At UNCG we enjoy a perspective that is lost on many in this state. A college campus provides sanctuary that isn’t always apparent from the inside looking out. But even that sanctuary can be challenged, as we saw by the demonstrations in Charlottesville, and more specifically the University of VIirginia. Unfortunately, eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty, and the work’s fatigue is more than theoretical. It’s not enough to oppose cruelty on campus, in theory, in books, or even in the school newspaper.
The truth is unpleasant: there’s more to this state than Cheerwine and dogwoods. Despite North Carolina’s reputation as being a progressive Southern state, in the tumult of the 1960s, Ku Klux Klan membership was higher here than in any other -it’s believed to be between 10,000 and 12,000 members – arising partly in reaction to the moderate state government that was willing to go along with the federal call for desegregation. Approximately 200 Klan chapters, or “Klaverns,” were active in North Carolina by 1966, and they accounted for over half of total Klan membership throughout the South.
The stereotypes we have of the Klan often assume isolated populations in rural enclaves, yet the Klan’s message was nearly as potent in the forward-thinking Piedmont as in the agrarian Coastal Plain. In Guilford County, which had a uniquely well-educated African-American population in the South, thanks to good high schools and the influence of A&T and Bennett College, black and white workers were in direct competition for jobs as machinists and draftsmen, sometimes to the detriment of less-educated white workers. Considering that with the impact of the Woolworth’s Sit-In, it’s easy to conceive of the Piedmont as fertile ground for violent resistance.
The North Carolina Klan drafted their constitution to oppose the integration of black Americans and insurrection of “Jew-Communists.” They proclaimed it their “klankraft,” because “Klan-craft”, or even “clan craft” weren’t insular and insidious enough. While klansmen in any state are apt to such bizarre bastardization of language, the North Carolina chapter’s assertion of “klankraft” is laughably ridiculous and a monumental breadth of their idiocy.
In considering the many crimes and absurdities of the Ku Klux Klan across the whole of the South, not just North Carolina, one may first be inclined to ask, “What’s with the stupid-sounding name?” The original six members of the Klan were former Confederate army officers, frustrated and rotting in Pulaski, Tennessee. They were young college graduates who were presumably well-educated and members of fraternities.
Indeed, the name Ku Klux Klan arose out of a practice once common in school fraternities, by which one takes a Greek word (kuklos) and adds a second word with the first consonant changed to match (klan): this indicates how boring Greek life must have been before the invention of cornhole, as well as evoking the eternal truth that, regardless of political beliefs, any fraternity will appeal to the profligate and the lonely. Since then the Klan has seen nothing silly about haphazardly changing letters to match a “k” aesthetic.
It’s interesting, and disappointing, that even in our own beloved Cackalacky With the Good BBQ, we have such a reality to kome to terms with. But perhaps by reflecting on it and saying, “How absurd!”, we might someday move beyond it. We kan start by agreeing that Ku Klux Klan is a dumb name — a name bereft of any dignity or heritage one may seek to uphold by it use. I’ll move on to Imperial Wizard and Grand Dragon next week.