How another community handled the KKK

WINCHESTER, Va. For Sandy Lore, word that the Ku Klux Klan plans to hold a rally at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park on Sept. 8 brings alive memories of the earliest days of the Coalition for Racial Unity.

More than two decades ago, citizens involved with the then-new Coalition for Racial Unity found themselves galvanized after the KKK announced plans to rally in Winchester.

The Coalition for Racial Unity had formed after an African-American educator was denied membership in the Winchester Moose Lodge in 1989. Clarence Hunter died a year later, before the issue could be resolved.

Hunter, then a Handley High School assistant principal, said in an interview with The Winchester Star that he was the only African-American among 75 to 100 men who were interviewed for membership.

The Moose Lodge member who sponsored him said he believed Hunter’s application was the only one rejected.

Several area people, sympathetic to Hunter’s plight, formed a coalition in support of him and others who were being discriminated against in the community.

The first public gathering of the group occurred at Jim Barnett Park on June 10, 1990. A number of community leaders attended the Race Unity Day Picnic.

After the picnic, the group began holding organizational meetings. By year’s end, it had adopted the name Coalition for Racial Unity.

The next big rallying point came in the spring of 1992. The Ku Klux Klan had decided to have an area meeting and requested the use of the Frederick County Courthouse.

Coalition members thought deeply about what the organization could do to demonstrate the community’s rejection of hatred and bigotry and decided to have a prayer vigil as a sign of its solidarity.

Although the KKK was denied use of the courthouse, the Coalition, with help from 19 community groups, decided to go ahead with the prayer vigil.

More than 300 people attended the first prayer vigil held on March 28, 1992, at Calvary Baptist Church on Amherst Street. It’s now become an annual event.

The coalition’s membership continues to grow. The non-profit’s focus includes fair housing, equal employment, black history, after-school programs, drug abuse prevention and more.

Although the list of interests, activities and concerns can go on and on, the coalition’s mission statement says the most: “We came together over a mutual concern for racism in our community and its negative effect on our lives, and all ethnic groups and races. We hope by reaching out, person to person, we can develop a better world by the building of bridges, not walls.”

—Sandy Lore can be reached by contacting the Coalition for Racial Unity at crubridges@yahoo.com; 540-662-0225 or at P.O. Box 1424, Winchester VA 22604.

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