Hundreds gathered in Charlotte’s Marshall Park Saturday to protest a planned Ku Klux Klan rally elsewhere in the state and to speak against a rise in hate that crowd members blamed on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The rally included speeches by local religious leaders and community activists and a March for Love to three nearby monuments that organizers said symbolize the power of love over hate.
Marchers laid flowers at each stop, first the Holocaust Memorial in Marshall Park, then the Gandhi statue at the Old County Courthouse and finally the Martin Luther King Jr. statue back in Marshall Park. At the MLK Jr. memorial, people joined hands and sang the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”
A local group of activists led by the Queens Social Justice initiative organized the event “to celebrate the values our state holds dear, including love, unity, compassion and hope,” the group said in announcing the gathering. And that’s what people of all ages at the rally said they came to do.
Similar events were held Saturday in Salisbury, Raleigh and elsewhere to protest the KKK rally in Person County near Virginia.
“I’m here to stand against hate and vote for love,” Joshua Burns, 25, of Charlotte, said at the Marshall Park rally as he held a placard that read, “KKK R Terrorist.
Skip Rackmill and his wife, Elaine Rothenberg drove two hours from Blowing Rock – “a short jaunt” to attend such an important event, he said. “We need to support the other positions, like love, harmony and everything else Donald Trump talks against,” Rackmill said.
Many others in the crowd also decried Trump and his policies. But Rabbi Judith Schindler said later Saturday that organizers never mentioned Trump as a reason for the rally. “As organizers, this event was purely an anti-hate and anti-KKK march for love,” said Schindler, associate professor of Jewish studies and director of the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens.
For Queens University of Charlotte freshman Morasha Winokur, 18, the gathering was a chance “to promote peace and justice for everyone, no matter your faith, ethnicity and anything else.” She handed out “coexist” placards depicting children colored red, green, blue, brown, yellow and pink holding hands around a green globe.
Said Autumn Alston, 26, of Charlotte: “We’re going to stand up against bigotry. We’re not just going to stand by and watch it happen. We’re going to get to work to change this and get us back on the right track.”
“After this election, there’s been so much vitriol and hatred being thrown around that, hopefully, we can ask people to look for the good in each other,” Dan Kroener of Tega Cay, S.C., said as he held a sign that read, “Love Thy immigrant – gay – Muslim – refugee neighbor.”
“We’re one world and one human race,” his wife, Donna Kroener, said.
Nimish Bhatt said he’d like to see more such gatherings, in schools, churches, temples and elsewhere. Bhatt, president of the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, said such events “bring people together through love, peace and truth and show we are one Charlotte family.”
Staff photographer Diedra Laird contributed