Prejudice in Pennsylvania: Welcome to the Twilight Zone

Klan Meeting in PA [1920s]

by Jacob Bender, CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Director

One narrative technique of imaginative fiction is for the hero to wake up from a deep sleep in a strange time and place. From Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” to Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” from Dorothy’s sojourn in the Land of Oz” to Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” writers have utilized this literary device to hold up a mirror to their own times.

This narrative technique came to mind when I received an email from Ann Van Dyke of Community Responders Network (featured in our “Hatred in Harrisburg” article as well), with a list of incidents involving the Ku Klux Klan around Pennsylvania! A few excerpts follow:

  • Reports of KKK literature distributions by Loyal White Knights of the KKK, entitled “Wake Up White America!”
  • Bias Incident #48 – August 13 and 20, 2017. A group of people who appeared to be with the KKK stood in front of Christ United Methodist Church, “greeted” people coming to church and tried to hand out the KKK literature.
  • Bias Incident #49 – August 13 and 20, 2017. Same activity as above. Fairview Avenue Brethren in Christ. 152 Fairview Avenue, Waynesboro PA 17268
  • Bias Incident #50 – August 20, 2017. Klan literature placed on car windshields in church parking lot. Trinity United Church of Christ, 30 W. North St., Waynesboro PA 17268.
  • Bias Incident #51 – August 20, 2017. Klan activity same as in #48. They were asked to leave, but did not, Salem United Church of Christ, 4881 Salem Church Road, Waynesboro PA 17268.
  • Bias Incident #52 – During this same period, KKK literature was distributed in Waynesboro residential areas in mail boxes and left in driveways.
  • Bias Incident #53 – During this same period, KKK literature was distributed in the Greencastle area.

Some of the white pastors in the churches listed above responded that this type of KKK literature distribution happens occasionally and they just ignore it. In response, Ann Van Dyke sent the following letter (excerpts) to several of these clergy members:

Regarding the Klan’s targeting of churches with white congregations: Church folks are who the KKK most needs to intimidate and to keep quiet. We sadly note throughout the history of the KKK that white church folks want desperately to believe that if they ignore hate in any form, it will go away…they want to convince themselves that they have no responsibility when hate targets someone else. They are also way too worried about their buildings, as in, “We don’t want the Klan to get mad at us and vandalize our building.”

Having the Klan in town is a tremendous test of Christian morals and courage and wisdom. The hardest part of my job (33 years with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 23 working with communities where hate groups were active) was getting good people to speak up!

Groups like the Klan absolutely need to keep people of faith quiet. Silence is the welcome mat for hate.

Reading the above left me feeling like I had awoken in a different America, where D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” is playing at every local movie theatre across the land, and lynching of Black Men a common horror.

After Charlottesville, the president said there were “good people” among the neo-Nazis, Klan supporters, and white supremacists who marched with torches blazing, no doubt having watched Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” one too many times.

But this is no bad dream. It is the nightmare we are living through. This is why CAIR is important, an indispensable component of the coalition now struggling to protect those values that really make America great: kindness, justice, pluralism, and love.