I’ve had a fair bit of experience with the Ku Klux Klan and other fascist groups during my eight-year stint as a journalist in the deep south. Only yesterday did I understand how best to confront these groups. But first, some history…
A Klansman walked into the newsroom of The Decatur Daily in the summer of 1978 because he didn’t like my stories covering the Tommy Lee Hines incident and it’s aftermath. See No Niggers Allowed Here for a personal reminiscence of how I narrowly avoided a beating from a Klansmen during a cross burning I was covering for the newspaper.
Now, let’s take a look at Bill Wilkinson… the top photo shows him organizing a rally in Decatur related to the Tommy Lee Hines affair. I wasn’t present for the rally… I was on vacation. I regretted missing the march, me being a man of action and all hahahaha!. Suddenly, a gunshot…
As racial tensions escalated, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference planned a march from Northwest Decatur to City Hall.
The KKK decided to block the march near Lee Street.
Godbey was the weekend photographer and assigned to cover the event.
“I thought I would be covering another march,” he recalled.
Police officers had formed a line to separate the marchers and KKK.
“The Klan tried to break the line and there was some hand-to-hand fighting,” Godbey said. “I heard a loud noise and gunshots broke out.”
Godbey said everyone, including dogs, ran except for a lone marcher who stood in the middle of the street with a shotgun.
Godbey was making pictures of a shot Klansman before spotting the marcher in the street.
Officers yelled at the man twice before he dropped his gun and got on the ground.
Back to Bill Wilkinson…
Old Bill’s done well for himself.
Now, as promised, here’s a non-confrontational strategy to counter all this white pride nonsense.
In the fall of 1989 my wife, her father, and I drove to Pulaski, Tennessee, (birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan) to observe a skinhead rally. I’d left journalism in 1981 to become an elementary school teacher, and so didn’t feel the need to take my camera. (Luckily, I found some pictures of the event which I’ll post below.)
My memory of the event matches exactly the LA Times article here.
PULASKI, Tenn. — Angry citizens in Pulaski, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, closed their businesses Saturday and bedecked the town with orange ribbons in silent protest to a march by 200 white supremacists.
“Our protest is to turn our back on them. We’re shunning them to let them know they don’t have a welcome mat here,” said Bob Henry, a leader of Pulaski’s show of solidarity against the rally by the Aryan Nations. “We think brotherhood is better than prejudice.”
The members of the neo-Nazi organization and various klan and skinhead groups paraded peaceably to the public square and placed a wreath at the foot of a statue of Confederate hero Sam Davis on his birthday.
Many of the racists carried Confederate flags and wore klan robes or military-style uniforms bearing Nazi and klan insignia.
Robert Lawson, the state’s commissioner of public safety, said 100 state police, 100 local officers and from 60 to 100 intelligence officers from agencies outside the state monitored the march.
About 40 state troopers with riot helmets and batons stood by and a police helicopter circled overhead.
Racists are attracted to Pulaski, a town of 8,000 about 90 miles south of Nashville, because the Ku Klux Klan was formed here in 1865 by four men in a hotel room as a reaction against Yankee carpetbaggers and newly freed slaves, although the modern klan traces its roots to another branch founded in Georgia.
The KKK began annual marches there four years ago to protest the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Town leaders, fed up with the annual rallies, began organizing resistance to Saturday’s march after the Aryan Nations obtained a parade permit two months ago.
The Aryan Nations said it chose Pulaski for its march to honor Davis, a 21-year-old Confederate soldier hanged as a spy by Union troops in Pulaski.
There was no counterdemonstration, although after Louis Beam of the Aryan Nations led the marchers in three chants of “Hail Sam Davis,” someone in the crowd of about 100 spectators responded with: “The hail with you.”
More than 180 businesses, virtually every one in Pulaski, agreed to close Saturday. Residents were asked to stay home, and churches planned activities to keep teen-agers occupied.
“There’s not a soul out anywhere,” Police Chief Stanley Newton said Saturday morning, a few hours before the supremacists arrived. “You’d think it was a ghost town.”
Town leaders adopted orange as the color of brotherhood, and orange ribbons festooned storefronts and flew from sign posts and car radio antennas. Protest petitions bearing 4,000 signatures were mailed to the Idaho headquarters of the Aryan Nations.
“We’re preaching nonviolence in the face of violence and brotherhood and love in the face of hatred and racism,” said Gregory McDonald, author of the Fletch mystery novels who lives on a farm outside Pulaski.
There’s the answer! Read it again. Do you get it?
I was part of the crowd as the marchers passed by to the beat of a military drum. We stood silently, watching. The marchers did their thing and soon it was over. No confrontations. No incidents. No bloodshed. No deaths.
One more time… Absorb the tactics used by the good people of Pulaski, Tennessee. Ignore the fascisists. Stay silent. Stay off the streets. Observe but don’t react. Except, if you are attacked and you have done absolutely nothing to deserve the attack, fight back if you can. If you can’t fight back, run like hell.
In the words of Rabbi Hillel, If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am not for others, what am I? If not now, when?
The future of our nation depends on how we, as a people, react to the rising tide of intolerance. On both sides. On all sides. The future is what we make it.