Columbia, SC -- On July 18, 2015, I experienced something that I would have never thought would have happened in my life. I came in direct contact with time travelers. I’m talking about members of the Klu Klux Klan and the Neo Nazi Party. That’s right; I’m talking about the political organization responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. The same political operatives who lynched an estimated 4800 Americans in the name of White Supremacy, and that’s just the documented cases. This is the same group that in its peak in 1920 had more than 4 million people in membership. On July 18th, I was within an arm’s reach of time travelers from an era of American history that most of us think of as gone and forgotten.
There was not a single cloud in the sky and the heat index was 104 degrees as I arrived and pulled out my camera. The Klan and Nazis weren’t the first group to gather at the South Carolina capitol grounds that day. A rally held by the Black Educators for Justice, a subset of the New Black Panther Party, started off the day’s events. I’ll admit, even as a man of color I was a little bit nervous regarding the Black Panthers. After the Charleston Massacre, one of their leaders, Malik Shabazz, made some very virulent comments laced with hate speech against white Americans, even at one point calling for their eradication. I was afraid I would hear this type of rhetoric at the rally at our state capitol. Instead, the speakers at the rally spoke about American history, unfairness in current public policies, and black on black violence as well as other issues that need to be resolved within the black community. I specifically remember one of the leaders named Hashim Nzinga telling the crowd (which included Caucasians holding confederate flags) that they came for peace, to provide information, and to achieve understanding. By the end of the rally there were Caucasians yelling out “Black power!” and clapping. Before the rally was over, the main leader advised everyone to pick up their litter and to be safe as they made their way over to the other side of the statehouse where the KKK/Neo Nazi rally was about to kick off.
This is where it all got weird. On the back side of the Statehouse, there were barricades and ropes blocking off the steps and an area in front of them. There was a huge police presence; I’m talking the serious stuff, officers holding tear gas launchers and even snipers mounted on the top of the Statehouse. I wondered if they were there to keep the KKK/Nazis safe from the counter protesters, or the reverse. A crowd had already amassed around the barricades on all sides. There were people holding signs everywhere that showed great displeasure with the KKK/Nazis amassing on our home turf — the People’s house. They arrived a little late (what can you expect from people carrying ideas from the 1920s) with all eyes on them as they made their way to their barricaded area. The clashes began almost instantly. You could see water bottles flying towards the direction of the Klansmen and people trying to surround them. Just as fast as it started, the issue was resolved and the officers made way to get them into their barricades. I think the most disturbing image I saw was that of little kids being escorted by adult members of the KKK. I thought to myself, this is the passing of the torch — the next potential generation of hatred. I looked around at the crowd behind me (I was up front, in the press area) and all I could see was disappointed and disgusted faces. In comparison to the New Black Panthers rally, it was quite disorganized. After waiting for 15 minutes or so, it was apparent that there were no leaders on the KKK side that were going to speak. The crowd grew increasingly bored of their Confederate flag waving, insults and scraggly yells of “White Power” at a rapid pace. I could hear remarks from the crowd like “You all look like trash” and “Sit down you dumb rednecks.”
The Klan/Nazis really started to inflame the crowd at this point. “Nigger” was a flavor word that was thrown out frequently, combined with other words like “monkey,” “slave,” and “chimpy.” It was very hard to keep my composure as an African American. We had just had a travesty happen in Charleston committed by a person who shared the same views as these people jumping around and yelling insults at a mixed race crowd of South Carolinians. For a good 10 minutes I put my camera down because I realized that I was shaking. Being a black man in Lexington S.C. and graduating from the same school that Dylan Roof did, racism and racially charged statements weren’t anything new to me. This was different, these were people that would hang me and not think anything twice about it if they had the chance. I saw deep hatred for me and people like me all because of the color of my skin. I was sad, hurt, and angry. The deep insults cut like razor blades as I heard references to the Charleston massacre and how the killer did a good job.
Standing no more than 5 feet away from me an overweight, one-toothed Klansmen yelled at a group of black people behind me “When you wake up in the morning and take your morning shit, what color is it? That’s right it’s brown like your skin nigger, you’re the color of a bowel movement.”
I realized that these people were only there to get under people’s skin. They only wanted a rise. Here I am, I’m young, I’m in shape, I’m healthy, I’m a scholar, I have my own business and to top it off I have a plethora of friends and family of all races and backgrounds that care about me enough to check me when I start to deviate from the right path. This man was pretty much the bottom of the bucket. He hated only one person more than he hated black people and that was himself.
After that moment of clarity my feelings of sadness had shifted. I felt pity for these fellow human beings who thought so little of themselves that they would behave so despicably in public. I watched as they jumped around trying to incite the crowd by making monkey sounds, threatening people and dropping N bombs. What sealed the deal was when they pulled out an Israeli flag, tore it, spit on it, and then shuffled it around on the ground with their boots. What a pathetic sight indeed.
After an hour and a half of this inflaming display of idiocy they decided to cut their rally short. Unfortunately for them they had fanned the flames a little too high and there weren’t enough officers to escort them out without a couple of Klansmen/Nazis getting scorched by those flames. I think that those time travelers learned a valuable lesson. You can’t travel to 2015 saying and doing the same things you did in the early 1900s expecting the same responses.
As the Klan and Nazis ducked and cowered, and as their dispassionate police escorts ushered them to safety, a great feeling overcame me. I don’t know if it was the feeling of some type of victory, or the fact that I made it out physically unscathed, but it felt like a cool light rain on a hot summer’s day. I was extremely proud to be a South Carolinian. All over social media you saw cries for no one to show up and suggestions to just ignore them and let them come and leave without any attention. The fact that they had been ignored for so long is the reason that they felt comfortable enough to even show up to our statehouse. I could only imagine how dumb they felt to see their fellow Caucasians denouncing them. The Klan/Nazis could yell at the top of their lungs but there just wasn’t enough “White Power” in them to overcome the South Carolina power that we came together to produce at the statehouse to stomp out hate.
In this day and age it is our duty to stand together, not as black and white people but as brother and sisters. The human chain is only as strong as its weakest link. WE MUST REINFORCE EACH OTHER. Injustices towards one group of people are an injustice towards all. No one cares about their neighbor’s roaches until the infestation reaches their doorstep. It’s time we help and love each other. We must stand up and stand together to make a better tomorrow. Hate has no place.
My biggest regret is that it took 9 lives, combined with current events regarding unarmed people of color and law enforcement to get us all to stand together on the same platform. Now that we are together we must continue this momentum. There is only one force capable of eradicating hate and that is love. Before I go, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes by the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We are the light. We have the love. Not you, not me, but WE.
-- Crush Rush