Tony Rizzo: Arkansas town, with Ku Klux Klan billboard, isn’t a place I’ll stop

06/23/2014 2:09 PM

06/23/2014 4:42 PM

It didn’t say it in so many words, but the billboard we encountered carried an unmistakable connotation: Welcome to Klan country.

It’s a disconcerting realization when you are traveling in the company of African-American children.

My girls and I were heading to the beautiful Buffalo River in northern Arkansas for an annual gathering of Kansas City dads and daughters to enjoy a weekend of camping and canoeing.

Nearing the end of our journey, we were passing through the town of Harrison, Ark., when my 15-year-old saw the sign and snapped a picture as we passed. Her quick-draw skills with a phone rival Billy the Kid’s with a six-shooter.

Printed on a bright yellow background was the message: “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White.”

Below was a sign welcoming people to Harrison with the words: “Beautiful Town, Beautiful People, No Wrong Exits, No Bad Neighborhoods.” A smiling mom, dad and two kids, white of course, completed the picture.

Despite the sign, we did not feel particularly welcome.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t stop.

So it was on to our campsite about 30 miles down the road, and what turned out to be a weekend of fun, sun and good food (yes, Pete, the guacamole was again delicious).

The weather was mild, the river level was just about perfect and except for the one member of our group getting a $200 ticket for having a glass container on the river, it was a successful trip.

Of course, any float trip without dumping your canoe is a success. That’s especially true when, like me, you haven’t quite mastered the concept of getting the craft to go where you want it to go, and end up rushing sideways or backwards through rapids.

One highlight for me this year was the Saturday night talent show. One of the families brought a foreign exchange student from France, and she and my French-speaking 9-year-old teamed up to sing a song. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it sure was cute.

It was only later that I did a little research and discovered that the Klan’s mailing address is a post office box in Harrison, Ark. Apparently their grand poobah or whatever he calls himself lives nearby.

A photograph of a smiling mom, dad and two kids, white of course, is prominently featured on the KKK.com website. I can’t be sure they are the same people shown on the Harrison billboard, but the images look as if they were created as part of the same marketing scheme.

To be fair to most residents of Harrison, news accounts show that plenty of people who live there are not happy with the billboard and the message it sends.

A few bad apples and all that. Or I guess rotten apples would be more apropos.

And most of the people we encountered on the river were friendly. We heard a number of “How ya’ll doing?” comments from other canoeists along the route.

It’s truly such beautiful country down that way.

But although it’s a nice place to visit, I definitely wouldn’t want to live there.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com.

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