Thursday, September 07, 2017

KKK flags, white hoods and burning crosses ...


I've written quite a bit here about Lucas County's involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, which peaked in the mid-1920s. New bits and pieces of that puzzle come to light now and then.

Like this "church note" from The Herald-Patriot of June 19, 1924, encouraging folks to attend services at the Chariton United Brethren Church: "Our regular services Sunday at the usual hours. Morning subject: 'Called for a purpose.' Evening subject: 'Why I believe in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan' based on the scripture."

The old United Brethren congregation was housed in the now-derelict building in the southwest corner of the intersection of North 8th Street and Roland Avenue. It began as a mission of the Otterbein United Brethren congregation; a great-uncle reportedly mortgaged 40 acres of his farm in order to help build it.  George J. Cornford was the pastor in 1924.

Such things seem much of the time to be interesting, although disconcerting, footnotes to Lucas County history.

Then over the Labor Day weekend, the photograph above of Ku Klux Klan and Confederate flags flying in the little town of Lucas surfaced and history came to life. I'm betting that this was the first time a Klan flag had flown in Lucas County since the 1920s. I know nothing about the folks who decided this display was a good idea. 

A few days later, on Wednesday, the fuzzy photograph at left of five Creston High School students wearing hoods, one carrying a rifle and another waving a Confederate flag, standing around what appears to be a burning cross in a pasture, moved from social media into statewide and national news cycles.

Creston is our Union County neighbor two counties to the west. Like Chariton, it had its fling with the Klan in the 1920s. The high school staff there has disciplined the students involved and now questions about the district's authority to do that --- based on free speech issues and the fact the racist display did not occur on school property or school time --- have been raised.

We certainly do live in interesting times.

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Consensus seems to be that the two incidents are aberrations --- and time will tell. Certainly a substantial majority of Lucas Countyans --- and Union Countyans --- deplore the messages sent, most because of conviction, all out of embarrassment: Southern Iowa, lovely as it is, already has something of a redneck image to contend with and this doesn't help.

On the other hand, there is a fairly deep well of racism here and elsewhere in Iowa from which a minority of our neighbors drink.

That was evident during the 2016 election cycle. Not in honest political disagreement or wishful thinking in regard to the character of the Republican presidential candidate. But in the deep, visceral contempt expressed for former President Obama merely because he was black.

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There's been a good deal of conversation lately about moves elsewhere by the custodians of memorials to the Confederacy to remove them, or at least relocate them to positions of less prominence and interpret their significance more honestly.

Iowans really don't have much to squabble about in our home territory. Only two monuments that might be considered in marginal ways to honor the Confederate cause, both dating from the last 20 years and in large part promoted by the tiny and relatively new Iowa division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, exist.

But a friend who is a refugee from Lucas County expressed some surprise over the weekend, after the Lucas photograph surfaced, at how many Iowans have bought into the "heritage-not-hate" defense used by those who favor keeping blatant celebrations of the Confederate cause in place, largely in cities in the South.

I think I told him that this is not really surprising. On the one hand, the new image of a glorious Confederate cause has been very skillfully marketed among white people, north and south. On another, most of us are not really interested enough to read history and learn that the only "state right" involved in that bloody war was the right to enslave black people.

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of many of these conversations among white people about these monuments is the absence of black voices.

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KCCI-TV did an exemplary job of covering the Creston incident, I thought. Reporter Marcus McIntosh, who is black, interviewed among others a Creston father and son --- the dad is white, the son, black.

The son obviously was hurt and disconcerted. "I've lost all respect for them," he said about young men he knew and in some cases considered friends.

"I understand, but they're such nice people...." said his dad in reference to the hooded students' families.

I'm sure they are. We pride ourselves here on being "Iowa nice," even when we're not.

2 comments:

Tim McGee said...

I am sorry to report I have seen several other confederate flags flying or displayed in Lucas County. I have to admit I find it very disturbing that a KKK symbol has been flown in the City of Lucas (300 W summit.) There is also a hybrid US/confederate flag flying at 610 S 8th Street in Chariton. My dad, who was born in 1914 told me several stories about the KKK marches he observed as a young man in Chariton. He told me how the marchers always ended up at a church. That taught me to be aware of those that use God to give the stamp of approval to their unholy deeds. How sad that these haters have found the courage to arise 150 years after the confederacy lost the civil war. Be prepared to denounce these evil instigators for as many as we see flying their flags of hate, there are many hidden in the background.

Tim McGee said...

Frank, the address on S8th St was 216, typo on my part-Tim