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An Ugly Time That Should Never Be Forgotten

July 14, 2010

It was ugly in the 1920’s, it was still ugly in the 1960’s. It was difficult to believe it was still happening in the 1980’s.

For several years in that decade during  heightened racial violence in Georgia,  I documented white supremacy groups in the south for Newsweek. The Klan was only a part of it. There were armed groups who were much more violent and troubling. For reasons I may never know, I was allowed inner access to these groups. Perhaps their leaders thought I was ‘one of them’ although I never gave anyone a reason to think so. I kept my opinions to myself, as all journalists are trained to do. Outwardly, I was friendly and easy-going. Inwardly, I was sickened. But you do what’s necessary to get the pictures.

It’s been 25 years since that project. Most of the KKK membership has faded from the scene, either by age, prison or infirmity. Or maybe they’re just more ‘underground’ these days. I know a white robe and hood isn’t necessary for bigotry and racism to flourish.

It will always be part of the South’s ugly history. It cannot, and should not, be ignored, whitewashed or rewritten. ©1985 Robin Nelson/ZUMA

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2010 3:29 am

    Were you afraid when up close and personal with such evil?

  2. Harry Beadle permalink
    July 22, 2010 7:49 pm

    You’re right, Robin, the hatred fomented by the Klan should never be forgotten. But what already has been written out of textbooks … and mostly forgotten … is that the Klan didn’t originate in the South, but in Indiana.

    Slavery is another abomination … even today in other countries. But while the South is always associated with slavery, Massachusetts was the first state — colony, actually — to legalize slavery (in the 1640s) long before any southern colony/state. Connecticut was second.

    Other points … the financial heart of the slave trade was New York City … that more than 90 percent of all slaving ships were owned by Northern businessmen … that the slave trade continued, even during the Civil War, with the human cargo simply shipped to plantations in the Caribbean rather than the South … that of the estimated 4-million blacks in the South at that time, some historians say there’s evidence to show only about 5-percent of them actually were held in slavery … that black freedmen also owned black slaves … that an entire regiment of black freedmen (more than 2,000 men) formed in New Orleans and attached itself to the Confederate army, although they never saw any service … that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave because it applied only to parts of the South still held by Confederate forces (where it had no legal effect) … that while some white slave-holders brought their slaves with them to fight in the Confederate army, black freedmen also joined the Southern ranks … and while the Confederate army was integrated, Union forces were strictly segregated, with blacks serving only in the Army of the James and the Corps d’Afrique, both commanded by white officers at all levels … that William Sherman and U.S. Grant were overt racists and refused to allow any black Union soldiers to march in the victory parade in Washington when the Civil War ended … that segregation didn’t exist in the South until after the war, when it was imposed by Congress as part of “reconstruction” … and that secession was taught in history classes as the right of every state, including at West Point, until President Lincoln subverted the Constitution.

    Shifting to modern times … it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhauer who introduced what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 … it was supported primarily by Republicans and opposed strongly by Democrats … until it was taken up by Democrat John Kennedy and later by Lyndon Johnson. Still, it never would have passed the then-Democrat controlled Congress without Republican support.

    All of that is real history … and while you can look it up, it’ll take some digging. What you were taught in high school and college is the re-written version … you might want to ask why.

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