On one side stood a group of American Nazis, filling their lungs with air from Market Square by Alexandria's City Hall and exhaling hate.
On the other side stood a crowd of restless young black residents.
The year was 1970, and across the city, emotions were still raw from a white shopkeeper's fatal shooting of a black teenager for stealing some razor blades. Violence and fear had spread, and now the Nazis had come to feed. Police saw a vicious street fight coming. Or worse.
"Animals!" a bullhorn-toting Nazi shouted.
"Let's hear it for the animals!" the youths shouted back.
"There have been some crosses burned in this town!" another Nazi leader warned.
"You better cut that out, man," came the reply. "Don't you know that's air pollution?"
When a Nazi passed out membership applications for the National Socialist White People's Party, a successor to George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party, members of the young black crowd clamored for them.
"I want to be a Nazi!" they said. "I want to be white!"
Two of the Nazis worked themselves into such a frenzy that they were speechless. By the time the Nazis folded up their "White Power" banner, even the police were cracking up. The black youths who had outwitted the Nazis enjoyed the last laugh.
That episode in Alexandria's history comes alive again when Andy Evans, one of the young men who inspired the kill-'em-with-wisecracks strategy, takes the stage next weekend at the Old Town Theater in Alexandria. His one-man show, "Andy's Run," reprises that scene as well as others from his and the city's past.
"That was the day that laughter was mightier than the rock," said Evans, who in 1970 was a young Alexandria activist and intervened that day to try to keep the peace. "It was mind-blowing to see the way the kids got empowered. If I had to plan it, it would never have happened."
Evans, who once ran for sheriff and co-managed the election campaign of the first black Alexandria City Council member since Reconstruction, has worked as a professional comedian for about 15 years. He is former director of the Office of Minority Affairs at George Mason University.
His show, to be presented Jan. 24 and 25, is a dramatic monologue that revisits his experiences growing up in a large black family in Alexandria at a time of dramatic change. In the mid-1960s, when Evans shipped out for duty in Vietnam, his home town still forbade him and other blacks from sharing the same restroom and water fountain with whites. Even the Catholic parochial schools, which he attended, were segregated.
By the time Evans returned, the city was smoldering with racial anger. In May 1970, a white 7-Eleven clerk shot a black 19-year-old, igniting disturbances, firebombings and vandalism in scattered areas. "There was martial law," recalled former city manager Vola Lawson, an activist then and a friend of Evans's.
To calm the riots, former City Council member Ira L. Robinson, the first black to run for a seat on the governing body in 100 years, toured the troubled neighborhoods of the city, Lawson said. With him was her late husband, David Lawson, and Evans.
Evans remembers David Lawson ever so gingerly stepping through the crowd as they went from neighborhood to neighborhood, determined yet a little worried.
Robinson sized up Lawson's 6-foot-8 frame and white skin. "My God, you're a pretty big target," Robinson told him, according to Vola Lawson. She said she is eager to see Evans's take on the episode, as well as the city's past.
"Andy's just a natural for this," she said.
Evans said he hopes the show demonstrates that there are peaceful ways to defuse violence.
"Look at Alexandria now. You got two black guys running for mayor," he said, referring to the coming contest between City Council member William Euille (D) and Vice Mayor William C. Cleveland (R). "It's a nonissue."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.