The KKK and I

KKK: Men in sheets
KKK: Men in sheets

I thought everyone knew people in the Klan. No?

I lived in a very rural North Florida county with (literally) more hoofed mammals than human beings. Several prominent citizens were known to be KKK, and some not-so prominent. My black Board president had not one, but two crosses burned on his lawn. He showed me the oak tree where they planned to lynch him when he integrated the high school. He said he forgave them.

No, I’m not 100 years old, the crosses were burned in the late 1980s.

One afternoon I had a ‘mater sandwich with the most prominent Klansmen, who owned the newspaper. I wanted him to run positive stories about the black kids I was working with instead of only stories about black crimes. “Good luck,” Judy said as I went out the office door, “He only removed his KKK outfit from his office last year.” Mr. KKK and I talked about bass fishing. AND he started running my stories.

I met two other Klansmen in that town. One came into the store where I was working and felt the need to urgently inform me about the conspiracy black people had to take over America by out-breeding white people. My boss was embarrassed by this and kept trying to shoo him out the door, me being a Yankee and all.

The other was a prosperous building contractor. I called about a piece of property and he told me, No, I didn’t want to live there (I thought I might) and he would pick me up and show me where I did want to live. When he pulled up in his big white contractor truck and I came out, he said “I thought so. But you just can’t tell over the phone any more.” “Can’t tell what?” I asked innocently. “Can’t tell if you’re a n****r,” he said. I groaned in my inner woman, not more of this crap. But there was more, much more. Two hours of it.

I try not to hate. Hate is bad for your soul and bad for your health. And so I tried not to hate the Klansmen, maybe because my Board president didn’t hate them and he had so much more reason than I. His friend who had been a civil rights activist didn’t hate them either, and they had nearly ruined his life.

I admit I don’t understand the dynamic, and I was told by both my black and my white southern friends that I never could understand it unless I grew up there.

I tried not to hate them, but I felt that an ancient, ugly violence hung over that place like a whiff of roadkill piercing through the heavy scent of jasmine, just out of sight, behind the lovely southern hospitality and genteel manners.

It is there still.

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