July 5, 2020
“Crazy” Comes in Black & White
The week I graduated from high school back in 1965 … I attended a Ku Klux Klan rally on the outskirts of my semi-rural Southern hometown.
Hows THAT for an opening line? Does it rank with “My name is Ishmael” … or “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times … ” ?
My pal and I were drawn to that event in 1965 out of the youthful curiosity for any object or event that is unfamiliar or strange. … Like spending $.50 to enter a carnival sideshow to see JoJo The Dog-faced Boy.
There was no ideological attraction. I have not been tempted to attend another such event.
It was in a vacant field on the outskirts of town where Hwy 70 Bus and Hwy 70 ByPass split. I drive by there every time I return to my hometown or go to “da Beach”.
There were several 100 attendees in full KKK regalia and about an equal number of the curious, like me. I don’t recall if the klansmen’s faces were covered. I think they were. They were wearing the peaked hats and robes. I did not see anyone I knew.
There was a guy named Robert Shelton there. He was The Grand Dragon or Exalted Cyclops or Imperial Wizard or some such of the United Knights of The Ku Klux Klan.
In “real life” he was a tire salesman from Alabama. Duh! He had run for Sheriff of Tuscaloosa County and finished 5th. He delivered a rip-roaring Doozie of a speech.
He ranted about “Negroes” and “Mud People” and “The Coloreds” … using a lot of collective nouns. He did not have a high opinion of them by any name. His “passion” got his members all stirred up They cheered where they were suppose to cheer.
There was a big 20′ high wooden cross wrapped in gasoline-soaked rags … They lit it at a point in the proceedings.
Mr Shelton “knew what he was doing” … how to rile up his attendees. If you’ve seen “Klan rallies” in the movies … that is what I saw that summer night in 1965.
Kinda Scary does not do it justice.
My undying memory of that night in 1965 was summed up in my comment to my pal as we drove back to town…
Those Sumbitches are Nutz!
I was not the colorful wordsmith I would become 40 years later.
About 8-9 years ago – around 2010 or thereabouts … I attended another “rally”. This one was in downtown Raleigh on Fayetteville Street. It was also “about Race”. This was different from that earlier one … but not really.
Prior to that event in Downtown Raleigh, I had participated in an Ebony & Ivory Dialogue arranged by The News & Observer. Involving me in a series of one-on-one lunch chats with a locally prominent black gentleman. We were both Baby Boomers who had “come of age” in The 60s. Was there a common perspective?
Over 5-6 lunches, we shared experiences. I noted “that Klan rally” as well as other experiences as a boy … a young man moving thru corporate America … and as an aging Boomer looking back.
He had been Jesse Jackson’s NC campaign mgr when Jackson ran for President. His father had been active in local politics.
He had all the pre-conceived stereotypes of me that us “White Not Liberal Democrats” are assumed to have. All of us are “in da Klan” of course and he kept calling me a NeoCon. I asked “What da heck IS a NeoCon?”. He never would tell me. To this day, I don’t know.
At our last lunch I asked him …
What coulda shoulda been done differently since 1964 for America to be at a better place race-wise today?
He said he had never thought about that. I believe him … He had never thought about it ?!?
Did we ever find a commonality? Yes, we did. …
We both have a decided preference for Blond White Women.
Every time I tell that story, folks think I’m kidding. I’m not.
That rally in Downtown Raleigh… He would be a featured speaker. I drove down early enough to get a standing spot right by the stage.
This was NOT the infamous rally where Reverend William “Bully” Barber would (supposedly) draw “at least 80,000… maybe more” as reported by The N&O and WRAL. “The 80,000” was actually about 8,500.
The one I attended drew about 2,500 or so … but they were enthusiastic.
There were 3-4 “opening acts” including my guy and a very angry Duke professor who was “an authority on slavery”. The mini-multitude was there to see/hear Rev. “Bully” Barber.
As the “warm-up acts” were finishing, a customized van – with heavy-duty shocks – pulled up behind the stage. … A phalanx of “burly NFL Linebacker-types” dressed in black surrounded the van. … … The side panel opened and “Bully” emerged in full papal regalia. Rev Barber was well in excess of a quarter of a ton – 500+ lbs.
With the help of 3-4 of his “burly linebacker-types'” … Rev Barber navigated the 2-3 steps up to the stage emerging to the HUZZAHS of his adoring disciples. His elaborate papal regalia was much fancier than Robert Shelton’s had been back in 1965.
Barber’s fiery rhetoric did NOT mention “Mud People” or “Children of Ham” or even “Coloreds … but he was highly and passionately uncomplimentary to any/all Republicans… and/or NeoCons. No, he never said what NeoCons were.
I lost track of all the ills of society that he said Republicans / NeoCons were solely responsible for … it took “Bully” a good 20 minutes to list’em all. He shook his fist and pounded the podium a lot. His peeps seemed to like that.
When he wore out … his “burly linebacker-types” helped him off-stage and back in his van … and everyone left Downtown Raleigh.
My undying memory of This Event was summed up by…
What a Flaming S*** Show !!!
In the 45 years since The Klan Rally I have honed my descriptive wordsmithing …
OK… I know what you are wondering… Does “Bully” Barber share my preference for Blond White Women? I have no idea and don’t care to know. I suspect his “burly NFL linebacker-types” might though.
Because I’ve seen it with my own eyes – I know that:
“Crazy” Comes in Black & White
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