Coverage of racial issues meant to inform

I first learned several weeks ago — long before the hate-filled events transpired Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va. — of an interesting presentation being planned by the Niles McKinley Memorial Library titled “The history of the Ku Klux Klan in Niles.”

It is a historical topic we thought our readers would find of interest, and it was then that the newsroom staff began putting together a historical look at the series of events in 1924 when the KKK attempted to march in Niles and other areas of Trumbull County. Plans were laid for the Nov. 1, 1924, KKK rally with about 25,000 people expected. The rally was met with violent protests by anti-KKK groups. The Ohio National Guard was eventually summoned to calm the situation. Dozens were hurt and more were arrested on both sides, according to historical accounts.

Of course, none of us now working at the Tribune Chronicle were here to remember the frightening display of what the demonstrators perceived to be white supremacy. Still, many of us do recall a more recent display of hatred that came in 1998 when the KKK descended on Warren and New Castle to march and demonstrate as, of course, the U.S. Constitution allows.

The Niles lecture on this topic was to be presented Saturday by Sandra Bilovesky and Ralph Tolbert of the Niles Historical Society, coordinated as part of an ongoing series of events marking the 100th anniversary of the Niles museum.

Neither the museum event planners nor my newsroom staff ever envisioned the hate that was about to unfold Aug. 12 in Virginia.

But in this business, we’ve come to learn that we always should expect the unexpected, and now that it’s happened, we knew we would be remiss if we didn’t expand our historical look at the klan’s reach into Trumbull County to also include a look at racism today in America and, especially, in Trumbull County.

I am well aware that this is a very sensitive topic, and one that some readers may think we should leave alone, untouched. After the events following the Virginia rally unfolded nationally in the last few weeks, some have blamed the media for sensationalizing the topic, or attempting, somehow, to benefit from it.

As a journalist and editor of this community newspaper, first let me assure you that’s far from our reasoning, and then let me explain.

As journalists who are charged with recording history as it unfolds, it is critical that we report news — all of it — whether we like it or agree with it.

We always are supposed to keep our opinions out of it and present stories in a fair and balanced manner, even when it turns our stomachs.

It is vital that we not “sugar-coat” the ugliness of society, or “soften the blow” for our readership. That’s not our job. Rather, our job is to tell it like it is. Ignoring reality, after all, does nothing to help us understand it enough to either agree with it and lend our support, or — probably more importantly — to disagree with it enough to give readers the courage to oppose it.

Bigotry never has a place in society. It should not be felt, and certainly it should never by displayed. Unfortunately, it is felt by many, and any time it is displayed, it is wrong.

We will share many stories today about past and present incidents of white nationalist displays, and the effects they have had on society. Again, these stories are meant to inform, not to sensationalize.

You will read one story today about former Tribune staffers who, in 1998, were taken blindfolded to a klansman’s home for an interview. The former reporter explained her reasoning well for wanting to do the story back then.

“It’s always better to shine lights on situations.”