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1965_01_30--026_SP We Got Nothing to Hide

Shelton's speeches often reflect Klan's warnings of a Communist-inspired Negro uprisim Federal agents use harsh language when they read Shelton's pious utterances about his aversion to lawlessness. Federal agents know that violence in one form or another—from telephoned threats to arson, bombings, beatings and murder—often follows the formation of a strong Klavern. In early July, 1961, at a meeting in Georgia, Shelton was elected Imperial Wizard of the United Klans, and some independent Georgia Klans which had been relatively inactive became part of that organization. Within a month, according to the files of both the Atlanta: police and the Georgia attorney general's office, fired-up Klans were training members in the use of explosives. An ex-Navy frogman was the instructcr, and a "training camp" was set up in rural Clayton County near Atlanta. Before Shelton went into Mississippi early last spring to organize Klaverns there, Klan activity had been largely confined to those counties where an independent organization called the White Knights of the K.K.K. was forming—a group known to federal agents as the most furtive, vicious, and close-mouthed of the Klans. Although it operated in other areas of the state, its activities were concentrated in southwest Mississippi and along the Mississippi River, where it performed with considerable popular approval. " What you are up against there is a conspiracy of silence on the part of a whole people," one federal investigator said. "Crimes are committed that are never reported in the press, never investigated by the local law. The victims, if they survive, are afraid to file a complaint. In the event an arrest is made and a man is brought to trial, getting a conviction is almost impossible. But what else can you expect in a state where a judge, in the presence of several other men, told a sheriff: `If you get into a drove of niggers and have to kill one of them, you might as well go on and kill them all. A dead nigger can't talk.' " In this atmosphere of defiance Shelton easily formed Klaverns in the Natchez and McComb areas. A rash of bombings of homes, churches, and places of business broke out in Mississippi in the summer of 1964 as college students and other civil-rights volunteers came into the state to assist Negroes in registering to vote. Among the houses bombed was that of Natchez Mayor John Nosser, who had offended Klansmen by promising Negroes equal protection under the law and the right to vote if qualified. As the frequency of the bombings increased, other political leaders were stirred to belated action. After the bombing of the Lexington newspaper office of Hazel Brannon Smith, Pulitzer prize winner and critic of the Klan, Mayor Allen C. Thompson of Jackson became the first Mississippi official to speak out against Klan violence. Though he did not denounce the Klan by name, he came out strongly against terrorism. "Do not ever deceive yourself into thinking that these bombers, who do their cowardly work at night, will stop with your neighbor," he said. "Tomorrow it will be your home, your business, or even your family." He offered rewards and pledged police action. Two days later, Mississippi's segregationist governor, Paul B. Johnson Jr., announced that he was building up a force of state police to combat the growing violence in McComb and Natchez. Soon state and county officers, with the cooperation of the FBI, had three men under arrest, charged with the bombing of two homes in McComb. One of them, a 25-year-old railway carman named Paul Dewey Wilson, was caught as he was hauling a small arsenal from his home to a remote farmhouse. In his possession were four high-powered rifles, a pistol, eight wooden clubs, a blackjack, brass knuckles, a hypodermic syringe—and a deputy sheriff's badge. In his pocket was his membership card in United Klans of America, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. It was signed by "Robert M. Shelton, Imperial Wizard, Tuscaloosa, Ala." Wilson also had a black leatherette apron and a black hood, the historic trappings of a Klan executioner. Though law enforce ment agencies have found it easy to penetrate the Klan with paid informers—" They are less clever than the Communists, and easier to infiltrate"—the presence of an informer does not mean that acts of terrorism can be forestalled. In their Klavern meetings the Klansmen are generally as closemouthed with each other as they are with outsiders. The "action groups" within the Klan, known variously as "Holy Terrors," "Knock-Off Squads," and "Killer Squads," range from three to a dozen men. Their identity may be known to other Klansmen—and to the FBI—but they lay their plans for lawless acts outside the Klavern meetings. " We've learned not to discuss anything in a Klavern