By the time around 130 people crowded into the fellowship hall at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church June 13, organizers moved the “So Now What” community forum into the sanctuary to accommodate the mass of people coming out on a rainy evening to discuss the impending appearance of the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the KKK.
Organizer Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, along with City Manager Maurice Jones, Mayor Mike Signer and police Chief Al Thomas, as well as members of the African American community, spoke out on how to respond to the robe-wearing group that has terrorized blacks for over 150 years.
Most urged ignoring the Loyal White Knights, who will gather at 3pm July 8 at Justice Park at Court Square, and many black community members said they would not be attending. All urged restraint by locals who do show up to offer an unwelcome mat to Charlottesville.
“I don’t feel the need to go scream at these people,” said Yolanda Jones. She advised self-mastery and wisdom to those who did attend, and said white people “can be an interface in ways people of color can’t.”
Chief Thomas acknowledged the emotion and pain of having the Klan come to town, and said city police can manage them. “Quite candidly, our main concern is not the KKK,” he said. “It’s being in a situation where local citizens make poor choices and we have to step in.”
The KKK “does not define this community,” he said. “Don’t take the bait.”
Thomas, who came here from Lexington, which has had its own share of confrontations over Confederate symbols, including the removal of the rebel flag from public property, said he’s dealt with the Klan before. And when it wanted to march through the black community, people came out and turned their backs to the white supremacist marchers, “the most powerful symbolism you can imagine,” he said.
Bellamy presented peaceful options for July 8: a counter rally and community event at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and at Sprint Pavilion. And for those who do want to show up at Justice Park, he suggested protesters wear black, lock arms and turn their backs on the Loyal White Knights—without engaging with them.
He made another plea for people who want to get involved: Volunteer for city and county boards. And he had a list of opening that allow other ways for voices to be heard in the community.
“It’s easy to go out with 300 people and yell at the Klan,” he said. “It’s harder to get involved on boards.”
Added Bellamy, “If you truly want to do something, here’s your chance.”
Charlottesville has been the scene of protests about the removal of Confederate monuments over the past year, most notably at a tiki-torch rally led by white nationalist/UVA alum Richard Spencer May 13. An alt-right coalition plans an August 12 event.