Saturday, October 20, 2007

Skeletons in the Closet

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This fine little snapshot from a darker past was actually sold as a postcard back in the day. When the KKK was riding tall and blacks were hiding small. A not so pleasant reminder of one race's attempt to make sure another race knew it's place.

Back in the 1920s, the KKK were in their heyday. Chapters popped up not just in the South but as evidenced by this photo, places that had few blacks. Sold as a poitical movement not a racist one, many stupid white folks saw this party as a true alternative to the corruption and sleaze of the previous years. The KKK was patriotic and pushed for a purity of the protestant national soul.

Immigrants from who knew where were rushing our unsullied shores. Jews and Catholics had begun to snake their way into every facet of leadership and commerce. And of course there was the Negro problem. Plenty of mole hills to build into mountains. That was for sure.

So these exclusive clubs filled up. Meetings were held. Most of the time it was like the Kiwanis or the Elks, a way to relax and maybe get some business done. Oh, and they got to wear those ever so spiffy outfits and march down Main street. A fun time was had by all.

I have lived in the South. I have lived in congested areas where the races are jammed together. And though I never understood the hatred, I understood that so close a proximity could be fertile ground for it to grow.

So what was up with Maine? So few blacks back then, many whites lived their whole lives counting on one hand the number of blacks they came into contact with. And certainly congestion was not problem. It isn't now. It could not have been then. Well I guess we had some Jews. And definitely more than a Catholic or two. But for the most part, no good excuse existed other than the need to be part of something bigger, something obviously important, because it was hip in Tupelo.

I have had this photo cached for awhile now. Whenever I would look through the pictures folder, I would tell myself I would write something on this. But I never seemed to be able to write how I feel about what some racial ancestors did so long ago.

I would like to think I feel no guilt. There is no good reason to. Unless I am willing to buy into the guilt some would have me eat now. No one in my family ever joined the Klan that I know of. Nor did they join much of anything. And so what if they did. Nothing to do with me.

Yet, I still feel uncomfortable when I view a picture like this. That somehow through racial connections I have no control over, I own some part of the hate these clowns lived for. I would guess it's a type of embarrassment. A feeling of racial shame.

I have no control over the color of my skin. I definitely have no control over what happened back then. So I can't be apologetic for something I had no part in. I can only try to make sure sure it doesn't happen again.


A Midnight Rider said...

We are so close to each other, yet my hometown of New Bedford, Ma. was always a tolerant city.

During the time of slavery, New Bedford had it's own underground. Which by the way was out in the open. It was well know, that any slave who made it to New Bedford had no worrries about being hunted down and returned. (Many were stow aways on the cotton ships). The slave hunters were alway run out of town.

During the war with the insurgents in the South, the city changed the name of Main St. to Union St. to show solidarity against slavery.

Schools were always integrated, neighborhoods were always mixed and very few of the problems in the city were racially motivated.

MRMacrum said...

midnight rider - Your town may have indeed been tolerant. But the Klan craze gripped the whole country of which Massachusetts was not immune. Worcseter held the biggest Klan rally in New England in 1924. The crowd estimated was around 15,000.

It was first a political movement based on a fear of immigration that fizzled out when the fringes who started it began to show their true colors.

Maine also had an important role in the underground system during the slave years.

The whole region has skeletons.

Apertome said...

There's a huge KKK contingent in Martinsville, IN, which is just about half an hour north of where I live. When I was in high school, our basketball team went to play theirs. There were some black guys on our team, and the Martinsville guys attacked one of them, hitting him in the solar plexus and making him vomit. Other threats and scuffles ensued. Their team wasn't allowed to play any other teams for the rest of the year. A lot of good that did.

You said, "Somehow through racial connections I have no control over, I own some part of the hate these clowns lived for." ... I hate what people like thsi stand for, but I will not feel guilty for the actions of others. I really take exception with the way any white person is expected to feel guilty for the actions of others. And I don't.

You're absolutely right, though, what we can do is be vigilant and try to stop injustices that are still occurring.

The point of how different attitudes can be in towns not that far apart is very interesting. Again, Martinsville is not far from Bloomington, but Bloomington is far more tolerant and even progressive at times. Of course, we have the university, which helps immensely.

KingTermite said...

Groups like the KKK make me sick. We moved to a rural little redneck town midway through my high school years. This was the late 80s and I remember the KKK holding a rally at the courthouse in town. How the hell can that stuff still be going on in the late 80s?

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