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1949_10_22--017_SP Truth About the Klan

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For your protection, only oils mode from l00: Pure Pennsylvania Grade Crude which meet our rigid quality requirements are entitled to carry this emblem, the registered badge of source, quality and membership in our association. Made ,thew the Arg4.0 grade crud( oil en the Is .eitI PENNSYLVANIA GRADE CRUDE OIL ASSOCIATION Oil City, Pennsylvania THE SATURDAY EVENING POST 125 • " Maybe it wouldn't hurt any, though, if some of the boys put on their robes and rode over through nigger town some night," the chief says. "Just to let 'em know they better behave themselves." So, in the days before the Klan was unmasked, a dozen or so of the more eager members would put on their robes, lower their visors and cover up the tag numbers of their cars, and ride through the Negro section of the town. The colored folk would come out and stand on the sidewalks and watch the parade pass, curious, but not partic- ularly afraid. Finally the caravan would stop in front of some noisy honky-tonk or the home of a Negro teacher or insurance man who was suspected of being " biggity." Two or three men would get out and set up a rough wooden cross, with beer cans stuffed with oily rags nailed to it, and they would set fire to this rude symbol, and stand around, watching it burn. Then they would all drive back to the Klavern and take off their robes and go home. A couple of weeks later, just to have something to do, they would make up a pot of ten or fifteen dollars and call a special meeting for Sunday night. Then, dressed up in their robes and maski, they would drive out to some country church, file in during the service, hand the preacher an envelope with the money in it, and file out again, silently. But these rather tame activities could not long hold the interest of the rank and file, and the Klan in the small town was always in danger of disintegrating from the sheer apathy and ennui of its members unless something happened to give the organization a shot in the arm. An election, for instance, always caused a great spurt of Klan activity, for in each Klan there is a hard core of cynical men who know how to use the Klan for political purposes. Holders of state jobs or aspirants for these jobs, they cry havoc in the Klaverns, pointing out what dire dangers will befall the state unless the Klan exerts its strength. The simplest and most direct method by which the Klan can influence an election is to parade on the night before election in the colored sections of the town— a warning to the Negroes that they must not show up at the polls. The Negro knows, of course, that the Supreme Court has ruled that he has the right to vote not only in elections but in primaries. But the court is far away in Washington and the Klan is right there in his yard, setting a cross on fire. Ordinarily, he does not ponder long over whether to give up his rights as a citizen or to defy the Klan. The Georgia Klans were just getting under way in 1946, and were feebly organized, but they rendered noble service to the candidacy of Eugene Talmadge, the Klan's choice for governor, by frightening Negroes from the polls in many counties where they had registered m great numbers. This illegal intimidation of the colored electorate— tacitly approved by the majority of the white population so long as no blood is shed — marks the climax of activity for mosteindividual Klaus. Others, to rouse the flagging interest of the members during the doldrums between elections, have set out to police the morals of the community and ended up, often, in a peck of trouble. Students of the Klan as a social phenomenon have described its membership as being divided into three types. There is the great majority of sincere but deluded members who honestly believe that by serving the Klan they are patriotically serving their community, their state and the nation. There is the minority who cynically use the Klan for financial gain or political power. And there is a final minority made up of almost equal numbers of restless, reckless and sadistic men and hot-eyed religious fanatics who hunger for drastic action. To the sadist, the masked Klan has offered a safe outlet for his innate cruelty. To the religious zealot, it has been the means by which he could obey the whispering voices which told him that God had chosen him to wipe out, in blood if need be, every vestige of sin between the forks of the river and the county line. Unfortunately, the South, particularly in the rural regions, offers a fertile field for such vigilante action. Law enforcement in some counties is almost nonexistent. Bank robbers may be pursued with zeal and dealt with sternly, and murderers, if they lack powerful political connections, are quickly brought to book. But many peace officers see little reason to get excited about honky- tonks which operate openly in dry counties, habitual drunkards who fail to support their families or harlots who brazenly flout the stern moral credo adhered to by decent citizens. As a result, each Klan receives a flood of mail from folk who call upon the Klan to enforce the law which the police, sheriffs and constables have failed to enforce. Anonymous corre- spondents signing themselves " Church Members" urge that the bootleggers be run out of the neighborhood. Angry wives who don't want their troubles aired in court ask that philandering husbands be whipped and told to stay at home. Troubled mothers beg the Klan to throw a scare into wild drinking and gambling sons. In Klaus where the leaders have some concept of the law and of the rights of the individual human being, these re- quests are handled quietly, through sternly worded warning notes, or by the Klan itself demanding that the law officers do their duty. In the few Klaus which the sadists and the fanatics con- trol, the story has been different. The pattern of violence has moved quickly from warning notes to cross burnings and parades, to the invasion of private houses for the delivery of oral threats, to kidnapings, floggings and to murder. Decent men and the more timorous members of the order have always quietly deserted the Klan when the night forays began. This, though, has had little deterrent effect on the masked bands, who enlisted recruits from the local non-Klan thuggery to aid them in their exploits. Thus what began as an ill-advised attempt to police the morals of the " po' white trash" ended in the fearful domination of all the people by anarchists who ignored both the law and the feeble authority of the Klan. Though flogged and threatened men invariably are afraid to talk, eventually and inevitably the word has leaked out. Then, to the credit of the South, public anger has exploded, and the Klan - no matter how vigorously its leaders may disclaim responsibility—has come under fire from every front — from news- papers, churches, civic organizations, veterans' organizations, labor unions and the higher echelons of the law. In Alabama, for instance, when the news first broke that masked bands were riding in western Jefferson County, the public reaction was determined and immediate. Birmingham newspapers, led by the Birmingham News, an implacable foe of the Klan since the '20's, set their crack reporters to hunting out victims of the raiders. Within a few


1949_10_22--017_SP Truth About the Klan
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