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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Truth about the KKK

Greetings to all my patient readers out there! I am taking my turn this morning and getting a blog entry posted.

Life has gotten busier for us with the convention planning and caring for Mr S, and I had to push what I like to do; write, farther down the priority list. With the barrage of e-mails and telephone calls it is a struggle at times to remember to eat or take my medication. You do, what you have to do, right?

The forecast for beautiful downtown Fallon is sweet! A sky covered with sun, 62 (and more) fahrenheits bouncing around with, no use looking chance of rain , and a 12 mph breeze from the SW. Yummy! 

I wouldn't go too wild with planting delicate things just yet, but anything hardy can get "dirty". The consensus among long range weather predictions has us in for a blazing hot summer, but I never trust the "spring" in Nevada. Too many times I have seen fruit trees blossom and then get blasted by a freeze here.

Mr S got his new powerchair from the VA on Monday, and we returned the borrowed unit to his old residence on Tuesday. Phone calls about possible health issues brought us running on Wednesday, and nearly again yesterday. Today we will take him to lunch and then shopping at Walmart for his few groceries and sundry items that he likes to have in his apartment. It is easier being green (sorry Kermit), than being 86.

Hurricane Jessi got to ride out the highway south yesterday, (Uh Oh, is that the Vet?) to get her booster shots and rabies tag. She actually did very well and scored several dog biscuits in the process. Her health is excellent and she weighed in at 26.2 lbs at 5 months of age. Mikki didn't reach 30 lbs until she was a year old. Next month (6 mos) will bring spay time to the puppy. There is simply no reason not to, the world does not need more puppies. WE don't need more puppies!

Today's story was among the first I wrote and it was something that I had wanted to tell about for many years. With the current events surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida and the attitudes that still exist even today, this story is as relevant now as it was when it happened. 

Some of you may have read this story under the title of "The KKK is NOT the Way!" a few years ago in the Desert Home Companion (no longer in publication) and it has been published in other places. The events of that night are forever burned into my memory and the hatred we experienced still brings sadness and disgust to my heart today. Read and live that night through the eyes of a trusting 13 year old boy.

The Truth about the KKK 

Every Southerner is a member of the Ku Klux Klan. True or False? Every Southerner believes that the KKK is really out to do good and is simply misunderstood. True or False? What is the real story in regards to the "Invisible Empire"?

When I was 13 years old in 1966 these questions were going through my mind. In light of the events of the 1960's, with riots and abductions and murders happening all over the country, not just in the South like some people seem to remember it, it really wasn't strange for a young person to be trying to figure out what was true, and what was false.

South Florida was not the hotbed of racial tension that other areas were at that time. Not like Montgomery, Birmingham, Cleveland, or just about any large city with sufficient media coverage to make National News. I still think that political advantage and profiteering had more to do with the riots, than anyone’s civil, or otherwise, rights. Not that injustices weren't happening, and change was coming slowly, but violence isn't the way that the church going, God fearing people that I grew up with would even think of going.

The Background

I grew up with kids of every color, nationality, religion, and income level that you could imagine. If you know South Florida, you know that is not an exaggeration of the society found there. Black, white, brown, red, yellow... only meant colors from a Crayola Crayon box to us. I knew three boys named Larry, and we had to call them something slightly different to tell who we were yelling at to throw us the ball, etc.

One was called "Lawrence", one was called "Larry", and one was called "LT". OK, you got that? Now add to the mix ; one was Catholic, one was Jewish, and one was Baptist. To further confuse the issue; one was black, one was white, and one was Seminole. Can you tell by the names, which was which? Does it matter anyway? It didn't to us; they were just three guys named Larry. If curiosity is killing you; Lawrence was black and Catholic, Larry was white and Jewish, which makes LT a Seminole of the Baptist persuasion... and none of this matters, or it shouldn't.

Enter Curiosity

Why do these people gather together and hold rallies; and what's with the burning cross?
These questions are what prompted four of us to go out into an orange grove, in Davie, Florida, one Friday night when we were supposed to be at a school dance at the Junior High School.
It was a foolish thing to do and a greater risk for my three Seminole Indian "brothers", than myself. Seminole Indians have "mixed" with slaves at times in their history and the KKK has a special hatred for those of mixed ancestry.

At least that was what we had heard. That was the problem. We didn't have any first-hand knowledge, and the opposing sides were extremely opinionated in their own behalf. So whom do you believe? What is the Gospel in this matter?

