David Cunningham, Professor and Chair of Sociology and Director of the Social Justice & Social Policy Program at Brandeis University, discussed "Truth, Justice and the Ku Klux Klan" at the annual Catherine McLaughlin Hakim Lecture on March 18th in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall.
The author of Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan, Cunningham focuses his research on the causes, consequences and legacy of racial violence. His talk contrasted two instances of racially motivated violence in the 1960s South-one in New Bern, N.C., and the other in Franklin County, Miss.--and examined the contemporary relevance of an organization that was once so substantial in depth and breadth nearly 50 years ago.
On January 24, 1965, in New Bern, United Klans of America (UKA) member Raymond Mills, along with his friend Laurie "Buddie" Fillingame and Buddie's cousin Edward "Bunk" Fillingame ate dinner at a local diner and then drove to St. Peter's A.M.E. Zion Church carrying several sticks of dynamite. The men tossed some of the dynamite under two separate parked cars and immediately returned to the diner to regroup. Later that night, they placed the rest of the dynamite behind Oscar's Mortuary, which was owned by prominent NAACP member Oscar Dove.
The three men were apprehended shortly after the explosions and Mills subsequently plead guilty in exchange for a lenient sentence. After initially pledging to defend Mills, UKA Grand Dragon Bob Jones banished him from the organization.
"Why," Cunningham asked, "would [Jones] banish him for violent and terroristic acts when that's what the UKA was trying to do?"
While the UKA wasn't opposed to violence, Cunningham explained, they were opposed to violence that wasn't strategic or plausibly deniable. Since Mills and the Fillingames acted on their own and then confessed to the crime, their actions were outside of what Bob Jones and the UKA considered acceptable.
In the 1960s, the UKA had a large presence in North Carolina, with 192 "klaverns" and more than 52 percent of the order's total membership. The UKA was not secretive in its activities and frequently participated in "street walks," during which members marched fully-hooded through the centers of towns accompanied by security guards. This sent the message that they were proud to be members of the community and not ashamed to be affiliated with the Klan.
North Carolina's UKA chapters also held nightly rallies, open to the racially and idealistically "white public," who turned up in numbers ranging from 500-5,000 each night. The rallies were held in large open spaces and were said to have a "carnival-like atmosphere," with souvenirs for sale, live music and a variety of speakers. The events would culminate in the burning of a giant cross, both for pure spectacle and for recruiting purposes.
However, not all Klan chapters or Klan members were as forthright and open as those in North Carolina, just as not all communities were as permissive of their rallies and street walks. Just a few months earlier, on May 2, 1964, in Franklin County, Miss., teenagers Charles Moore and Henry Dee were picked up by Klansman James Ford Seale while hitchhiking to a party near Bude. As members of the KKK were not as well-known in towns such as Bude, Seale was able to talk them into the car by posing as a federal revenue agent. Seale was under the impression that a group of black nationalists had a stockpile of hidden weapons and mistook Moore and Dee for civil rights activists that could lead him to the cache. He and his fellow Klansmen drove Moore and Dee to Homochitto National Forest and beat them severely before driving them nearly 100 miles across state lines into Louisiana and dropping them alive into the Mississippi River.
Two months later, their bodies were discovered by authorities who were searching for three missing civil rights workers who had disappeared in the "Mississippi Burning" case. The FBI initially investigated the murders of Moore and Dee, arresting both Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards, who confessed to the crime. Later, a motion to dismiss the case was later filed by District Attorney Lenox Forman and Justice of the Peace Willie Bedford, citing a lack of evidence.
While there weren't nearly as many members-Mississippi contained less than 6 percent of UKA population--the Klan's support in the town of Bude formed an entire network, comprised of the sheriff's office, the courthouse, the FBI, the media, members of the school board, the district attorney and the city council.
Today, there are more Klan organizations then there have ever been, but the population is far less.
"History remains with us," Cunningham said, citing that there is a continued resonance of violence in communities where the KKK was active 50 years ago.
One of the ways to mitigate these generational costs is through restorative justice. More than 40 years after the Moore-Dee murders, Moore's brother Thomas began to work on the case, participating in the documentary Mississippi Cold Case. While he had been reported as deceased, Moore and filmmaker David Ridgen discovered that Seale was alive and living in Roxie, Miss. State officials reopened the case and Seale was convicted in 2007. He died in an Indiana prison in 2011.
There are also many organizations dedicated to research and policy initiatives on anti-civil rights violence such as Northeastern University's Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.
The Catherine McLaughlin Hakim '70 Lecture Series is an annual lecture series established by Dr. Raymond Hakim in honor of his late wife, Catherine McLaughlin Hakim '70. A sociology major at Emmanuel, Catherine studied under longtime sociology professor Sister Marie Augusta Neal, SND, who left an especially indelible mark on her student experience. The lecture series commemorates Catherine's life, her fondness for Emmanuel, and the relationships she formed at the College and continued to maintain throughout her life.
The Catherine McLaughlin Hakim Lecture Series is sponsored by the Department of Sociology. Lectures focus on issues of sociology, social justice and public policy on the local, national and international levels.