Students to take part in Klan counter-rally

Dave Shinall

Campus police plan to back up Bowling Green police Saturday as SS Knights of the Ku Klux Klan hold a two-hour rally at the Warren County Justice Center. Western students help stage a counter-rally.

Chief Robert Deane placed members of his 21-officer department at the disposal of the Bowling Green Police Department to augment city patrolmen, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers, who will provide security and crowd control at both rallies.

The rallies will be held from noon until 2 p.m. Saturday.

Bowling Green – the most important Confederate stronghold in Kentucky during the Civil War – is the third major Kentucky city the KKK has visited since 2000. Klan members held past rallies in Owensboro and Elizabethtown.

“We chose the rally in Bowling Green because we did get a lot of letters in our P.O. box from people wanting us to come to town,” said Scott Smith, an Imperial Wizard for the KKK in Louisville. “Plus, the SS Knights choose towns that are predominantly white. We don’t believe in going to towns that are predominantly black because it’s a waste of time.”

Bowling Green Mayor Sandy Jones and Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon have proclaimed Saturday “Community Unity Day” in response to the Klan’s rally. The Bowling Green Human Rights Commission has also planned to hold a counter-rally at Girls, Inc on Scott Way.

Each side looks at its rally as a unity rally, but from strikingly opposing viewpoints.

“The purpose of holding the rally is to unite the white people, to let them know we have a voice,” Smith said. “And they need to be heard, also to recruit, of course, and to let them know that we’re active.”

Meanwhile, counter-rally organizers say they will seek to highlight Bowling Green’s unity by showing its ethnic diversity.

“We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the diversity and celebrate the diversity in our community,” said Saundra Ardrey, Western’s government department head. “It means we’re larger than the hatred.”

Linda McCray, executive director for the Human Rights Commission, echoed Ardrey’s sentiments.

“We’re trying to make a positive out of a negative,” McCray said. “There is not much we can do about the Klan coming to our community. They have a First Amendment right, but so does goodness.”

Unity Day organizers plan what amounts to an international block party.

McCray said the event will kick off with a performance by Ernie Small’s Blues Band and will also feature appearances by the African-American choir from Bowling Green High School, a Celtic band, a Bosnian folk group and a dancing troupe.

Other happenings at the counter-rally include face painting for children, making patches for a unity quilt, a forum on ethnic tolerance and a drive to have Bowling Green residents recite and sign the civil rights credo, The Birmingham Pledge.

Western student leaders and administrators have said they are hoping for a large student turnout for Unity Day.

“We’re definitely going to encourage all the fraternities to participate,” Interfraternity Council President Tim Gilbert said.

Gilbert, from Owensboro, watched the Klan march through his hometown this spring.

“Almost everyone that was around was turned off and couldn’t believe that was actually going on in Owensboro,” Gilbert said.

Western students, staff and faculty share a moral burden to back Unity Day, said Howard Bailey, dean of Student Life.

“It’s Western’s commitment and moral obligation to play an active role in all those positive things that are going on in our community,” Bailey said. “We sincerely want student participation in the unity event.”

Klan members view Bowling Green’s Hispanic community as a threat, said Karl Lugo, director of development for Western’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences.

“They always use growing immigrant populations as an excuse for why they aren’t being given special options or special rights or special circumstances,” said Lugo, a native of Puerto Rico and board member and treasurer for Bowling Green’s Hispanic Resource Center. “I think that the Hispanic community is hated by this group.”

One leader among Bowling Green’s Jewish community advocates a position of total non-confrontation toward the Klan rally.

“These sorts of events are best left ignored,” said Margaret Friedman-Vaughan, lay leader for Bowling Green’s Am Shalom Reformed Congregation.

The Klan’s Imperial Wizard said Bowling Green residents have nothing to fear from the Klan and that Klan leaders only want to use Saturday’s rally to boost Klan membership, gain a voice in Kentucky politics and eventually run candidates for office.

“We’re not a violent organization anymore,” Smith said. “We’re a Christian organization. We don’t believe in violence whatsoever. Yes, we have changed our image.”

Reach Dave Shinall at [email protected]