Sunday, November 25, 2012

David Cunningham's "Klansville, U. S. A."

David Cunningham is Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at Brandeis University. He is the author of There’s Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence (University of California Press, 2004).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Klansville, U. S. A: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era KKK, and reported the following:
Page 99 closes a chapter that explains one of the book’s key puzzles: why the civil rights-era’s Ku Klux Klan resurgence was not in fact centered in the Deep South, but rather in ostensibly progressive North Carolina. The Tar Heel State was far and away the KKK’s stronghold throughout the 1960s, with its estimated 10,000-12,000 dues-paying klan members eclipsing that of the rest of the South combined by 1965. Page 99 summarizes one key reason that was true:
By 1964 the state’s overriding emphasis on perpetuating an image that was progressive, friendly to business, and – unlike the hard-line Deep South – precluded any coordinated effort to protect and preserve segregation at all costs. The failure of state leaders to employ proactive policing measures to stanch the resulting segregationist furor meant that KKK organizers, prior to 1966, confronted no serious repressive action from state police agencies. As a consequence, [KKK leader and North Carolina “Grand Dragon”] Bob Jones and his organizers found the Tar Heel State to be fertile organizing ground.
On any given night beginning in 1963, often more than a thousand spectators turned out to partake in the KKK’s “skewed county fair”-style rallies, enjoying refreshments and music by the klan’s house band; hoping to win raffled-off cases of motor oil, shotguns, or used cars; listening to a slate of KKK leaders, preachers, and rabble-rousers espouse the virtues of segregation; and gaping at the ritualized burning of a 70 foot-tall cross. Failing to “employ proactive policing measures” to hinder such events meant that officials talked tough about keeping tabs on KKK rallies but in fact limited themselves to passively monitoring klan proceedings and directing traffic to prevent gridlock before and after the events. Records from the state’s Highway Patrol and Bureau of Investigation, and the first-hand accounts offered by former police officials in interviews, make clear that agents frequently developed collegial relationships with KKK leaders and sometimes outwardly displayed their sympathies for the klan’s stances. Such tactics, of course, only emboldened KKK recruiters.

Page 99 also shows how such passive stances played a role in state officials’ broader strategies. By ensuring that a “contained, but nonetheless highly visible” KKK existed alongside the NAACP and other groups operating at the opposite end of the civil rights spectrum, North Carolina’s political leaders were able to “reinforce their reasonable, moderate position.” In a time and place where the governor could routinely refer to the NAACP as a “militant and selfish organization” and win votes by claiming that political rivals were “captive” to civil rights interests, simultaneously demonizing the KKK allowed the state to retain a sheen of progressive enlightenment. Occupying this delicate middle-ground allowed North Carolina’s leadership to promote the state as an ideal destination for new industry: flush with a low-wage non-unionized labor force and also miles away from the unsavory “massive resistance”-style white supremacy espoused by their cohorts in Mississippi and Alabama.

Klansville, U.S.A. shows how such factors created an ideal environment for the KKK’s rise, and also how and why a shift in the state’s policing priorities beginning in 1966 spurred the klan’s spectacular fall later in the decade.
Learn more about Klansville, U. S. A. at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue