When a Ku Klux Klan Rally Taught Fear

Jul 6, 2017

 

A Ku Klux Klan gathering in Muncie Indiana in 1922.
Credit William Arthur Swift/ Courtesy of Ball State University

Charlie Russell grew up on the west-side of Indianapolis in the 1950's. In his all-black neighborhood the racial violence of the south that he saw on television felt far away. While he had experienced discrimination, he had never experienced fear.  That changed, though, when he was in college in the blue-collar town of Muncie Indiana and the KKK held a rally. 

Russell now lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This weekend a North Carolina-based chapter of the Ku Klux Klan plans to rally in Charlottesville.

 

"It wasn't until my freshman year, Fall of 1967, and this flyer was circulated that the Klan was going to hold a march. So I decided 'Okay, hey, here's an opportunity to actually go and see in person, face-to-face, who these people are and what they're about.' 

The sidewalks were just packed with people, a lot of whom were black. There were plainclothes policemen among the crowd. One went past us and told us to 'Keep moving, boys.'

The first thing I saw was the Muncie police department in their blue uniforms surrounding a group of men in khaki uniforms and chrome helmets. But inside that circle was 15 or 20 Klansman in their robes with their hoods on. Marching down the street. And along the way they were passing out their recruiting literature to white bystanders. The one white friend that was with me said 'You guys wait here, I'll be right back.' And he disappeared into the crowd.

 

Someone who puts a Confederate flag on their car, truck, or flying a flag in their yard, I look at that and I go 'I know who you are, thank you for letting me know.'

A little white later he came back and he was carrying a yellow pamphlet that one of the Klansmen had handed him. I don't remember what it said, but I still see it very clearly. A yellow trifold piece of paper, two photographs inside caught my eye. And in these photographs are two people. One was a Klansman in his robe with his hood on and holding a sword and before him was a black man kneeling with his hands bound behind his back. The second picture was the same two individuals, but the black man's head was falling away from his body. 

That was near the end of the march when I got this pamphlet. And we started walking back to campus. And we were walking along the street and I look over and there's this cream over burgundy Chevy Chevelle with this white woman sitting in the front seat and kids bouncing in the back seat and at the back of the car, at the trunk, was this man throwing his hood and robe into the trunk of the car and closing it. And then he walked to the driver's door, opened it up, got in, closed the door. 

And he suddenly looked like everybody else. 

Someone who puts a Confederate flag on their car, truck, or flying a flag in their yard, I look at that and I go 'I know who you are, thank you for letting me know. I don't have to worry about you because I know who you are.'

It's harder to play the game when you don't know who you're dealing with. When that person who climbed into their Chevy Chevelle and closed the door and disappeared meets you in a corporate environment. You don't know, and you can't prove it, and therein lies the terrorism."

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.