Because the fire had died out by the time the Rev. Carl and Jennie Garrett returned to their Silver Spring home that Saturday night in February, neither noticed, by their own account, that a small cross had been planted and burned on their lawn.
"I saw it early Sunday as I left for church," said Mr. Garrett, who is minister of youth at Metropolitan Wealey AME Zion Church in Washington. "I called my wife and then I called the (Montgomery County) police."
The charred 4-foot-by-4-foot cross "gave me an eerie feeling," recalled Jennie Garrett, who works for the District of Columbia Department of Human Resources and also directs the church choir, "because we both work with people, try to help people. To think this could happen to us."
The Garretts, who are black, were among 175 persons who attended a Monday night meeting in Silver Spring called by the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission to discuss what to do after cross-burning sor similar incidents of racial harassment and how to prevent them from occuring.
The commission officials said that during the past two years they have received reports of over 30 such acts as cross-burnings, or the letters KKK being scrawled on the homes or cars of black families in the county.
Although a precise accounting of the number of such incidents is impossible to get because of different reporting methods by the various police and fire departments involved, the concern over them isn't limited to officials in Montgomery County.
Dervey Lomax, chairman of the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission, said eight such incidents have been reported in his county so far this month. Last month a 23-year-old University of Maryland student, idenfified as an "exalted cyclops" of a Klu Klu Klan Lodge, was arrested by Maryland State Police and charged with six cross-burnings in Prince George's County, on count of making bomb threats, and two of manufacturing pipe bombs.
"Maryland State Police spokesmand Bill Clark, like other officials interviewed, said he believes the increase in racially-motivated incidents is more often the work of juveniles than of Klan members.
But Clark was quick to add, "we really pursue those incidents because it's such a hateful thing. Somebody might consider them just pranks, but - just like swastiles - cross-burnings, for a particular group of people, dredge up a fearful past."
Clark said the Klan has stepped up its recruiting efforts in the past six months and that there are two branches of the United Klan of America and the Maryland Knights of the KKK. Each of these groups has a maximum membership of about 600 but few are active, he said.
Clark said Cecil County and Carroll, County are Klan strongholds where the Klan regularly holds cross-burning rallies. He said there are also small groups of active Klan members in Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.
State Police in Virginia said there have been no cross-burning reported there in the past five or six months.
Montgomery County human relations officials, concerned not only about the incidents, but that the publicity about them would prompt more, called Monday night's meeting in an "effort to confront the problem with a positive emphasis," deputy director Freda Mauldin said.
Alan P. Dean, the commission's executive secretary, told those assembled at the Colesville United Presbyterian Church that he hoped to set up "an early warning network" of individuals in different neighborhoods.
This "network" of people woud work to prevent incidents from occurring, comfort the victims of such incidents and attempt to unite the neighborhood "to show this kind of thing isn't going to be tolerated," Dean said.
The meeting's purpose was applauded by County Executive James P. Gleason, County Council President. John Menke , and County Police Chief Robert J. DiGrazia, who said he was "pleased to see this happen. Too often we tend to ignore incidents until they happen . . . Fcrewarned is forearmed."