WATERVILLE — More than 100 students, residents and faith leaders gathered at Waterville’s City Hall Sunday afternoon to rally against the Ku Klux Klan less than a week after fliers advertising a Klan-branded neighborhood watch appeared in a Waterville neighborhood.
As sunlight filtered through budding trees and small children chased one another around Castonguay Square, protesters held signs declaring, “Black Lives Matter” and “Hatred is Not a Family Value” while clergy from area congregations spoke out against the reappearance in Maine of one of the country’s most notorious hate groups.
“We’re here because the KKK showed up in as cowardly a fashion as possible, distributing anonymous letters (in our community),” said Kurt Nelson, dean of religious and spiritual life at Colby College.
The fliers first appeared in January in Augusta, Gardiner and Freeport neighborhoods. Residents in Hallowell and Waterville woke recently to find leaflets on their cars and in driveways, several delivered in plastic bags weighted with rocks, likely thrown from a passing car.
Many of the fliers are emblazoned with a hooded Klansman flanked by burning KKKs and the group’s blood drop cross insignia and include contact information for a “24-hour Klanline” for residents to report “troubles in their neighborhood.”
“You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake,” the flier declares. “Contact the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Today!”
A call to the hotline was answered by an automated message inviting callers to dial an extension or visit the group’s website. The message thanks callers and instructs them to “have a great white day.”
The fliers’ appearance in Waterville comes on the heels of a December incident in which residents found a large swastika spray painted on a rock at the Quarry Road Recreation area. Following that incident, more than 200 people gathered at Waterville’s Beth Israel Congregation to support the state’s Jewish community. The next month Colby students, faculty and others came together to protest the Trump administration’s controversial travel ban.
At Sunday’s gathering, several of those present expressed concern about the impact such racially charged incidents are having on Waterville’s growing minority population.
“I heard from other students on Colby’s campus, specifically students of color, who said that they felt unsafe downtown,” said Marilee Getgen, 18, a Colby freshman from Pennsylvania. “They should be made to feel safe in the community that they are going to be in for four years.”
Others questioned why more representatives from city leadership were not present at the rally and worried how that silence would be perceived by newcomers to the area.
“We’re not sending strong signals from City Hall,” said Julie de Sherbinin, a retired professor of German and Russian at Colby. “There’s nothing that’s saying this is a welcoming town. This is a university town.”
City Councilors Winifred Tate, of Ward 6, and Lauren Lessing, of Ward 3, did appear at the rally alongside former city councilor and current state representative Thomas Longstaff. Tate urged the crowd to make activism a part of their daily lives, citing “lots of divisive and important issues facing our community.”
But De Sherbinin’s concern is only heightened as a group of refugees she has been helping prepares to move to downtown Waterville. The Munezero siblings, three sisters and two brothers aged between 20 and 30 years old, fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and recently immigrated to the U.S. from Burundi. The Waterville Area New Mainers Project, a group of more than 100 people, have banded together to provide English language tutoring, transportation and other support for the siblings, but De Sherbinin worries for their safety in Waterville. The siblings do not yet speak English well, De Sherbinin pointed out, and members of the project were concerned that even interactions with police could be problematic with the current language barrier.
But on this crisp, Palm Sunday those residents who did turn out appeared united in their desire to make their city a safer place for people like the Munezero siblings.
“Now is the time we’ve been practicing for,” the group sang in unison. Led by Colby professor Elizabeth Leonard, their voices grew stronger with each iteration. “We are ready. We are ready. Let us rise, take a breath, and begin.”
Kate McCormick — 861-9218