Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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January 5, 2010

KITCHELL: If only she could have been here

Olympic ceremonies provide contrast to last week’s ugliness in Kokomo

Editor’s note: My only column to win a national award, it dealt with watching a Ku Klux Klan rally in Kokomo and then one week later covering the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The stark contract of the hate, the love — what a week. What a moment in my life.

Published Sept. 22, 1996

(Last in a 10-part series)




ATLANTA — The irony of the moment is inescapable.

In one week’s time, I’ve gone from the bowels of hell — a rally for the Ku Klux Klan — to Friday night’s Olympic Opening Ceremony, a celebration of the South; the world’s youth; the 100th anniversary of the Games and yes, forgiveness.

Just last Saturday in Kokomo I stood on the Courthouse lawn while 25 Klan members exercised their right of free speech. Fewer than 40 supporters attended, including 7-year-old Jessica Young from Fort Wayne, but it mattered little to the Klan. Its vile message of hate was directed to a slightly larger crowd of non-supporters.

The Klan’s visit to a city — 70 years ago a KKK stronghold but now one whose overwhelming number of citizens live for racial and religious harmony, and tolerance for all — was nothing more than an invitation to violence.

Fortunately no one in Kokomo bit. Oh, there was shouting and cursing from people so disturbed by the Klan’s message that they could hold their tongues no longer, but no blows were struck.

Perhaps that disappointment will be enough to keep the Klan from our city forever.

I do wish I could have taken one guest to last night’s extravaganza, young Jessica who was pictured in our newspaper handing out Klan literature.

I’m not sure anyone on this earth could change the hate in those older, hardened, unforgiving hearts that surrounded her, but she looked so young, so worth saving.

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