queer black women,” said Shawn Birchfield-Finn of Chapel Hill. Confederate statutes are rallying points for racists, said Birchfield-Finn, who has been charged in connection with the toppling of the UNC-Chapel Hill statue called Silent Sam.
“These same racists are in Hillsborough,” he said. “I see now that Hillsborough has said, “hell no.’”