ANNAPOLIS, Md. – An international march making its way to the United States via this old slave trading harbor has touched off an increasingly public, emotional back-and-forth between a black history foundation and a white supremacy group.
A "slavery reconciliation walk" on Sept. 29 is to start at City Dock, where slave Kunta Kinte (search) was brought into the United States and where a memorial stands in honor of him.
The unusual demonstration will include white marchers wearing chains and yokes while being escorted by black people, and everyone will wear T-shirts with a message of apology.
The Lifeline Expedition (search) is a dramatic event meant to shock observers into talking and thinking about slavery, organizers say.
But more than a month before the demonstration starts its 10-city U.S. tour, it's already attracting attention — of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (search), based in Hillsboro, W.Va.
Calling the demonstration "racist street theater," the alliance placed 1,500 fliers, wrapped in plastic bags weighted with small rocks, outside homes all over Annapolis last weekend.
The fliers, titled "Say No to White Guilt!", urged residents to speak out against Lifeline's march, which "has been shaming and humiliating White people" since it began in Europe four years ago.
Taxpayers should protest, the fliers urge, the city's decision not to charge the group the $2,000 it will cost for police services and roadblocks.
On Monday, the president of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation (search) held a news conference at City Dock to denounce the "hate mail."
"They're trying to take something about healing and transform it into something negative, and our community won't stand for it," said Leonard Blackshear, whose organization is helping sponsor the event.
Backed by community leaders, Blackshear stood just feet away from the memorial to Kunta Kinte and Alex Haley as he talked to reporters.
"National Alliance propaganda is not wanted here," he said.
Instead of lying low and ignoring the fliers, leaders are speaking out to spread the message that the community is united in support of the march, said Michael Keller, chairman of the city's Human Relations Commission.
"The only way to counter this group is to challenge them and let them know they're not welcome here," Keller said after the news conference. "If they're greeted with silence, they take that as a sign there is quiet support."
Shaun Walker, second-in-command of the National Alliance, counters that the march will do nothing to promote healing. Rather, it takes slavery and "rubs it in the faces of white people and says they're guilty of something," he said Monday from the group's headquarters in Hillsboro.
"There's no need to have white people in chains and white liberals volunteering for this nonsense," he said.
The alliance has printed 10,000 fliers and will continue to hand them out, mostly in the Annapolis area, until the day of the march, Walker said. His organization hasn't yet decided if it will attend the demonstration, he said.
The reconciliation walk also plans to tour the streets of Baltimore; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; New York; Richmond, Va., and several other cities.