Me and the Klan

All the recent Charlottesville and KKK news reminded me of my own encounter with the Klan, fifty-one or fifty-two years ago when I was about seventeen. Martin Luther King was giving a speech c. late 1965 or early ’66 at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh, and the Klan decided to march in protest. I believe it was a Sunday afternoon. Several of my buddies decided, in our marvelously naive and cavalier way, to ride our motorcycles downtown and watch the parade. My memory is that the Klansmen were walking single file about ten feet from us, some in robes, some not, and some in a kind of militia-like uniform, the last of whom were carrying flashlights about fifteen or so inches long as weapons. I had never seen Klansmen or their robes before, and, ever the absurd provocateur, I called out “Where’s the party?” A short, thirty-ish, rather Snopes-like fellow took umbrage, and before you could say white supremacist, he darted out of line, landed a fine roundhouse punch to my left jaw, spit out “THAT’S where the party is!” and then quickly retreated back in line immediately behind one of the flashlight fellows. I had never actually been sucker-punched before (childhood fights being mostly wrestling matches), and more than anything I stood there simply shocked—“Damn! Some SOB just hit me!” A plain-clothes detective of some sort quickly came up to me, asked a question or two, including “Do you want to file charges?” Not having any particular desire to enmesh myself in the criminal justice system, I declined. Then, in the throes of Justice Outraged, I started heading off to find the culprit and, I guess, call him out, or at least call him something. I had gotten who knows how many yards at a brisk walk on the way to finding him when a close friend—then and now—proved his courage, friendship, and sanity by chasing after me and dissuading me from my dubious quest.

It’s amazing how foolish a young fellow can be when seen through his own old man’s eyes. Not just foolish for the initial taunt, but even more so for interacting with the Klan when I probably could have seen MLK.