When Daniella Scott moved to Harrison in 2011, she didn’t know about the city’s racist history or that it was a stomping ground of the Ku Klux Klan. She had spent nearly a year traveling around the East Coast with her boyfriend — he worked picking up old railroad ties — but she had grown tired of that lifestyle. She wanted to settle down, and a friend who lived in Harrison told her it was a nice, safe place.
After Scott moved, that friend casually mentioned the KKK’s Harrison links. (Thomas Robb, national director of the KKK, lives in the unincorporated town of Zinc 15 miles from Harrison, but the KKK uses a Harrison post office box.)
“My dad’s white and my mom’s black,” Scott said. “For a while I thought people actually got some sort of amusement telling me there was Klan here, like, ‘Hey, let’s see how the black woman reacts.’ … It doesn’t click for them that that might be a big deal for me.”
Seven years later and this Harrison transplant is trying to rally anyone and everyone who thinks the KKK’s stranglehold on Harrison’s reputation is a big deal. Scott has founded Boone County Indivisible, a group with 137 members (according to Facebook) that holds peace rallies in downtown Harrison, right around the block from the office of a lawyer who has represented the KKK. Members of the group have driven to Washington, D.C., to protest at Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s office, and they’re planning on registering people to vote at Harrison’s gay pride parade in June. The group is modeled after other Indivisible groups throughout the state and country, all part of a grassroots movement sparked by a “how to” guide written by former congressional staffers after President Trump’s election.
At a peace rally earlier this month, 11 people gathered in the historic part of Harrison for the “Hate Has No Home Here Peace Rally,” organized in response to the Ku Klux Klan’s annual conference in late April.
“It’s easy to make a Facebook event, it’s harder to convince people to show up,” Scott said. She was hoping for a better turnout, since 95 people had registered as “interested” on Facebook. In February 2018, about 35 people showed up for a similar rally, organized for a similar reason.
“This is our third rally in a couple of months. People are getting tired, but it’s important to be out here,” said Kay Hughes, who lives in neighboring Newton County and is another organizer of the group. “I don’t know how much good it does, but it’s better than not doing anything, you know?”
The feeling that no one was doing anything was a motivator for Scott. When a man walking down Main Street during the May 5 rally asked Scott if she had ever experienced racism in Harrison, she told him about the humiliating time she was called a monkey in Walgreens. She said she was the only black person in the store and that none of the white people who heard the racist slur said anything.
“The racism here is open,” Scott said. A bright yellow billboard that for two years equated diversity with white genocide frightened Scott so much she hardly would leave her house, she said.
“It was so big, it was so blatant, and there was no one fighting over it,” Scott said. “I’m not going to say all white people are racist. Obviously, I’m married to a white guy, so I really don’t believe that, but at the same time, when something like that happens, and nobody’s fighting to take it down, then it really does make you wonder if everyone around you feels that way.”
Eventually the billboard did come down, three years before its lease was up, when the landowner and her lawyer discovered the sign’s permit had lapsed, but there’s still a white pride billboard on the edge of town, which, along with the KKK’s P.O. box, makes it difficult for Harrison to shake its reputation as “the most racist town in America,” a phrase coined by the British publication The Daily Mirror.
Cindy Parton of Omaha (Boone County), who had drawn a heart on her cheek with purple face paint for the May 5 rally in Harrison, said she was standing on the corner of North Main Street and West Stephenson Avenue because that’s where the KKK stands during the pride parade.
“Those people have a right to their opinions, but they don’t have a right to have everybody else pay for their opinions,” Parton said. “We have a lot of beautiful people here, we have a lot to offer, and it’s time for a change and I’m here to promote that.”
At least three people at the “Hate Has No Home Here” rally drove two hours from Bentonville to participate.
“I think the most important thing is to show other people that maybe are on the same page that they are not alone,” said Asele Mack, a librarian at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. “I don’t know that we can really change people’s minds, but I do want to at least empower people who already feel that they don’t support the hateful things that are happening here in Harrison and the rest of the country.”
Mack held a “Black Lives Matter” sign. Other rally signs included “White Supremacy = Terrorism” and “Protect our Friends, Family and Neighbors. End The Racist Deportations.” During the two-hour rally, many people in cars and trucks passing by honked their horns or waved in support, but there were also people who flipped the bird. One woman stuck her head out the car window to yell, “All lives matter!”
“What do you do with an egg? You incubate an egg,” a woman named Criss said. She asked that her last name not be used because she lives in a “racist community that likes to pack firearms.” Criss, who held a sign that read “In Our America Love Wins,” said hate has been incubating in Harrison “generation after generation.”
There was a time when Harrison was more diverse, but in 1905 and 1909 white mobs forced black residents out of town. According to the 2010 census, Harrison remains 96 percent white.
Criss’ husband, Matt, who said he held an American flag at a previous Boone County Indivisible peace rally in Harrison, decided to sit the May 5 rally out because the rally had been “hijacked” by people who support Black Lives Matter.
“They’re divisive, like any other group that segregates based on color or where you’re from, or whatever, they’re not inclusive, so they can have their signs up there and I’ll just sit here and protect my wife,” he said.
While sitting on a bench, Matt said he saw a guy in a red truck with a fierce-looking Doberman Pinscher purposely drive around the square a couple of times to rev his engine, make exhaust and flip the bird to the people holding rally signs.
“I don’t know that guy personally, never saw him before in my life, but I know his type,” he said. “He takes exception to those words. Those three words, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ “