Wednesday, April 26, 2006

SHARPSBURG, Md. (AP) — A Ku Klux Klan group plans to hold a rally June 10 on the grounds of the Antietam National Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest one-day clash of the Civil War, an organizer and a park official say.

Battlefield Superintendent John W. Howard said Tuesday that the National Park Service approved the white-supremacist group’s application for a First Amendment permit allowing the holder to use the park to exercise the right of free speech.

“It would be very difficult to find a reason why a First Amendment permit would be denied,” Mr. Howard said.

Gordon Young, imperial wizard of the World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said in his application that the group would assemble at the Mumma Farmstead on the nearly 3,300-acre park. The application projects that about 100 people will attend the rally.

Mr. Howard said the Park Service would establish separate areas for the press and counterdemonstrators. The National Park Service’s U.S. Park Police, Maryland State Police and Washington County Sheriff’s Office would provide security at the event, Mr. Howard said.

Mr. Young, of Hagerstown, told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail that he has invited members of other white-supremacist groups to the rally.

Nine Klan members marched in an event that Mr. Young’s group held in nearby Sharpsburg in 2004. He canceled a scheduled rally in Boonsboro last year.

Mr. Young said in 2004 that he chose to rally in Sharpsburg partly because of its proximity to Antietam, to honor fallen Confederate soldiers.

On the day of the 2004 march in Sharpsburg, Klan opponents organized a series of “peace and unity” events on the battlefield. At that time, Mr. Howard said those events were appropriate for the park because blood was shed there in the cause of freedom and national unity.

More than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or reported missing at the western Maryland site on Sept. 17, 1862.

Rebel troops retreated across the Potomac River the next day. The Confederacy’s failure to achieve a clear victory at Antietam gave President Abraham Lincoln the political strength to issue five days later the Emancipation Proclamation, an order to free slaves in the South at the start of the next year.

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