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On Saturday, January 17, 1987, about 100 white-sheeted Klansmen and uniformed Aryan Nations members marched through Pulaski, Tennessee in opposition to the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.  They came to Pulaski because it was the birthplace of the Klan in 1866, after the Civil War.  A different Klan organization gathered its members that same day in opposition to the holiday in Summerville, South Carolina.

That same day, in Forsyth County, Georgia a crowd of about 400 North Georgia whites had gathered under the leadership of two Klan groups, the Invisible Empire KKK and the Southern White Knights.  They aimed to prevent a “Brotherhood March” by a smaller group of local working class whites who had teamed up black civil rights advocates from Atlanta.  As soon as all the would-be marchers got off their bus, the racist mob attacked them with bottles, rocks, racist slurs and other forms of shrapnel and drove them back into the bus, their march uncompleted.

The next day, Sunday January 18, in Raleigh, North Carolina, a troop of less than 100 white supremacists marched unimpeded through the downtown.  Most had been members of the White Patriot Party, once an organization of over 1,000 men and women with a racist, anti-Semitic ideology in North Carolina.  It had previously marched through dozens of towns while uniformed in camouflage gear while carrying Confederate battle flags.  The White Patriot Party had disbanded, however, after lawsuits and court-orders had prevented it from doing business as usual.

At that time, I was working in the national office of an anti-racist organization headquartered in Atlanta. I had sent observers to the events in Pulaski, Forsyth County, and Raleigh.  And I have written these events up with more detail and more coherence in my book, Blood and Politics, (available from this website).

Saturday night, in the hamlet of Shelby, North Carolina, at an XXX bookstore widely believed to be patronized by gay men, armed intruders ordered five men to lay face down on the floor and shot them in the back of the head.  They then set fire to the bookstore.  Two of the shot men miraculously survived.  About a year later, two former members of the White Patriot Party were indicted for the murders and arson.  As I wrote in my book, “The prosecution’s ineptness was compounded by deep social conflicts about homosexuality.”  No one was ever convicted for these heinous crimes, although they were almost certainly committed by white supremacists.

Three white supremacist street rallies, a racist riot, and three dead in one weekend; It was about the way the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was treated by the racist right in those days.  Outright opposition came from every corner.

From the Senate came a constant barrage of pure and simple racism by Senator Jesse Helms from North Carolina, who wrote and published pamphlets and made speeches condemning Dr. King and the holiday bearing his name.  Helm’s pamphlets joined the rest of the racist trash circulating about Dr. King, and his material is still used today.

For instance, Thom Robb’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which once regularly marched in Pulaski in January, now, on its website, simply recirculates the old Helm’s material contending that King was “affiliated with over 60 Communist groups.”  Similarly, the Southern Nationalist Network currently has a column on its site that mourns the removal of the old Tom Watson statue on the grounds of the Georgia state legislature, and warns that the old racist and anti-Semitic leader will be replaced with a statue of Dr. King.  This allows the southerners to reiterate every tired piece of racist doggerel from yesterday.

Consider by contrast, a recent piece of anti-immigrant propaganda by the Californians for Population Stabilization.  According to People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, that group is invoking Dr. King as an anti-immigrant bigot.

The white nationalist linked nativist group using Dr. King as an anti-immigrant icon, is of a piece with Glenn Beck’s invoking the mantle of the civil rights liberators to cover his Tea Party civil rights suppressors.  On its face, it is upside down.

As IREHR noted previously, in early 2007 Californians for Population Stabilization hired Rick Oltman as their national media director. More recently he’s been listed as a Senior Writing Fellow” of the organization. Oltman has been a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white-ist organization descended directly from the old White Citizens Councils.

These days the Council of Conservative Citizens continues to circulate the old slanders against Dr. King written decades ago by Jesse Helms.

I suppose that is what happens with national holidays.  They are used by charlatans to cover the sin of the moment, whatever it might be.  Now, instead of matching Klansmen, we have racist of anther stripe turning the real world upside down.


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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