When The Klan Came To Town

August 14th, 2017  |   

When the Ku Klux Klan showed up in Charleston, I wasn’t at home. 

It was 1975 and Kanawha County was in the midst of what came to be called, the Kanawha County Textbook War. Thousands of language arts textbooks had been taken out of the schools, people had been threatened, school buses shot at, schools bombed, and board of education members attacked.

I was in Martinsburg visiting friends and got a call from Judy. She was disturbed. Threatening phone calls had come to the house. They were precipitated by the arrival of the Klan. The Kleagle from Ohio was coming to Charleston, and the callers wanted me to come to a rally on the steps of he Capitol. 

It didn’t take me long to get into my car and head for home. That encounter resulted in ugly phone calls, and the arrest of a man who threatened me with the same fate of the three civil rights workers who had been murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

The books were removed from the schools because they were the first K-12 multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial textbooks adopted in West Virginia. A sign on a viaduct read, “GET THE N- - - - - BOOKS OUT.

My role in all of this was twofold. I was disturbed by the fact that my children’s books were taken from them, a real no-no for me, given my love for books. On top of that, students and community folks asked me to help take a lead in getting the books back in the classrooms. 

Watching the Klan, and what is being called the Alt-Right, engaged in violence this past weekend in Charlottesville transported me back to those days in Kanawha County. That period of history, the early half of the 1970s not only resembles the situation now, it was that period when the political and religious right were gearing up for the eventually appearance of Ronald Reagan, and now Donald Trump.

Judy accompanied me through many struggles, but the Klan encounter cut through her like a knife. A few years later, both of us went to Atlanta to look at a job possibility. When we got off the plane, I picked up a copy of The Atlanta Constitution. On the front page was an article about a local Klan appearance. I saw Judy’s reaction as she remembered the Klan’s visit to Charleston. She was pleased to come back home to West Virginia, but neither one of us had any illusion that racism would not ever raise its ugly head again. Racism is America’s original sin, always in need of being exorcised.

One last note: Tomorrow morning at 5:45, I will climb onto a garbage truck here in Charleston and go to work in the East End, my neighborhood. It’s my community service for having done civil disobedience in WV Senator Capito’s office. The issue was her vacillation and eventual disappointing vote to do away with the Affordable Care Act.

I rode the truck 10 years ago when the then Rep. Capito gave initial and continuing support for the Iraq war. If asked why I am riding the truck again, I will say that I like working with these marvelous folks who do this important job. For me it will be indicative of the huge piece of work necessary to clean up Washington, and the WV Legislature (also in the East End). So, I will start on the ground where I live.

Entry Filed under: Fig Tree Notes Archives

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Nations will hammer swords into plows, their spears into sickles, there shall be no more training for war. Each person will sit under his or her fig tree in peace.
Micah 4:3 - 4