The better souls in Harrison who’ve been working to erase, or at least improve, the city’s historic image as a sundown town unfriendly to Blacks and the post office box home of the leader of the KKK, got a setback recently on YouTube. And they are trying to fight back.
The YouTube video was the work of a viral video creator, Rob Bliss, who stood with a Black Lives Matter sign at various locations in Harrison and recorded responses. Many were ugly. He closed with a touching note of support from a young woman. But he called Harrison the most racist town in the United States. (Personal observation: There are many contenders for this title.)
He inaccurately labeled Harrison as the headquarters of the Klan. It is the PO box address for the Klan leader who lives a few miles away.
No matter. The video has racked up 1.7 million views so far, not happy news for the chamber of commerce and others who’ve worked to promote an inclusive spirit in Harrison.
Getting the video taken down is a non-starter. On what ground? A columnist apologist from Harrison griped recently that it was unfair to take comments gathered over several days to characterize Harrison. Perhaps so. But there seems to be little doubt this was a collection of freely and sincerely expressed remarks. And you might speculate that people feel more enabled to make such comments in a city with few blacks, where a sign company leases space appealing to racists.
And now we’re talking about something the community could do something about.
A petition drive is underway to encourage the removal of the sign advertising white pride radio, which the video artist used as a backdrop. The change.org petition, with more than 4,000 signers so far, says:
Please ask Pro-Signs Inc to take down this sign that stands just outside Harrison Arkansas.
Fort Smith, Arkansas based company Pro-Signs, Inc. dba Harrison Sign Company has put up several billboards advertising racist organizations in the area over the past few years. The billboards have drawn a great deal of media and online attention and amplified a message of hate. The billboards have done tremendous damage to our community by giving the impression that our citizens support their messages and don’t object to their presence.
A billboard is erected through a business agreement between a client, a sign company and a landowner. Although there is no legal way to force the removal of the signs, the Harrison community worked together to remove all but one. This, the remaining sign, was erected by Harrison Sign Company and sits on land owned by the company president.
First impressions are powerful and this is the first impression to our visitors, often confirming their preconception of Harrison as a racist community. We ask you to participate in promoting inclusion by signing your name. We again respectfully ask company owners Claude West and David Frye, neither of whom lives in Harrison, to bring down the last racist billboard and prevent others from being erected.
West reportedly is based in the Fort Smith area and Frye in Fayetteville. Their business ventures include advertising and, in Frye’s case, residential development. If you see them at the local coffee shop, you might ask them about that sign.