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Reactions To Racist Violence In Charlottesville Are Mixed in Export, Once The Site Of KKK Gathering

Virginia Alvino Young
90.5 WESA
Export Council vice president Melanie Litz sits on her porch at her home in Export, Pa.

Communities across the country are reacting to Saturday’s racist violence in Charlottesville, Va.

For some in Export, Westmoreland County, it's a reminder of the borough's own history with the Ku Klux Klan. Five years ago, the town made headlines when a regional KKK meeting was allegedly held there.

Vice president of Export Council Melanie Litz said there were never any public signs of KKK activity, and there haven’t been any since. Export, with a population of 917 and demographic makeup that's more than 98 percent Caucasian, formally condemned white supremacy at the time.  

“The community came out strongly,” she said. "We actually had a counter proclamation that we signed, a unity pledge, and we had an event. That, however, was not so highly publicized."

Litz' children make up the fifth generation of her family to live in Export. She said most of the borough's residents are descended from "immigrants that came here at the turn of the century to work in the coal mines here, similar to immigrants that came to Pittsburgh to work in the steel mill and elsewhere."

Ernie Miller, a 75-year-old retired contractor lives near Export, and said if you’re a good person, everybody in the borough accepts you. He said 25 years ago he knew a nearby family of people who were active in the Klan, but doesn’t know any Klan members any more.

“I can’t identify with the American Nazi party or the Ku Klux Klan, but I can say that there’s a whole lot of white people furious with the way things are going in this country,” he said. “And they’re frustrated, and when you’re frustrated you’re gonna lash out, and I can understand that.”

Miller said that white people are too easily identified as being white supremacists.

"We’re just tired of people in the last eight or nine years, stomping on our rights, too," he said.

Sherry Stover is manager of the popular Italian American Club in Export, her hometown. She calls Export a very nice town, where families often reside for generations. She said she was appalled by the violence in Charlottesville. There are narrow minded individuals in Export she said, but has never heard of organized white supremacist groups there.

“It’s a whole new world and you need to be more accepting,” she said. Stover said she can’t imagine anyone she knows being involved in a white supremacist organization, but she has heard racist remarks. 

“I hate to say, but [they're] an Archie Bunker kind of person, and that’s the way they were raised. And you hear the occasional slang terms, you know where they’re going," she said. 

The Murrysville police chief, who oversees the area surrounding Murrysville, said that in his 15 years with the department, he's never heard a complaint about white supremacist activity, and that there are no active groups which the department monitors, or is aware of. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies 40 active hate groups in Pennsylvania.