In this Pennsylvania Town, Racism "was Quiet." Then Trump Stoked Fears of ViolenceHistorians in the News
tags: racism, political violence, 2020 Election
MILTON, Pennsylvania — Keayon Williams sits on a park bench in the center of town and waits for the racists to attack. He tells himself he is ready. It’s a cool Saturday morning in fall, and the valley is alive with the rumble of pickups.
When the trucks stop, here at the red light at the corner of Broadway and Front Street, drivers gun their engines. Some glare directly into Williams’s eyes.
Williams is a Black man. The drivers are white. All their passengers are white. Williams returns their gaze with equal ferocity. He tells himself he is ready. He is not. His back faces the Susquehanna River. His car is parked a block away. If these white men jump from their truck, fists or pistols raised, Williams has nowhere to run.
To Williams, and to many non-white people he knows in central Pennsylvania, this rise in overtly racist behavior is linked inextricably to the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. In yards up and down the Central Susquehanna Valley, Williams sees Confederate flags and Trump flags flying side-by-side. People with the most Trump bumper stickers seem the most likely to shout hateful things.
A few weeks ago, a pickup truck passenger waved a Confederate flag out the window and yelled to Williams, “We’ll kill you.”
As the presidential election approaches, Williams said, such threats grow more common, more passionate.
“On election day I’m going to be in my house. I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “If these racists are looking to protest, they’ll go to Harrisburg or Philadelphia or D.C. If they’re looking to kill people, this will be the place. They’re gonna come here.”
Experts on American racial history agree. For Black people living in towns like Milton, they say, the threat of white terrorism is the highest it’s been in generations.
“Historically, most acts of racial terror have been enacted in rural communities, small towns or medium-sized cities,” said Khalil Muhammad, a history professor at Harvard University. “The conditions for wide-scale anti-Black violence are today more likely than at any point in the last 50 years.”
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