Annapolis political and civil rights leaders gathered at the City Dock's Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial on Monday to denounce a West Virginia-based group that has been distributing fliers that characterize the city's upcoming Reconciliation Walk as part of an effort to promote "white guilt."
Members of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation and the London-based Lifeline Expedition -- sponsors of the Annapolis leg of a series of nationwide events to draw attention to the history of slavery -- say the Sept. 29 event will go on, despite distribution of fliers last Saturday by Annapolis members of the National Alliance. The group also has offices in Baltimore.
The fliers have strengthened the resolve of Annapolis leaders to show that the city is unified and is not promoting hate or guilt, said Leonard Blackshear, president of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation. Blackshear was surrounded at the press conference by members, both black and white, of the Annapolis City Council, the Annapolis Human Relations Commission and the Annapolis Friends Meeting.
"We want to 'Say no to White Guilt,' too" said Blackshear, referring to a headline written at the top of one of the fliers that the National Alliance distributed. "But we're also against . . . anger."
Michael J. Keller, chairman of the Annapolis Human Relations Commission, who is white, agreed.
"The worst thing to do is to ignore these organizations," said Keller, who found one of the fliers on his lawn Saturday morning. "They like it when the community has no response to their actions. They take that as the community condoning their beliefs. We need to let them know that what they stand for is wrong."
Keller said he was "appalled but not surprised that this white supremacist organization has chosen the Lifeline Expedition as its latest target."
"Lifeline promotes racial healing and reconciliation," Keller said. "The National Alliance divides people."
Shaun Walker, the chief operating officer for the National Alliance, said in an interview the group has distributed 1,500 fliers in the Annapolis area and plans to continue distributing them until Sept. 29.
"Why are they bringing up a slave issue since it ended so long ago?" Walker asked.
Walker added: "It's a nonissue and to bring this issue up can only create white guilt and make it an issue."
Much of the information in the group's fliers is incorrect, Blackshear said.
One flier stated that the Annapolis City Council voted to waive the city's mandatory $2,000 demonstration fee, which would have been used to hire police protection for the walk. The flier also implied that taxpayers would end up paying for the police protection instead.
"This is a fee that is routinely waived for nonprofit organizations," said Blackshear, during an interview after the press conference. "The city has costs [for this] which are already built into its budget. The money would be there whether we had this walk or not. We applied for a waiver and we got it. We are a local nonprofit and there are many which they waive the fee for."
The same flier states that during similar demonstrations in England, "whites tied themselves up and were led around by Blacks."
That statement is misleading, said Carol Palmer, an assistant to the coordinator of Lifeline's Richmond office.
"We're a Christian organization," Palmer said. "This is a walk of penitence and forgiveness. The white Americans and white Europeans who walk will be walking in penitence, and the blacks who walk are walking in forgiveness. The years of slavery and the effect of slavery still has its effects today, and we believe that this is one way to help and to heal. Yokes and chains [to be worn by some white people] are a symbol of penitence -- a way of identifying with the ancestors and the sins that they committed."
Lifeline Expedition, which started Reconciliation Walks four years ago in England, decided to hold a walk in Annapolis after visiting the city three months ago.
The walk is to begin at the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial and end at the Thurgood Marshall Memorial in front of the State House.
Lifeline Expedition's East Coast tour was originally scheduled to begin in Boston, but after hearing about Annapolis's Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, the group rerouted its tour.