The town hall is a center of activity throughout the year.
Forget about what goes on day to day inside the building, whether it’s city business during working hours or important government meetings outside of office hours. The facade of the town hall is often the preferred site for gatherings, demonstrations or gatherings designed to draw attention to different problems or causes. Supporters show up with signs and slogans, hoping to get some supportive horns from passing motorists and spark some interest in anyone passing by.
Most of these gatherings are cordial and uncontroversial. Even those organized around hot topics remain rather tame, rarely causing tension. The organizers arrive, sit for a while in front of the town hall, then leave, often before dinner time.
But a protest planned 40 years ago looked and felt decidedly different – and could easily have turned violent.
It happened in July 1981, on a hot summer day in Cheshire on the sidewalk outside Town Hall. Protesters claimed to be there for recruiting purposes, trying to entice anyone passing by to join their ranks. What they were really selling was hate, and they had no buyers that day.
The title of July 16, 1981, Cheshire Herald explains the situation: “The Ku Klux Klan receives a cool reception during a brief demonstration at the town hall. The infamous group had toured Connecticut that summer, protesting and “recruiting” in an attempt to strengthen its ranks. A previous rally in Meriden had turned violent, according to The herald, with counter-protesters shouting at Klan members and debris thrown into the crowd.
As The heraldThe article went on to explain that one of the reasons the Klan shutdown in Cheshire was so docile in comparison could be attributed to the preparation taken by the Cheshire Police:
“We went to Meriden on Saturday to observe,” Police Chief George Merriam said. “It was four hours of on-the-job training at the command post, provided by Meriden Police, State Police and a SWAT team. “
Chief Merriam also arranged a face-to-face meeting with KKK Head of State James Farrands in Meriden. The ground rules for the Sunday demonstration were given to Ferrands by Merriam.
“We have been given advance notice that the group is planning a recruiting protest in Cheshire,” Merriam said. “We told the members of the Klan exactly what we expected of them.”
Merriam mobilized most of the 32 members of the police force. All were equipped with tactical equipment. At 11:42 a.m. sharp, he met Ferrands and Kleagle John Dillon and escorted the 17 hooded and white-robed white supremacists to the front of Town Hall.
Without realizing it, the members of the Klan have become movie stars. The entire episode was filmed by police officers.
Merriam’s plan was to confine the KKK members to a 100 square foot area on the sidewalk. Traffic on Route 10 was redirected to Academy Road and Cornwall Avenue and 100 spectators were observed from the Green.
“If we’ve taught Meriden anything, it’s that closeness – putting the Klan near spectators – can be explosive,” Merriam explained. “Strict protective measures are needed. We saw a peaceful protest go to pot in Meriden in two minutes. “
The heraldThe history of s clearly shows that members of the Klan were, unsurprisingly, unhappy with their “treatment” at the hands of the Cheshire police. The article explains that Ferrands, the group’s leader, suggested that the Klan had been “fenced off” while complaining that traffic was not allowed to flow freely along Route 10 so the Klan could distribute leaflets with their message inscribed. .
Merriam made sure that the traffic was redirected and after the event expressed an opinion which was probably echoed by most of the community:
“There were no injuries, no arrests and no property damage,” Merriam said. “The Klan’s first visit to Cheshire will hopefully be the last.”
According to The herald, a crowd of spectators on the green in front of City Hall at one point rose to around 200, but no violence took place and there were no altercations, verbal or otherwise. Yet the visit of the infamous hate group, dedicated to a vision of white supremacy, had clearly struck a chord within the community, as evidenced by some of the letters submitted to The herald that week, including one from Carol-Ann Guilfor, who saw the presence and preparedness of the police as perhaps the main reason for the peaceful conclusion of the potentially volatile situation:
I think the people of this city are so lucky to have such a well-equipped police force to handle such a situation and keep it peaceful. But also to have a police chief who has the capacity to manage a delicate situation. … A big thank you to everyone for a job well done.
Corn The heraldThat week’s editorial, equally glowing about the work the police did to limit the Klan’s time in the city and eliminate any potential for violence, saw something else at play as to why KKK members did not. found no new members or a warm welcome in Cheshire:
Only a handful of Cheshire residents attended a Ku Klux Klan recruiting protest at City Hall last Sunday. Those who got second-hand reports on it were astonished to learn that hooded white supremacists saw this city as a fertile area for attracting new members.
… We believe the vast majority of Cheshire residents will echo Chief Merriam’s hope that the Klan’s first visit here will be their last. The belief of the leaders of the Klan that this city offers good recruiting opportunities is unfounded.
However, The herald admitted that while the demonstration was short-lived, producing no new members and no community-wide support, it was successful in one aspect: providing the Klan with what The herald described as his “urge to be in the spotlight”. This, however, did not change the fact that, in the eyes of the newspaper, the city had honorably displayed its true colors for all to see:
If the Klan takes a closer look at Cheshire, hooded visitors will find that what they are trying to sell is alien to this city, which prides itself on its rich religious and ethnic mix. The descendants of the first Yankee settlers live in harmony with the new citizens of all parts of Europe and Asia. The ecumenical movement flourishes here. Cheshire is a poor market for peddlers of religious and racial discord.
It is, frankly speaking, somewhat shocking to think that the KKK was so openly present in Cheshire and Connecticut as a whole in 1981. Although it is now four decades ago, this is by no means of l ‘ancient history. , and it’s telling that while the group apparently didn’t find a home here in Cheshire, the members still felt bold enough to put themselves in the public spotlight, even with hoods firmly in place.
Yet it also shows that the state has come a long way in this relatively short period of time. No one could imagine such a demonstration happening today and the site of hooded and clad KKK members would be as shocking as protesters carrying Nazi flags marching on Route 10.
Hatred, unfortunately, will always find homes and new recruits. It will never change. But it’s good to know that when such hatred came to the Cheshire Gate in 1981, it was bluntly rejected.