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City Council Renames Park Named For Klan Leader

August 3, 1988

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. (AP) _ After weeks of wrangling, the City Council reversed its decision to name a park after a former Ku Klux Klan leader but granted him a plaque, in a compromise angering blacks and Klan members.

The council, which includes two black members, voted unanimously Tuesday to name the ballfield ″Veterans Park″ and to place a marker at the park noting that James R. Venable, a Stone Mountain resident since 1936 and a former mayor, donated the land for the park in the 1940s.

Venable, the 83-year-old former imperial wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, accused the city leaders of giving in to pressure ″from liberal, pinko communist types.″ The vice president of the DeKalb County NAACP called the new name an ″insult to all veterans.″

Outside, an angry crowd of 100, including members of the DeKalb County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, knocked on windows demanding to get into the meeting, which was closed because of a capacity crowd.

However, many in a quiet audience of 30 inside the council chambers, which included at least one Klansman, broke into applause after the vote.

Venable did not attend the meeting, but heard the news from a parking lot outside City Hall.

″I’m disappointed with them. I knew they were weak-kneed. My own race is weak-kneed,″ he said.

NAACP members were not happy either.

″My preference is to not have his name associated with the park at all,″ said Coleman Seward, vice president of the DeKalb NAACP.

″It’s an insult to all veterans - black, white and Jewish - to have his name associated with the park. It’s a disgrace.″

The City Council voted unanimously on July 12 to name the park after him, apparently not expecting the ensuing media coverage and public outcry from civil rights groups and some residents.

At the time, Robert Smith, one of the black council members, said he favored the move because Venable’s past affiliation was ″not my concern.″

Because of the controversy, Venable wrote Mayor Jane Rhodes three days later, asking the city to rescind the action and she agreed.

But within 1 1/2 weeks, he changed his mind and wrote the mayor and six council members again, asking them to name the park after him after all.

Gloria Brown, a black resident who attended the meeting, said she would have been happy if the council stuck with its original decision to name the ballfield ″Venable Park.″

″He’s a citizen of this town and he’s done wonderful things for this town,″ she said. ″If he’s a member of the Klan, it’s his private business. I’m a staunch member of the NAACP.″

″The council should’ve named a park after Jimmy Venable years and years ago for what he’s done for this town,″ said E. Bill Fitzgerald, who wore a faded gold Klan robe and described himself as imperial wizard of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

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