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Waiting for the KKK
By Brandt Williams
Minnesota Public Radio
August 24, 2001
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Anti-Ku Klux Klan rallies are scheduled Friday night and Saturday, in response to the Klan's scheduled rally Saturday at the state Capitol. Members of civic, religious, civil rights and non-profit coalitions are encouraging citizens to speak out against the hate group, but urged against drawing attention to the group by demonstrating against them at the Capitol. However, others say ignoring the Klan will not make it go away.

Cheryl Morgan Spencer of the Minneapolis Urban League joins the call for a show of opposition to the Ku Klux Klan rally in St. Paul Saturday. Spencer says the mention of the Klan still strikes fear into the hearts of people of color.
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
THE FIRST OF SEVERAL WEEKEND DEMONSTRATIONS IS SCHEDULED Friday night - the YWCA is holding a "Wake Up Minnesota" rally. to give Minnesotans a chance to speak out against racism and hate. Representatives from the organizations that spoke called the Klan dangerous because of its members' hatred of blacks, Jews, immigrants, Catholics, gays and lesbians and people of color. However, League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions president Thelma McKenzie says some good can come of the Klan's appearance in Minnesota.

"I think it's good the Klan is going to have their rally. It tells us they're still there and it awakens us to deal with it," she says.

McKenzie and others agree that the presence of the Klan has brought people of diverse racial backgrounds together - something which is bound to disturb members of the white separatist group. However, not everyone agrees on how to display their rejection of the Klan on Saturday, when the group will rally on the Capitol steps.

The city of St. Paul is holding an anti-racism event at Central High School at the same time the Klan demontrates at the Capitol. So is the Minnesota DFL Party, which will rally at the Fitzgerald theater. A group called "Can the Klan" will also hold a demonstration during the Klan rally - on the capitol grounds. Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch encouraged Minnesotans to stay away from the Capitol because that would minimize the attention the Klan is looking for.
"I think it's important that we all express our displeasure with it, but not in a way that draws attention to people who hate others. We can ignore it and we can go on and attend to our lives, tend to our families, and celebrate the diversity we have in this state," Hatch says.

Michelle Gross of Can the Klan disagrees. She says the Klan isn't here to get attention - she says it's looking for new members.

"Us being out there at the Capitol, in large nubmers, with a very diverse crowd sends the message to them that this is not a good place for them to organize," Gross says.

Can the Klan says it is calling for a peaceful demonstration. But the state is taking precautions against any violent confrontations between counter-protesters and the Klan, by keeping the groups about a block apart. Counter-demonstrators are expected to outnumber the Klan, which is restricted to having a maximum of 50 people on the Capitol steps.

The KKK doesn't have the numbers it once did in America. However, Cheryl Morgan Spencer of the Minneapolis Urban League says the mention of the Klan still strikes fear into the hearts of people of color, especially African Americans, the most frequent victims of the group's violence in the last century. And, whatever their numbers, she doesn't think the KKK is to be taken lightly.

"When we think about the Klan and we have this image of them being from long ago, that's not entirely true. They are alive, they are present, they are here to continue their reign of terror," Spencer says.

The counter-rallies won't end once the Klan leaves the Capitol grounds, escorted by state troopers. Following the Klan demonstration, the Black Republican coalition will hold a rally inside the Capitol building.