Residents of Klan Birthplace Play Down Proposed KKK March
PULASKI, Tenn. (AP) _ Mitchell Birdsong Jr., who became the town’s first black alderman two years ago, doesn’t figure there will be much interest when the Ku Klux Klan returns to its birthplace Saturday.
″The only people who’ll be out are going to be the people who are curious and want to get a glimpse of what they look like,″ said Birdsong, reflecting the opinion of many other Pulaski residents.
The Klan plans to march through the business area of this southern Tennessee town, where the Klan began 120 years ago, to protest the first national observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Although the parade has sparked some talk among townspeople, most of the interest has been generated by news reports, said Birdsong, the caretaker at the Giles County Courthouse.
″I say let them march, as long as they get the heck out of here afterward,″ Birdsong said earlier this week.
The six-block march by the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is set for two days before the official birthday observance for King, whose actual birthday is today. The civil rights leader was slain in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
A man officials identified as Grand Wizard Stanley McCullom applied for the parade permit on Dec. 17. Alderman Hall Stewart objected, but City Attorney Jack Henry said the Klan had a right to march as long as members wore no hoods and did not litter or obstruct traffic.
City Recorder Bob Abernathy said McCullom lives in Tuscumbia, Ala., although initial news reports listed his home as Tuscaloosa. McCullom is not listed in telephone directories for either town and could not be reached for comment.
The afternoon parade is scheduled to begin just off the town square, in front of a modest brick building where the first Klan meeting took place in 1865.
The building, with a bronze plaque marking the event, now houses law offices and a barber shop operated by 81-year-old M.F. Eubank.
″I don’t care what they do,″ he said. ″I’ve got all I can do to take care of my own business, and I don’t fool with nothing else. But I guess I’ll have a grandstand seat.″
Pulaski’s 7,500 residents are quick to say that the Klan today is not the same group that began here on Dec. 24, 1865, to stop former slaves and northerners from seizing political power after the Civil War.
The first Ku Klux Klan, whose name stems from the Greek word for circle, was formed by community leaders as a social club. But it grew into a vigilante organization that used hooded robes and midnight rides to play on the fears and superstitions of blacks.
Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate general, ordered the Klan disbanded in 1869 after the state passed an anti-Klan law.
In 1915, the Ku Klux Klan was revived in Georgia by ex-minister William J. Simmons, incorporating anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism into its beliefs. The Klan had another resurgence in the 1960s when it was linked to attacks on blacks and civil rights workers in the South.
Saturday’s Klan march won’t be Pulaski’s first. In 1965, the Klan rallied to celebrate its 100th anniversary, but townspeople paid little attention. A similar gathering in 1976 also drew scant interest except for a denunciation by the county historical society.
Stacey Aymett Garner, 61, a dentist and mayor of Pulaski for the past 21 years, says Saturday’s march will probably be just as uneventful.
″I just expect the Klan to come in and have their little march and go on away and that will be it,″ he said.
The only worry, according to Johnny Phelps, a sociology teacher at Giles County High School, is what the association will do to the town’s image.
″People are going to think we’re the scum of the Earth, and actually we didn’t have anything to do with it,″ said Phelps. ″We’ll never be able to live it down.″