On a starlit southern hilltop, hundreds of white-robed zealots slowly circle a blazing cross. Through a tinny P.A. system the gospel song blares:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross;
The emblem of suff’ring and shame.
The words that the Ku Klux Klan chooses for itself are unwittingly fitting. Law enforcement officials from President Johnson to Alabama Attorney General Richmond Flowers (see following story) link the Klan and its emblem to many cases of Negro suffering, and to shame of Southerners who cherish law and order.
Accused of waging a futile guerrilla action against racial equality, the various new Klans—revived in the wake of the 1954 school integration case and subsequent rulings—claim they bear no resemblance to their powerful, violent namesake of the twenties.
They say they had nothing to do with the twenty-six killings of Negro and white civil rights workers in the South over the past five years. The Southern Regional Council recently reported that the legal punishment meted out for these deaths has amounted to one ten year jail sentence. By one account, Klansmen in Alabama have been mixed up in at least thirty-two bombings and ten racial killings in a decade.
The most recent controversy involved Klan member Collie LeRoy Wilkins. At a retrial, he was acquitted of a high-speed car chase and shooting, despite an eyewitness. At the first trial, which ended in a hung jury, Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton of the United Klans of America was a frequent partner at the defense table. Between trials, Collie and colleagues got heroes’ welcomes as they spoke and signed autographs at Klan rallies.
But a crisis is in the making for the new version of the “invisible empire.” which is suddenly becoming quite visible at a congressional ...1
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