Racist graffiti were scrawled in red spray paint along Mackall Road in Port Republic last week, an act that Calvert County NAACP president Joyce Freeland called "repulsive and offensive" and that shook her confidence in the state of race relations in the county.

The Calvert County Sheriff's Office thinks the graffiti were written Monday evening and said the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

On one patch of road, there was an intricate "tag" -- the signature of a graffiti artist. Nearby, written in large letters across the entire southbound lane in the area of Matapeake Court, were the words "I Hate [racial epithet]!"

By Friday, the sheriff's office had not identified who was responsible. Images of the graffiti were sent in a news release from the sheriff's office. Freeland said the graffiti had been cleaned off the road by the time she drove there.

"It's really very unfortunate that in this day and time . . . there's still people who are racist enough to spread this kind of hatred, and I think it's really repulsive and offensive and it's really a disgrace," Freeland said. "If you have these kinds of incidents, it starts to make you question what's going on with our race relations. . . . Hopefully this is just an isolated incident."

The graffiti were sprayed in an area of the county that is racially mixed and near where the predominantly black Brooks United Methodist Church sits next to the largely white Waters Memorial United Methodist Church. Calvert County is one of the region's most racially homogenous jurisdictions; blacks make up 12 percent of the population.

The percentage of blacks in the county has been steadily declining. A century ago, Calvert was majority black; in 1980, blacks made up 22 percent of the county. Whites, who made up 63 percent of residents in 1970, account for almost 86 percent today.

All three counties in Southern Maryland have faced racial slurs and hate crimes -- often in the form of graffiti and fliers -- in the past year.

In Charles County, where the racial demographics are changing in the opposite direction from Calvert's, thousands of racist and anti-Semitic fliers were distributed in January by the National Alliance, a white supremacist group, in neighborhoods near the site of the Hunters Brooke arson. A racial motivation has been cited, among other factors, in the fires.

The next month, racist threats were spray-painted in the snow outside the office of the Minority Business Alliance in neighboring St. Mary's County.

Freeland said the graffiti would be discussed at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's monthly meeting, which was scheduled to be held yesterday.

"People who live in that area are concerned, and people in the county should be concerned. I don't know if it's kids or adults or whatever," she said. "I'm hoping it will be cleared up."