WATERVILLE — More than 100 students, residents and faith leaders gathered Sunday afternoon outside Waterville City Hall to rally against the Ku Klux Klan less than a week after flyers advertising a Klan-branded neighborhood watch appeared in a Waterville neighborhood.

As sunlight filtered through budding trees and small children chased one another around Castonguay Square, protesters held signs declaring “Black Lives Matter” and “Hatred is Not a Family Value” while clergy members from area congregations spoke out against the reappearance in Maine of one of the country’s most notorious hate groups.

“We’re here because the KKK showed up in as cowardly a fashion as possible, distributing anonymous letters (in our community),” said Kurt Nelson, dean of religious and spiritual life at Colby College.

The flyers first appeared in January in Augusta, Gardiner and Freeport neighborhoods. Residents in Hallowell and Waterville woke recently to find leaflets on their cars and in driveways, several delivered in plastic bags weighted with rocks, likely thrown from a passing car.

Many of the flyers are emblazoned with a hooded Klansman flanked by burning KKKs and the group’s blood drop cross insignia, and include contact information for a “24-hour Klanline” for residents to report “troubles in their neighborhood.”

“You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake,” the flyer declares.

The flyers’ appearance in Waterville comes on the heels of a December incident in which residents found a large swastika spray-painted on a rock at the Quarry Road recreation area. Following that incident, more than 200 people gathered at Waterville’s Beth Israel Congregation to support the state’s Jewish community. The next month Colby students, faculty and others came together to protest the Trump administration’s controversial travel ban.

At Sunday’s gathering, several of those present expressed concern about the impact such racially charged incidents are having on Waterville’s growing minority population.

“I heard from other students on Colby’s campus, specifically students of color, who said that they felt unsafe downtown,” said Marilee Getgen, 18, a Colby freshman from Pennsylvania. “They should be made to feel safe in the community that they are going to be in for four years.”

Others questioned why more representatives from city leadership were not present at the rally and worried how that silence would be perceived by newcomers to the area.

“We’re not sending strong signals from City Hall,” said Julie de Sherbinin, a retired professor of German and Russian at Colby. “There’s nothing that’s saying this is a welcoming town. This is a university town.”

City Councilors Winifred Tate of Ward 6 and Lauren Lessing of Ward 3 did appear at the rally alongside former city councilor and current state Rep. Thomas Longstaff.

Tate urged the crowd to make activism a part of their daily lives, citing “lots of divisive and important issues facing our community.”

Residents who turned out Sunday appeared united in their desire to make their city a safer place.

“Now is the time we’ve been practicing for,” the group sang in unison. Led by Colby professor Elizabeth Leonard, their voices grew stronger with each iteration. “We are ready. We are ready. Let us rise, take a breath, and begin.”

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