Wallingford and White Supremacy: A History

Of all the New England states, Connecticut — despite its small size — has witnessed some of the most intensive and varied forms of extremist activity. From anti-government “sovereign citizens” to virulent hate groups, racist ideologies have never had issue taking root in Connecticut’s soil.

While the first reports of Klan members gathering in Connecticut date to as early as 1924, the Klan’s history in Wallingford only stretches back to 2000, when the town’s mayor, William Dickinson, denied the unions a thirteenth paid holiday on Martin Luther King Jr. day unless the unions gave up one of the current twelve.

Media coverage from outlets as large as USA Today jumped to paint Wallingford as a hotbed of white supremacist activity, citing its 94% white population and its proximity to Meriden, the location of one of the largest Northeastern branches of the Klan, as proof of racial prejudice.

But as if to confirm the media’s suspicions, Harry Pender, a one-time member of the Klan and town resident, marched with two others in full Klan regalia through Main Street just two days after the mayor’s decision.

‘’It’s gotten way out of hand,’’ Mary Mushinsky, a Connecticut State Representative, said in an interview with The New York Times. “The town’s reputation is suffering. I know Mayor Dickinson’s thinking of the budget, but there’s really a bigger issue here. He’s aiding and comforting bigots and kooks.’’

Three months later, Gov. John G. Rowland signed a bill that required all Connecticut municipalities to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And yet, Rev. Jesse Jackson was met by another display of the town’s alleged racism when he arrived in Wallingford just an hour after the bill was passed. “Jesse Jackson is a demagogue and an agitator,’’ yelled one of the white protesters. “We are here to support all the people in the town who are afraid to say they don’t believe what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for.”

Another shouted from a bullhorn, “You people are inferior!’’

Despite the uproar, the town was able to move on. The town council was quick to publicly denounce the actions of the few who participated, and the wider media seemed content in knowing that the town would now be celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Less than a year later,  in March of 2001, white supremacists from New England converged outside Wallingford’s public library to hear Matt Hale — “Pontifex Maximus” of the racist and anti-Semitic World Church of the Creator — speak on the decline of the white race and promote the doctrine of his “church,” which alleges that nature’s greatest accomplishment was the creation of the white race.

Instrumental in bringing Hale to Wallingford was one of Connecticut’s most visible white supremacists: Brian Davis, who was responsible for airing “White Revolution” a year earlier.

The television program was hosted and produced by Hale, designed to teach children, as Hale put it, “to be as racist as possible.” The program aired on public access in Wallingford and six other towns in south-central Connecticut as a part of AT&T Cable Services. And for a week in September of 2000, every one of Hale’s nine speeches was broadcast on television in half-hour segments.

Hale’s event was heavily opposed. Protesters stormed the crowd of supporters, forcing Wallingford police to use pepper spray and batons to separate the two groups. Helicopters flew overhead, and traffic was at a standstill on Main Street. Both sides suffered minor injuries and one person was arrested; the police confiscated numerous knives and one gun.

Although these events have attracted the most media attention, other, smaller incidents have occurred over the years. Mr. Jim Yanelli recalls an incident in the early 80s. “When I was living in the Upper Campus dormitories, one morning, we woke up and left the dorms, and someone had thrown leaflets from a car that were KKK propaganda,” he said. “They had just driven through campus and thrown it out the window.”

While worrisome, the portrait painted by these incidents is not the day-to-day experience of most of Wallingford’s residents.

“I remember feeling that it was something happening in our town, but not about our town,” said Ms. Kimberly Norman. Ms. Norman, a math teacher at Choate, is a thirty-year resident of Wallingford who was in high school during the Matt Hale incident.

“What I was comprehending at my age was that the town policy opened the door for people with those beliefs to come into our town to express them. I did not grow up thinking that Wallingford was a racist town,” Ms. Norman added.

Since 2001, the town has seen no large-scale organized bids by the KKK or any other hate group to get public attention, despite a 2015 Southern Poverty Law Center report which claimed that there were still five major hate groups in Connecticut: Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; the Nation of Islam (identified as a black separatist group); the Nationalist Socialist and Creativity movements (both Neo-Nazi affiliated); and the white supremacist Red October.

As for the sighting of a white-robed mannequin in Wallingford a few weeks ago, residents again wondered: are incidents of racist extremism in Wallingford and the surrounding area isolated occurrences or part of an over arching trend?

According to the Connecticut Economic Resource Center profile, as of 2012, African Americans account for only 1.4% of Wallingford’s total population. That being said, however, there have been active efforts by the town council to increase diversity in the town.

Yet, some students, like Calvin Carmichael ’18, still feel that, “Wallingford’s not the friendliest town to African American people. Often times, people will yell racial slurs at us from their cars.”

Ms. Norman, on the other hand, said, “I would like to think it was an isolated incident. The people that I know in this town would never ever do that or hold those beliefs. But I don’t know everyone in this town.”

She continued, “What I don’t think is fair is if this incident is generalized across everyone in Wallingford. Because I don’t think that’s true. I know that’s not true. And I know there have been people, particularly on the town council, who have expressed extreme disgust about what happened, stating very publicly that this is not our town, not what we stand for or what we believe in.”

2 Comments

  1. Jemal bethea says:

    I could attest that Wallingford is not the friendliest town for African Americans. Their police force especially reflects that. I don’t know what else would cause them to blatantly lie on me a law obiding African American. They are attempting to ruin my life, all because I challenged their authority.

  2. This article is a pathetic attempt at hatchet jobbing. If you were paying attention at the time the aforementioned incidents took place, you would have known that not only has Dickinson presided over MLK church prayers each year during his tenure as mayor, but that the NAACP admitted they did not find racism after meeting with Dickinson. Jackson didn’t bother leaving his hotel room in New Haven to make the trip to Wallingford. The police in wallingford aren’t friendly to anyone.

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