Up onstage an angry woman threw down the hammer.
"We are a community of warriors!" she declared. "Harlem is waiting for you, KKK! Come uptown and see what happens! The KKK will not show their dirty faces today!"
She was wrong with that last comment. The KKK has never rallied in New York, and these sheets wanted attention here finally. James Sheeley, an upstate resident who calls himself the New York KKK's Grand Dragon, is a nervous little man who?and this sounds like something from an episode of Oz?once worked as a counselor at Wallkill prison, from which he was fired for keeping racist literature in his office. He and Jeffrey Berry, the national Imperial Wizard and a beefy ex-con from Indiana, both promised to make a New York appearance. And they did.
I asked a few anti-Klan protesters if they were committed to fighting racism in all forms. It was like asking people at church if they believed in God. Of course they were. I then asked where they were in September, when Khalid Muhammad had rallied up in Harlem. A graybeard shook his head sadly and directed me to a media table. I opined that at his age he should probably be able to speak for himself. I asked a woman the same question and she looked at me as if I'd slapped her. A member of the Communist Party said that the fundamental difference between the Klan and Muhammad was that the Klan was a paramilitary organization. I told him that Muhammad wants his followers to start a paramilitary organization. Two other party members led him away from me.
Speeches dragged on. Finally a ripple of excitement tore through the crowd. With the instinct of a lynch mob everyone mobilized and set out for 60 Centre St. Word coursed through the throng that the Klan had shown. Scores of angry people waving red flags moved in to get those rascals. To show those peckerwoods that they better stay out of New York. I managed to bull my way to within 300 feet of where the Klan members were penned in. There they were. They looked hounded and sad. Their white hoods glared in the bright afternoon sunlight. The Klansmen weren't allowed a p.a. system, which meant that they could just stay quiet as the restless swarm stood around and jeered. Someone tossed a golfball from somewhere and it landed in the crowd. "Fore!" a joker yelled out.
Various activists played to the tv cameras. Since nothing was happening in the Klan rally proper?these aging guys in their white robes?zealots surveyed the crowd, eyeing others suspiciously. Maybe there were incognito Klan sympathizers in their midst. I turned to speak with Thomas Jefferson Byrd, a character actor who's appeared in the Spike Lee movies Get On the Bus and Clockers, and asked whether Lee was ever going to make his Jackie Robinson movie.
"Knowing Spike he will. I think I might get the part of Satchel Paige," Byrd said. I gave it to him that, with his face and lanky body, he'd make a fine Satchel.
Meanwhile, things were getting ugly. I watched some white guy get thrown into a police wagon. The crowd surged into the metal barricades and the cops' faces looked strained. I saw a man whom I'd seen at Muhammad's rally back in September. He wore combat fatigues and a dogface baseball cap and a big smile at what was going on.