we wouldn't discuss on the courthouse square," one Exalted Cyclops told a Post reporter. Many crimes committed by these terror squads are merely senseless acts of sadism. In Birmingham, for example, a Negro man walking home at night was caught, castrated, and warned that the same thing would happen to any Negro who tried to send his children to white schools. The victim of this mutilation was not married and had never taken part in any civil-rights action. Occasionally federal agents, through informers, sense a growing restlessness in a Klan and anticipate an outbreak of violence, though they have no means of knowing what form it may take. When, for example, Lemuel Penn, a Negro educator from Washington, D.C., was killed last July while traveling through Athens, Ga., the FBI had only to go to its files and to the Athens police and sheriff's office to come up with the names of a dozen suspects. Both the Athens officers and the federal agents had been watching the Athens Klavern of the United Klans. They knew 80 percent of its members. They knew the location of the pegboard on which the pistol-toting Klansmen hung their weapons before entering the Klavern sanctum. They knew also that certain truculent members of the Klan had been riding about Athens at night carrying sawed-off shotguns, "keeping an eye on the niggers." Twenty-six days after the killing, a Klansman named James S. Lackey made a confession after only 14 minutes of questioning. He described how he had driven alongside Penn's car while two other Klansmen, Cecil Myers and Joseph Sims, had fired into it with shotguns. At the trial before a jury in rural Madison County, where the killing had taken place, Lackey repudiated his confession, claiming it had been forced from him "under fears and threats." The jury found the accused not guilty. Almost as discouraging to federal officers was the subsequent disposition of the cases growing out of the McComb bombings. Nine men, including Paul Dewey Wilson, the man with the black mask, pleaded either guilty or nolo contendere to charges they had bombed or conspired to bomb three Negro homes. Circuit-Court Judge W. H. Watkins imposed prison sentences and fines, and then, citing their "youth, good families," and the fact that they were "unduly provoked and undoubtedly ill advised," he suspended all fines and sentences and placed them on probation. All were identified by the FBI as Klansmen, probably belonging to a splinter Klan group at the time of the bombings. To investigators, six had admitted being Ku Klux Klansmen and had implicated the others as Klansmen. One said he belonged to the United Klans. A month later J. Edgar Hoover, in an uncharacteristic outburst of anger, described this action as " scandalous," denounced "bleeding-heart judges," and charged that "all the lynchings and bombings of homes in the South" are the work of the members of the Ku Klux Klan and claimed the FBI "knows pretty well who they are." Shortly thereafter Mr. Hoover proved that this claim was not mere bombast. On December 4, his agents arrested 21 men, including two peace officers and a preacher, in connection with the killing of three civil-rights workers near Philadelphia, Miss., last June. According to the FBI, the killings were planned and executed by the Klan. J. Edgar Hoover described most as Klan members and sympathizers. Police investigators believe all were affiliated with the White Knights of the K.K.K. The arrest of the two peace officers, Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence A. Rainey and his chief deputy, Cecil Price, points up the problem the Department of Justice faces in investigating civil-rights cases in the South. In chasing down bank robbers and car thieves who cross state lines, local officers work hand in hand with FBI agents. In civil-rights matters, particularly when Klansmen are involved, they often not only refuse to cooperate but actually seek to hinder federal agents in tracking down the guilty. Wherever the agents work, they, of course, soon discover which policemen, sheriffs, deputies and highway patrolmen are in league with the Klan, and the names of these men are immediately reported to higher authority. In Mississippi until recently this was useless. Lately, however, Gov. Paul Johnson has sought to purge his highway patrol of Klansmen, and two cities, Laurel and Meridian, now require that all their employees, including policemen, sign an oath that they belong to no "subversive" organization. In Alabama, officers have been known to show a solicitude for bombers, arresting them on minor accusations— such as possessing explosives—before the FBI could bring graver charges against them. In Georgia, Klansmen are promptly fired from big city and state police forces. In North Carolina, Wizard 31


1965_01_30--026_SP We Got Nothing to Hide
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