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The State of Things
Tue February 26, 2013
The Klan's Rise To Prominence In 1960s North Carolina
North Carolina is widely considered one of the more progressive southern states. Acts of violence during the Civil Rights Era were rare, and the state was one of the few south of the Mason-Dixon line that went for President Barack Obama in 2008.
But during the Civil Rights Era, North Carolina had more members of the Ku Klux Klan than all other southern states combined.
David Cunningham, associate professor of sociology at Brandeis University and the author of "Klansville, U.S.A. The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan” says it was that progressive streak - personified by Governors like Terry Sanford - that fueled the rapid growth of the Klan in 1960s North Carolina.
"In a state like Mississippi or Alabama, residents who wanted to ensure segregation had plenty of places to express that sentiment," Cunningham told State of Things Host Frank Stasio. "In North Carolina, the Klan was able to sell itself as the only organization that would stand for their way of life."
At its peak, the Klan had more than 10,000 members in North Carolina.
"Almost every night of the year in the mid-1960s you'd see a Klan rally somewhere in North Carolina," Cunningham says. "It was kind of a skewed county fair environment. They listened to live music, bought Klan souvenirs, and ended the night with an enormous cross-burning."
The majority of the rallies took place in the eastern part of the state. Much of the growth was due to Bob Jones, who was able to broaden the Klan's appeal to include social and religious activities. Jones even instituted Klan-backed insurance policies.
The Klan began to die out in the 1970s, but re-emerged in a violent altercation in 1979. Members of the Klan murdered five people during what is now called the Greensboro Massacre.
"The Carolina Klan provided an organizational backbone for the alliances that came together between the Klan and the Neo-Nazis in the late 1970s," says Cunningham.
The Klan is not nearly as prevalent today, but their legacy in North Carolina continues. Cunningham and his colleague Rory McVeigh have found an increase in the current rate of violent crime in communities where the Klan was active.