The Ku Klux Klan showed up unannounced in Roxboro late Saturday to celebrate President-elect Donald Trump’s victory with a quick parade of vehicles, but thousands of Klan opponents rallied all day across the state.
The Loyal White Knights of the KKK was expected to gather in Pelham, just south of the Virginia state line in Caswell County. The group didn’t show, but a caravan of about 30 protesters, many from Durham, arrived before 9 a.m. at Pelham United Methodist Church. Other protesters joined them, swelling to more than 100 by afternoon.
Several hundred people also gathered Saturday afternoon for an NC Justice and Unity Rally in Raleigh.
“The promise of what the South can be is what we are fighting for today,” Sandi Osterkatz told the crowd in Moore Square. Osterkatz said she was was representing the children of survivors of the 1979 Greensboro massacre.
The crowd listened quietly as she talked about how activists were gunned down during a planned march by armed Klansmen and Nazis. Greensboro police showed up five minutes after the shooting had begun, stopping only one vehicle in the 10-car Klan caravan. Two all-white juries later found the Klansmen not guilty.
The new struggle can build on past foundations, Osterkatz said.
“We do not have to start new organizations from scratch. We have experienced leadership, we have historical lessons that we can and must learn from, the struggle for justice and unity demands deep listening and humility, and more than anything a commitment to show up and do the work,” she said.
Anti-KKK rallies and March for Love events also were planned in other cities, including Salisbury, Durham, Charlotte and Mebane. The events were organized after a November announcement that the Loyal White Knights would hold a Klavalkade Klan Parade to celebrate the election.
The KKK officially endorsed Trump, a Republican, in this year’s presidential campaign.
Durham residents Adam Haile and Heather Settle huddled in the Pelham church parking lot with their daughter. They haven’t been as involved as they were in their youth, the couple said, but they have grown concerned that North Carolina is losing its reputation as a “progressive center for the South.”
“After the election, we definitely sensed that people with progressive values need (to stand up),” Haile said.
A protester moved through the crowd, warning the “Confederate flag guy” is here.
Gary Williamson, founder of the Confederate heritage group Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, said he also came to oppose the Klan’s message.
ACTBAC represents traditional morals and Christian values that have been passed down in the South over the last 150 years, Williamson said.
“(The Klan) isn’t us. This ain’t nothing that we’re about,” Williamson said. “We support heritage and the positive parts of our history. As far as them and what they do, it isn’t part of our history. It’s sick and disgusting.”
Caswell County sheriff’s deputies responded mid-morning after a group of protesters marched down the street.
Online posts around 4 p.m. Saturday showed about 20 vehicles bearing Confederate and Klan flags driving through Roxboro, about an hour east of Pelham. Some yelled “White Power!” as they drove by, according to the posts. Local authorities asked the N.C. Highway Patrol to direct traffic, Patrol Sgt. Michael Baker said.
The Klan parade inspired many first-time protesters in Raleigh. Renwick Chandler held a sign – “My white girlfriend thinks black men matter” – as he listened to the speeches. The Durham resident, who is black, said he felt compelled to attend.
“It was the election itself, but then the KKK came out and said that they were going to have a parade to celebrate,” he said. “(Trump) has been feeding off of their energy and inspiring people to just come out and hate.”
Change can come through action, said Bryan Proffitt, a teacher who has rallied to support teacher pay and education issues. He asked the crowd for a commitment to push white supremacy “back into the shadows” and to get involved in changing the state’s direction by supporting activist groups.
“We have to have political power. When they do things that are going to destroy us, we have to be able to act and we have to be able to make something happen,” he said.