Hundreds of people rallied in Lancaster Saturday in protest of a Maryland-based Ku Klux Klan chapter’s plans for a cross burning in rural Quarryville that evening.
More than 20 local leaders spoke during the two-hour demonstration about racism and oppression – history, progress, persistence and the need for continued action and vigilance – before a crowd that filled the courthouse steps and spilled into part of King Street, prompting police to close one lane of traffic.
Lifelong city resident Ron McNeil, 60, seemed optimistic afterward.
“This younger generation, of all races, they know they have to have a conversation to save the world,” McNeil says. “And I believe they’re going to make it happen.”
The counter rally was organized by NAACP Lancaster and area faith groups, and followed a Franklin & Marshall College daylong teach-in Friday at First Reformed United Church of Christ, after media reports drew attention to a message thread on an extremist website about a cross-burning in Quarryville.
On Saturday evening, the borough was relatively quiet, aside from a carnival at the South East Community Association park to benefit the Solanco Area Football Association.
Quarryville is only a square mile as far as the borough proper, but often refers to a larger area encompassing several adjacent rural townships – including East Drumore Township, the home municiplaity of Ron Smith.
We spoke to Smith while he was monitoring the parking area at the carnival.
Smith says he thought the KKK “was extinct” until this week’s news coverage.
“It’s disgusting, I think. It’s an oxymoron for them to say they’re Christian, because they hate people,” Smith says. “But [the event] … doesn’t define the whole area.”
But Keith Wilson, 40, says he wasn’t that surprised when he learned that it was happening in Quarryville.
Wilson lives in Lancaster city now, but his parents live in Quarryville and he went to high school in the area. After the rally on Saturday, Wilson recalled his classmates who were “loud and proud about their bigoted beliefs” and wore Confederate flags.
While that was in the 1990s, it’s still not uncommon to see Confederate flags in southern parts of not only Lancaster, but also York, Adams and other counties which border the Mason-Dixon Line.
Wilson also says the 2016 election evidenced the “extreme anger” he sees underlying political, racial and other divisions in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
“I’ve traveled a good bit and I wonder if there are these pockets all across rural America where there’s that divide: of understanding, of world view, of everything,” Wilson says. “There’s something keeping people separated enough that it’s possible to persist with kind of a dark world view.”
The KKK demonstrated in front of the borough of Quarryville’s municipal building in 2001, and in the city of Lancaster in 1991. In 2014, the group announced it was starting a neighborhood watch in Fairview Township, Lancaster County, through one of its occasional flyer disseminations, and demonstrated in Gettysburg.
State, regional and local law enforcement officials have said they weren’t contacted by the organization about this weekend’s event.
One KKK member, who declined to provide his full name, reached previously by phone wouldn’t give an exact address of the event location, but said it’s a private farm picked for its convenience for members living in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia.
They expected attendance to exceed 100 people.