This time, there is no doubt who put up the latest racially charged billboard in Harrison, Ark., a nearly all-white city in the Ozarks that is struggling for its soul.
The Ku Klux Klan did it.
The sign brought national media attention to the city and its history of racial hostility to African Americans. But no one claimed responsibility for the sign. The man who owned the billboard company declined to say who paid to lease the space.
The Harrison Community Task Force on Race Relations, which has been working mightily for 12 years improve race relations and the city’s reputation, put up two signs of its own: “Love your neighbor.”
In March of 2014, another racially charged billboard was added just below the yellow sign. It featured a picture of a smiling white family and read, “Beautiful Town, Beautiful People, No Wrong Exits, No Bad Neighborhoods.”
The signs stayed up until about four weeks ago when they were replaced by billboards for the local McDonald’s and a Baptist church, saying everybody was welcome.
The Task Force celebrated, figuring – hoping – that the Harrison billboard wars were finally over, “because there are so many good things and great people in Harrison to focus on,” Task Force member Layne Ragsdale told Hatewatch Tuesday.
But on Monday, a new “pro-white” billboard went up in the city in a different spot, “an even better location than the others,” Thomas Robb, the longtime leader of the Knights Party, one of the longer-lived KKK organizations in the country, chortled on the white nationalist Web forum, Stormfront.
The new sign proclaims, “It’s NOT Racist to [HEART] Your People.”
Below those words is a website address that links to KKKRadio.
Billy Roper, a former neo-Nazi-turned-Klansman, wrote on Stormfront Monday that “the Anti-White elites were celebrating the fact that the previous two billboards were removed in town.”
“Haven’t they heard,” he added, “that you can’t keep a good Klan down?”
The Knights Party, also known as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has long been associated with Harrison, primarily because it uses a Harrison mailing address, although its headquarters is actually 15 miles outside of the city of 13,000 residents. In his Stormfront posts about the new sign, Robb said he wanted the Task Force “to celebrate and do their Hi-Fives” about the racially charged signs coming down before hitting them with the new billboard.
“We could have put the billboards up the next day,” he smirked, “but it is more fun to allow them to be puffed up and then prick their bubble.”
He added that he is looking to put up another sign on Interstate 40 in Russellville, near Arkansas Tech. “I already have the OK from the billboard company,” Robb wrote, “but we need a little of this stuff $$. Anyone want to help?”
Ragsdale of the Task Force told Hatewatch today that when she first heard about the new billboard going up she hoped it was a joke. “But it’s real,” she sighed. “They’re still trying to smear the community with their opinions. They’re trying to pretend they’re the voice of Harrison. It just gets so old. Move on, already.”