People across the region lent their voices in support of the couple via telephone and Internet message boards Friday, and a woman offered to post a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever placed the planks of wood in the couple's yard and set them ablaze. Many people posting thoughts on a Pressconnects.com discussion board decried the act, and said they sympathized with Cohen, 63, and Johnson, 71.
"My initial reaction was one of shame that anyone could do that," said Town of Union resident Veronica Mann, who met Johnson at a recent event in the Tier arts community. "It's a shame that a person could do something like (burn a cross)."But some support was tinged with fear.
The woman who offered to post the reward, and several other people who called the newspaper to discuss the story, said they had heard or otherwise experienced racism in the Tier, but were afraid to have their names associated with such reports for fear it would make them targets in the future. Cohen and Johnson have lived in the township since retiring and moving from the New York City area in May 2003, and have been involved in community events. They were unavailable Friday.
KKK had Tier presence; There is no evidence at present that the cross-burning is tied to the Ku Klux Klan, a racist organization that has used such acts to intimidate blacks and members of certain non-Protestant groups. Hooded KKK members have held cross-burnings in the Tier in the past -- in Chenango County in 1975; and in Windham Township, Pa., in 1987. Binghamton was the KKK's New York headquarters from 1923-27, but public Klan activity here has been minimal in recent years.
It is unclear what motivated the cross-burner or burners to target the Cohen-Johnson property now. Cohen speculated that the person may have been frustrated because of Tuesday's election of Barack Obama as America's first black president. See KKK radio air time request and Brochure info in Binghamton NY below;
Jan. 1989 - 2 members of the Ku Klux Klan request air time on WHRW Binghamton NY (SUNY). A huge outcry results on campus and in the community. Then-President Clifford Clark sets up an "advisory committee", ostensibly to help WHRW in this, as well as future "controversial" programming matters. WHRW vehemently protests this invasion of programming autonomy. WHRW's board, in a 9-4 vote, denies the Ku Klux Klan's request because "the board could not come to a consensus as how to broadcast such a program in an educational manner." The president's committee eventually stops convening, though it is not officially dissolved.
Women of the Ku Klux Klan: Constitution and Bylaws; Outline of Principles and Teachings; recruitment card. This ephemera c. 1927 from the Women of the Ku Klux Klan was found in Coxsackie, New York, and was part of a museum accession that also included Klan robes and hoods. These artifacts are representative of widespread KKK activity in New York State in the 1920s. An estimated 80,000 New Yorkers belonged to the Klan. In fact, New York had the seventh highest membership in the nation. The Albany-Schenectady-Troy area had an estimated 11,000 members, but Klan rallies, parades, and burning crosses were reported statewide, from the state headquarters in Binghamton to Long Island, from Buffalo to the Catskills. As opposed to the anti-black animus in the South, the primary targets of the Klan in New York were Roman Catholics, Jews, immigrants generally, and "Bolsheviks" (the common 1920s name for communists).
Ku Klux Klan Reference Deleted From Binghamton NY Pamphlet, NYT Published: September 12, 1993....A reference in a Binghamton NY tourism brochure to local white supremacist activity in the 1920's will be deleted from the pamphlet, promotion officials said. "It's something that obviously is offensive to some people. That's not the business we're in, offending people," said Len James, president of the Broome County Chamber of Commerce (Binghamton NY), which published the brochure. The brochure highlighting significant dates in Broome County history includes mention that Binghamton was the state headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan in 1923-24. Civil rights advocates wanted the K.K.K. listing removed, saying it is offensive and inappropriate. The brochure, Mr. James said, had been used since the 1970's. About 2,500 of them are produced a year for promotional purposes, he said. The K.K.K. reference, he said, had always been in the brochure.