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More than 1,000 people rallied in Memphis on Saturday, March 30 to protest the Ku Klux Klan, according to news reports of the event.  Many came from across the country, mobilized by a call from a local coalition, the Ida B. Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality.  More came from the communities of Memphis, anxious to take a stand, or give their children a lesson in living history.  Anti-racists were kept away from an on-going Klan rally by several fences.  And the Klan was well-protected by police, who bussed them into a downtown zone, and then bussed them out of town after their rally.  Anger at the police for protecting the Klan, nevertheless, did not turn into violence and mar the anti-racist rally—thus turning the event into a significant victory.

The putative Klan rally in Memphis was actually a Klan-Nazi rally, as uniformed members of the National Socialist Movement and the Aryan Nations were part of the 60+ white nationalists who took part.  The Loyal White Knights, based in neighboring North Carolina, organized this rally and Klansmen from the North Mississippi White Knights, the Georgia-based Keystone Klan and others also participated.  Earlier threats that 5,000 Kluxers would march on Memphis turned into an empty propaganda stunt, as expected.  The police effectively cordoned the white-ists off, separating them from potential supporters.  And though Klansmen and neo-Nazis alike railed from their bullhorn, no one outside their immediate rally could hear them.

The cause of the Klan-Nazi spectacle was the City of Memphis’ decision to change the names of three parks bearing the names of Confederate and Klan heroes—most particularly the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park bordered by Madison Avenue and N. Dunlop Street in the center of town.  Before the Civil War, Forrest owned several plantations and had a business in Memphis as a slave trader.  During the war, he became a Confederate cavalry officer. But it was Forrest’s role as a national leader, or Imperial Wizard, of the Ku Klux Klan after the war that drew the attention of the white nationalists.  Given the large size of the anti-racist demonstration and the small size of the Klan-Nazi gathering, the Memphis city council would make a big mistake if it was to reconsider changing the name of the local park. 

There are still plenty of other Confederate memorials remaining, including a state park honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest in Benton County, Tennessee.  And then there are those statues erected in nearly every county seat in the old Confederate South.  Nominally erected to commemorate the honor and martyrdom of Confederate Army soldiers, they remain a lasting monument of the inability to remember that the Confederacy’s first principle, written into its Constitution, was white supremacy.

The Ida B. Wells Coalition put out a call before their rally: “For years, the Klan and other racist movements have used the symbols of the Confederacy to unite its movement, especially at the gravesite of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Klan co-founder and its first Grand Wizard.  Now, a new movement, the neo-Confederacy, is seeking to restore the Klan’s bloody legacy and that of the Old South.  We cannot allow that to happen, we must build a new anti-racist/anti-colonialist movement to defeat all forms of fascism and white supremacy.

IREHR agrees with the Coalition, particularly on the need for a new anti-racist movement.  And we will be glad to add the Tea Party movement to the list of racists to be opposed.

Leonard Zeskind

Author Leonard Zeskind

is founder of IREHR. For almost four decades, he has been a leading authority on white nationalist political and social movements. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009. [more..]

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