The Rally

“Friday night in “X's” orange grove, ceremonies to start at 8:00 PM, sharp. Come early and bring your own supplies. The Exalted Grand Dragon will Honor us with a speech and sermon.”

There was more to the flier, but you get the tone of this message. That was how we found out where and when; and we were determined to find out why.

Larry, Ralph, Sam and I all started out at the dance; we didn't lie about going to it, we just didn't stay long. One of their cousins had agreed to give us a ride out to this grove for a half-pint bottle of Vodka and they had already taken care of the payment; with his promise not to drink it until we were safely back at the dance and he drove home. We had to be back at the school before 11:00 PM when the dance got over and we didn't want this cousin getting into a wreck or getting arrested, or leaving us out there with the Klan.

The location was a shock to me. It was on a grove owned by a prominent family of church going folks with a very good reputation. Maybe they didn't know that it was being held there, and maybe pigs fly, was the general consensus of opinion on that. We knew that the main road into the grove would be watched and they weren't likely to let us in to satisfy our curiosity, maybe by myself, if one of their number would speak up for me. But I wasn't interested in being alone with the Knights of the KKK, betting on them being understanding "Good Ole Boys". So that approach was out. There was another road which connected this grove to the next, but it was a long way to the other end where you "might" be able to enter, and it could be padlocked.

The only logical choice for us was to cross the big canal next to the paved county road that bordered the grove. Then hike in through the trees in the dark without flashlights, and hope that we didn't encounter snakes, etc. And also the man made obstructions like barbed wire and irrigation hardware. Yep. It was the best way, they would have to figure that nobody would be crazy enough to do that and not worry about posting guards or lookouts on that side.

We found a place for the cousin to park the car and go to sleep. He promised to wait and not drink the Vodka until the agreed upon time and if we weren't out by 11:00 PM; go get the entire tribe to rescue us. We didn't think that the cops would be of much use for some reason... a hunch that proved to have merit later.

That water was deep and cold, and there were alligators and Water Moccasins in these ditches, especially big canals like this one. Which made it even more comical that we had to get naked, and wade across with our clothes held over our heads to keep them dry. The running joke was about where you might get snake bit; and that nobody was going to suck the poison out, etc.  We were very loony, that much is obvious now, but then it was just another thing that we did. We could see an alligator farther up the canal, but we were too large for it to bother with.

There was a good spot to get out and get dressed; we had to use our underwear to dry off with and then, left them hanging on the bushes to dry. I wonder if they are still there? We didn't go back for them; that's for sure!

We actually made good time through the trees and were being very careful where we put our feet, to avoid hazards and to prevent making unnecessary noise that might alert the Klansmen. We wanted this to be a "private" viewing of their rally and not for us to be "part" of it.

It was 7:45 PM when we got to the edge of the clearing where there was a bonfire and a lot of "White Robes" moving around. That means it took us 30 minutes to cross the canal and hike in to this spot. We moved along the trees, keeping them between the crowd and us until we found a likely site to watch from, and then climbed the tree almost all the way to the top. Orange trees are not my choice for climbing. I was already scratched and bleeding from several places.

If we had hesitated at all, we would have been history. We had no more stopped moving than two guards in white robes and hoods, carrying shotguns, walked right up to where we were and stopped. I was afraid to even breathe!

The rally was called to order and the ceremonies began at 8:00 PM on the dot; these boys were punctual, I'll give them that much. The head guy of all of them, the “Exalted Grand Dragon,” was sitting in a lawn chair behind the stage, out of sight. He didn't even get up or pay attention, when the "Wizard" was working the crowd into a frenzy, like the opening act does for the headliner at a concert, or a Las Vegas show.

This hooded bozo had already answered a lot of our questions concerning the attitudes and intentions of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. If you weren't just like them; you were wrong for their future and a danger to their children, and you had to be eliminated. Peacefully if possible, but however was necessary, if it took that.

The speaker professed to be a God fearing man on a mission to save his race from contamination and extinction, and he was doing it all for his children and their children. Using children and God were his main hooks to work the crowd, and work them he did! These robed figures were agitated, animated and aggressive, just to use the "A's". However you wanted to describe it, they were pumped up and ready to receive the message from the "main man!”

As good as the Wizard was at stirring the crowd up, he was nothing compared to the Grand Dragon! That man had people crying and shouting and dumping money into a barrel to keep up the fight against the government and all the others who would deny them their God given right. Of course, maybe a little of it would have to be used to pay for the stretch limousine that the big guy had arrived in; and would go on to the next rally in, riding in comfort.

