Hundreds of people walked quietly from Central Square down the east and west sides of Main Street in Keene Sunday night.
They carried lit candles, and formed two single-file lines on the street’s sidewalks, nearly reaching its intersection with Emerald Street around 8.
After standing in silence for about 10 minutes, the crowd broke into song: rounds of “This Little Light of Mine” and “Lean on Me.”
The Keene Interfaith Clergy Association previously stated it hoped the group would be “the largest choir Keene has ever heard.”
With about 400 people, it likely was.
The association organized Sunday night’s vigil in response to the events in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.
There, at an alt-right rally in the Virginian city, hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members and counter-protesters clashed. In the bloodiest moment of the day, a car crashed into other vehicles on a crowded street, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, and injuring 19 others.
James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the incident; he has expressed radical views in the past, according to The New York Times.
“I feel like we all need to come together and stand in love,” said Julie Moulton of Keene, after blowing out her candle Sunday night.
She said she’s concerned after hearing about two recent incidents where racial slurs were shouted at people of color in the city.
“I don’t want to pretend it can’t come to Keene,” she said.
One of the scheduled speakers at the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Christopher Cantwell, is a resident of Keene.
Cantwell, a racist, white nationalist podcast host, gained national attention after being featured heavily in a short Vice News documentary about the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally that appeared on HBO.
University of Virginia police announced last week that Cantwell turned himself into police in Lynchburg, Va.; he was wanted on three felony charges — two counts of illegal use of tear gas, phosgene and other gases, and one count of malicious bodily injury by means of any caustic substance or agent or use of any explosive or fire — in connection with alleged actions the night before the rally.
Cantwell was on the minds of some people attending the Keene vigil Sunday.
“That Christopher Cantwell is a real problem, I think,” said Mary Pleasanton, of Keene.
In a speech delivered before the crowd processed down Main Street, Keene’s Mayor Kendall W. Lane said the city rejects white supremacy and neo-Nazism.
“Tonight, we show our unity against the hatred and bigotry we see around the world,” Lane said.
Before Lane’s speech, standing in Central Square amid a growing crowd, Ann Firestone, of South Acworth, echoed the mayor’s sentiments.
“I’m appalled by racism, bigotry, violence, white supremacy, anti-Semitism,” she said. “Charlottesville brought a lot of it to the forefront again.”
Pastor Paul Gibbons of the Charlestown Congregational Church expressed concerns over President Donald J. Trump’s attitude toward refugees and his administration’s efforts to crack down on immigration.
He said he heard about the vigil from friends of his who were participating.
“It is an occasion to stand up for what I believe and what I’m concerned about, and to show that not all citizens of this country are bigoted and racist,” he said of the event.
Kari Nguyen, who grew up in Keene but now lives in Merrimack, said she wanted to come home to attend the vigil.
She said she disapproves of President Trump’s immigration policies and what she described as his “racist rhetoric.”
The topic of immigration is significant to her, as the family of her husband, Duy, came to the United States from Vietnam in the 1980s, she said.
She also finds the recent resurgence of white nationalist groups “frightening,” she said.
“I feel like it’s important to ... stand up against hate,” she said.