Hundreds gathered for the March for a Hate-Free Hillsborough at the Old Slave Cemetery on Aug. 31 to protest against the Confederate presence in the community.
The march was organized in response to a Ku Klux Klan rally that occurred the previous weekend in front of the Orange County Courthouse. This week the rally was organized by the Hate-Free Schools Coalition and Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action.
The marchers proceeded from the Margaret Lane Cemetery to the Orange County Courthouse, holding signs in support of minority, LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities. After the march, speakers and organizers from other affiliated organizations like the Northern Orange NAACP and Native American Democratic Auxiliary Caucus gave rousing speeches to the crowd.
Latarndra Strong, one of the event’s organizers and founder of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, said she was the first person who appeared last week to counter-protest the KKK rally, initially facing Klan members alone.
“You don’t expect to come out of your home in 2019 to see Confederate flags or the Ku Klux Klan in full regalia,” she said. “It was shocking. There was part of me that was in disbelief.”
Strong said she thinks last week’s rally proved to be a wake-up call to the town.
“I'm happy that they’re showing their face because I’m not confused about who they are and what they represent,” Strong said. “I think that there is a new recognition that we still have this sort of racism to fight against.”
Following last week's rally, the Orange County Human Relations Commission released a statement saying the county welcomes diversity and opposes hatred.
"We are very clear in our position that organizations and groups with a documented history of terrorism and belief in white supremacy are not contributing to the county’s well-being," the statement said. "Thus, it is our aspiration to simultaneously uphold the First Amendment and disavow racism and hate speech."
Though fliers supporting the KKK were posted around Hillsborough before the rally, no counter-protest was present at the rally.
Attendees ranged from children to elders and spanned across multiple races and backgrounds. A high school senior, Ryan Bliss, said he could not sit idly by after hearing about the rally the week prior. He said many people share these sentiments regardless of their differences.
“I think there’s a lot of people that feel the way we do that either we shouldn’t have to keep doing this, or it’s time to really push back,” Bliss said. “I’m happy to see such a fun mix of old people and the youths.”
Strong said she was also happy with the turnout and support shown by her fellow community members, given the element of risk to attending an event like this rally.
“These people said, 'Not in my town and not in my community,'” she said. “It makes me filled with love and glee that we have such a huge manifestation of connection and community.”
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