I got the feeling that I was witnessing Adolph Hitler working on the plan for the Aryan race. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that genocide was too singular for what these crazies had in store for the rest of us.

When I was able to take my eyes off of the stage and look around us, I just about spoke out loud. Damn! The rally with all those fanatics was in front of us, and their cars were parked behind us, with armed guards patrolling all around them. There was no "sideways,” the bonfire was so large that it illuminated everything around us. We were in an ugly fix, but still safe in the tree top for now.

The ceremony of lighting the cross, quite often would begin the rally I was told later on in life. Tonight it had special significance and had been delayed until now. I had never seen so large of a cross before; it was made from telephone poles, and was at least 40 feet high. The Grand one said a prayer, and then had one of the attendants light the cross with a flame thrower, to the screams and squeals of the masses gathered there.

The KKK will tell you that the lighting of the cross is a sacred religious tradition honoring the Light of God and Jesus for dying for our sins. Completely Christian and only meant as a good example of their faith.
So why did their leader say, "All of the unclean, and mixed curs had better take warning from this cross burning brightly in the night, we will take what is our right by any means necessary. And they can perish in its flames if they get in the way."

The lighting of the cross served a better purpose for us just then. It brought the guards in from the parking area to witness the burning, and drew them in far enough, that we felt that it was our best chance to get out of the tree and slip out through the cars. Again we went with the logic of doing the least expected. No one would expect us to come out through the cars and down the main road of the grove.

Those trees were eating us alive with scratches and cuts, but not a sound was made, at least not out loud. I was screaming inside my head! I almost fell out of the tree, and a hand reached out and grabbed me. Larry was looking out for his "brother" as always.

We made it to the ground and staying low, moved as quickly as possible to get to the cover of the vehicles and darkness. Fear is a great motivator and we had plenty to be afraid of from these nuts, especially in the frenzy that they were riding on right now.

As shocking as the words had been and as disheartening as the supposed "moral conviction" of these robed figures was; the real pain and hurt lie ahead.

When these Knights of the Klan were just anonymous figures in robes, it was bad; but when we got among the cars and recognized the vehicle of our Sheriff, the personalized plates of the Mayor's car, a banker who was the father of one of our friends, the truck belonging to the owner of the local hardware store complete with the sign on the side, other vehicles of people that we knew by the car or license plate... it went past bad, it was gut wrenching painful. How could they act this way here, and then smile in our faces when they met us on the street?

And then the real crusher! The unmistakable car of the preacher whose church we had been attending! It serves no purpose to identify what religion he represented, none of them would condone what he had done here tonight. The sinking realization that we now knew why the Wizard who "opened" for the main speaker sounded so familiar, and why he could talk for an hour and a half without letting up. We never set foot in his church again after that night.

We moved quietly through the cars and down the road towards freedom and fresh air. It smelled like sulfur and brimstone where we just were.

The Escape

There was a checkpoint to pass and even though it was dark, we could smell their cigarettes and hear what they probably considered a whisper, a long way from them. We just slipped off to the side and went through the trees until we were clear of them and then got back on the road and in no time we had reached pavement. For the first time we allowed ourselves to run, and run we did, all the way to the car about a mile down that county two-lane.

When we woke the cousin up from a sound sleep in the back seat of his car, scaring him with our emotional insistence to hurry up, he no doubt thought that the Klan was after us. It was worse, it was demons of what we had seen and heard!

The clock said 10:30 PM when we walked back into the dance; we had been gone a lifetime. It was a sad, hard lesson to learn that things are seldom what they seem and people are capable of unbelievable extremes and such hatred that I couldn't yet comprehend.

It would take many years and experiencing war to make me know the depths of the human soul. Right now, at thirteen years old, I was in shock. If this was what it meant to be white, then I was glad to be a "brother" to the Seminole People, maybe they would claim me and I wouldn't have to be white anymore. I was sure embarrassed by what we had experienced on this night and apologized to my brothers for the color of my skin. They were wiser than I was, and told me not to worry, that I had a good heart and would always know the right path to take. I don't know if I lived up to that, but I was glad that they were still my brothers.


Whatever color, nationality, or religion that you may be... whatever differences that you may have... whatever problems may arise in your life... we learned that night that: HATE IS NOT THE ANSWER.

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