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Elizabeth Cook: ‘Klansville’ sheds light on uneasy era

Some time in the early 1990s, we at the Salisbury Post decided to stop covering Ku Klux Klan marches.

Twenty-five years ago, local  Klan members expressed their opinion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day by marching past Mt. Zion Baptist Church while a King Day observance was going on inside. The Post covered it.

According to our files, we covered subsequent marches in 1991 and 1992 in Rowan.

But we came to believe what the Klan wanted most was publicity, and we decided they were no longer going to get it from us. Reporters and photographers stood by for a couple of Klan parades, in case real news happened. But the marches themselves no longer seemed newsworthy.

Eventually, the group stopped applying for parade permits. Remnants of the organization may still exist. For the most part, though, Rowan put the Klan in its past.

So I was concerned when I heard last year that a documentary, “Klansville, USA,” was going to focus attention on Bob Jones, the Granite Quarry man who was grand dragon of the Klan in the 1960s.

Just when Rowan County is trying to pull together and make progress, did the world need to be reminded of that particular history?

Seeing the actual documentary, set to air Tuesday on PBS, put my mind at ease. Yes, Bob Jones and his family were Rowan County folks, but the community seems almost incidental to the story. “Klansville, USA” is more about the dynamics that drew working class whites across the South to the Klan in the civil rights era — and what finally caused members to become disenchanted with both the organization and its leadership.

For every action, there is  an equal and opposite reaction. That’s a principle of physics and apparently of human nature, too. The “Klansville” documentary does a good job of tracing the Klan’s origins and history, and explaining its periodic revivals in reaction to other events.

The program is recommended viewing for anyone who wants to understand this part of the country’s past — and some of our present as well.

The documentary doesn’t go into this, but working class people still feel they’re being left behind. They work hard without getting ahead while others either climb past them up the ladder of success or settle for living on government programs at taxpayer expense. I’m not a proponent of that kind of thinking, but it’s all around.

The rich get richer , those Wall Street types and others with their assets in the stratosphere. Corporate profits grow while wages remain stagnant and small businesses live hand-to mouth. Meanwhile, someone has done a masterful job of convincing working-class types that it’s the government that’s giving them the shaft. If the government is overburdening us with taxes and regulations, why isn’t that an equal opportunity field? How do some people thrive, nonetheless?

The color line in this kind of economy is mostly green; you have to have money to make money. Financial wizards have outsmarted us all, pulling the levers of power in Washington to fashion regulations in their favor.

Upward mobility has become all but a myth, and that has the cruelest effects on the bottom rungs of the ladder. The truly poor in this country see no way out.

People say the radicalization that led to the terrorist massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris was driven by religious ideology. But I’m afraid people with no previous ideology will sign on with terrorist groups just for the chance to lash out at someone — anyone — and finally feel that they have some power.

That’s pretty extreme. I may be way off. But this country sows seeds of trouble if we ignore the impact of our growing economic disparity. People instantly translate this into “redistribution of wealth,” but isn’t there money somewhere along the food chain for putting more people to work in this country and paying them a living wage?

I said earlier that the color line is green. Too often, though, the green line falls along racial lines, and you’d have a hard time convincing blacks that the overlap is coincidental or unintentional.

We’ve come a long way since the days when Bob Jones and his friends lit up the night sky with burning crosses. But there’s work to be done to bring about racial equity —  and an urgent need to figure out how to do it.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.


More:

Klansville U.S.A.’: PBS special looks at 60s era when Jones, Rowan County were focus for KKK activities

Elizabeth Cook: ‘Klansville’ sheds light on uneasy era

Not the county’s proudest moment

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