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(Credits: Far Out / Samuel Branch)

Travel

Harrison, Arkansas: The strange case of 'America's most racist town'

I think it’s fair to say that America’s the most idiosyncratic nation on earth. Nowhere else on this insignificant planet we call home do you find such a diverse mix of peoples and ideas. 

Put it this way, it is truly remarkable that some places in California are the bastions of liberal thought, but if you fly over 3000km to the Deep South, you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find the flying of the Confederate flag and the spectre of its message still alive and well. 

It’s a strange, multi-faceted country that has a lot to offer and many tales to tell, with many different ‘truths’ all competing for hegemony. Often hailed as the “melting pot” of the world, it’s not hard to see why. 

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Today, we’re telling the tale of ‘America’s most racist town’, Harrison, Arkansas. This small town, of only 13,000 in the Northwest of the state, has long been regarded as the most racist location place in the whole country because of the many videos online that show residents exclaiming “white pride!” as they drive past in vehicles, or the barrage of unsettling racist abuse a white man gets as he holds a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign up in a bid to see if Harrison truly is racist. 

However, it seems that much of the racism in Harrison is due to the fact that just 15 miles north of this location, a tiny town called Zinc, which houses a population of just 92 people, is where a chapter of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, ‘The Christian Revival Center has its headquarters. Reportedly, this has attracted a subgroup of people to Harrison who are sympathetic to the Klan and its violently racist views. Despite this, from watching the video of the man holding up the sign, it seems as if Harrison is also home to its fair share of racists and bigots, who aren’t afraid to share their views in the most incomprehensible of ways. 

However, this is just one representation, and it does seem from the mountains of discourse out there, that as a majority, Harrison is not a racist town, as like with anything it’s always the ones with the worst opinions who make the loudest noise, just look at the Capitol Riot, for instance. 

Added to the reputation that Harrison has is that over the past few years, it has been used as a place for the local racists to put up their messaging, with advertisements for things such as ‘WhitePrideRadio’ and ‘AltRightTV’. Only seven years ago, the town made national headlines when four billboards were put up in it promoting white nationalism and attacking anti-racism. ‘The Christian Revival Center‘ is also responsible for placing signs along the highways near Zinc and Harrison, spouting hatred such as: “Diversity is a code for #whitegenocide”.

Harrison has had many problems with racism over the past and it’s something many of the older, non-white residents are all too familiar with, as many profess to in interviews. Compounding the situation is that the town is 94% white, making it one of the whitest towns in America – but this is not to say that the town itself is actually massively racist, but perhaps, quite the opposite.

Forced by its international reputation to openly discuss racism, the Harrison Community Task Force on Race Relations was formed in 2002 to work on addressing the town’s lack of diversity and dark past. Two decades since its formation, the task force has collaborated with Arkansas Martin Luther King Foundation to bring its events to Harrison during the annual Martin Luther King Week, and in 2020 it held multiple BLM protests. 

Added to this commitment to revisionism and not repeating the terrors of its dark past, is that the task force sponsors field trips for local students to visit Black communities across the state wanting to raise awareness and promote diversity. This has not gone unnoticed by the non-white community of Harrison. Speaking to The Denver Channel in 2021, Kevin Cheri, a Black man who has lived in the area most of his life, said: “I can tell you, without a doubt, that Harrison is not the most racist town in America”.

Offering up an alternative opinion to the popular one, Cheri concluded: “I think one of the things that makes Harrison special; it’s not its reputation, but actually, to me, it’s what people here are trying to do about it.”

Cheri’s opinion has been supported by the recent findings of YouTuber Niko Omilana who makes a living out of trolling racists. He found that whilst there are certainly scarily racist elements in the town, particularly the story of a noose being left in a Black student’s locker and the bigotry of some of the older generations who remember the days when Jim Crow was the law of the land, that as a majority, Harrison is not actually a racist town, and that pretty much everyone he met was very welcoming and fed up of the moniker.

It seems as if Harrison has been tarred with the brush that Zinc should have been. Somehow Zinc, which is ostensibly the cradle of racism and everything else that comes with it, has managed to dodge the bullet and frame Harrison. It’s also pretty clear that the Ku Klux Klan up in Zinc has a hold over Harrison. Many residents are scared to speak out about the chapter’s leader, Thomas Robb, in fear of retribution, as shown when Omilana attempts to find his secret compound but is hounded out of a store by a spy working for Robb.

It’s a strange case, as clearly Harrison does have plenty of work to do, but after reading many articles and watching a myriad of videos by people such as Omilana, you can’t help but feel bad for the ordinary, well-meaning residents of the town, who are just as normal as any of us. Is it the most racist town in America? Probably not. That lies only 15 miles up the road.

Watch the two conflicting videos on Harrison below.

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