“It’s still an Oregon law, I could kill a black person and be out of jail in a day and a half. Look it up. The KKK is alive and well here.”
That’s what Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Christiana Clark said in a Facebook post she heard shouted at her by a man on a bike as she was walking her dog down the sidewalk in Ashland's Railroad District on Friday evening.
In the post at bit.ly/ashlandracism — which less than 24 hours after it was put up had been viewed more than 62,000 times, and by Sunday evening was at 116,000 views — she said she'd been listening to "Hamilton" on her earbuds along A Street between 5th and 6th streets when she could see the man talking to her, so she took out her earbuds and heard his racist threat.
She posted her account of the incident on social media, saying, in part: “I’m disgusted. I feel sick and upset. You all need to know this isn’t a theory or a prejudice that people are holding that being a black person walking around Ashland is not as safe or as beautiful as we dream it to be. I couldn’t imagine a more honest promotion for our Juneteenth celebration coming up on Monday. I’m going to work hard to work this off and find love,” she concluded.
OSF is hosting its Juneteenth remembrance at noon Monday, June 29, on the Green Stage. The event commemorates the end of slavery in the United States — word reached Texas on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation — and this year is hosted by Clark.
Daniel and Carolyn Verner who live nearby in the Railroad District, also heard the yelling from their kitchen window.
“I didn’t hear all of the words, but they sounded hostile. The main thing that I heard was a man yelling 'KKK is alive and well here,'” said Carolyn Verner in describing hearing the yelling outside.
She and her husband, Daniel, came out to see if Clark needed help.
“I was impressed with her calm self," Daniel Verner said. "I could tell she was upset and offended but we had a really nice exchange.” He said he’s concerned with the fact that this happened in Ashland and the impression it gives about the community. “It really saddens me that this is a way Ashland is represented ... it’s not like this, but (the verbal assault) needs to be addressed and checked out.”
His sentiments are echoed by Eddie Wallace, a spokesman for OSF, where Clark has been an actor for three years and currently plays the Lion in "The Wiz" and Horatio in "Hamlet." Wallace issued this statement on Saturday: “OSF condemns this ugly incident and all acts of racism and prejudice here in Ashland and across our country. As far too many OSF company members and Rogue Valley residents of color are aware, racist incidents like this happen every day in our community. In addition, LGBTQ+ and differently-abled people, among others, suffer through similar episodes. We ask our elected officials, our law enforcement personnel and every person in this community to actively take a stand to fight racism and prejudice wherever they see it. OSF is planning a Town Hall meeting for later this week in Ashland. Details to follow.”
Southern Oregon University’s Alma Rosa Alvaraz, who teaches Modernism and US Ethnic Literature, also sent out an all-staff email Saturday urging support for Clark and all people of color in the community: “Some of you might know, (Christiana) Clark ... Yesterday, she experienced a particularly chilling racialized incident ... For people of color, the experiences of microaggressions in the Rogue Valley, including Ashland, are not uncommon, but this open threat is scary and concerning. OSF will be hosting their Juneteenth celebration that commemorates African Americans' fight for freedom from the bonds of slavery and oppression. Given yesterday's incident, OSF is asking for community presence at this event on Monday at noon on the OSF bricks.”
It’s unclear who the aggressor was in the incident as neither Clark nor the Verner’s knew him. On her post, Clark describes him as "a white man, late-40s to mid-50s, sandy sun-blonde short hair. He had a backpack, was wearing a blue T-shirt, and riding a bike."
Daniel Verner says it’s important for people in the community to stand by each other. “ I’m glad we had our door opened when it happened," he said. "If he came back I would be there.”
Messages to Clark were not immediately returned. Wallace said she is working on self-care and preparing for her performances.
Attempts to reach the Ashland Police Department on Saturday afternoon for comment were unsuccessful.
Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.