Sheet, Sugar Sack & Cross
GEORGIA (Time; March 15, 1948) -- As warm, humid darkness fell on Wrightsville, Ga., one night last week, a long line of automobiles drew up at the ballpark. It was the eve of rural Johnson County's Democratic primary, and 400 Negroes had registered to vote. Two hundred and forty-nine men & women climbed solemnly out of the cars, holding black oilcloth bags. Heads down to evade the gaze of curious bystanders, they took out the white sheets and sugarsack masks of the Ku Klux Klan and hurriedly pulled them on. (Last week Georgia's Grand Dragon Samule Green carefully explained that Ku Klux Kans-men wear masks to protect themselves against the prejudice of Jews, Catholics and foreigners.) Then, in slow single file, they marched to the paved square before the town's dilapidated courthouse, where a crowd of 700 waited to applaud.
A white-robed figure scrambled selfconsciously to the courthouse lawn with a posthole digger. Four more, grunting quite humanly, lugged up a big kerosene-drenched cross. One touched a match to it. As the flamed shot up, a green-robed man -- Atlanta Physician Samuel Green, Georgia's Grand Dragon -- stepped into the light.
Because it is hard to shout intelligibly through a sugar sack. Green wore no mask. Spectacles glinting, mustache working, he began a tirade against President Harry Truman and his espousal of civil rights legislation.
"Again you will see Yankee bayonets trying to force social and racial equality between the black and white races. . . ." he bellowed. "If that happens there are those among you who will see blood flow in these streets. The Klan will not permit the people of this country to become a mongrel race." (Southern man has seldom condemned sexual relations between whites and Negro women: before the Civil War, when mulatto slaves brought high prices, the practice was encouraged. Today, approximately 70% of American Negroes have some white blood.)
When he had finished, the Klansmen paraded back to the ballpark and had a barbecue.
In the election the next day, no Negroes voted.
A great many Georgians were intensely displeased by this tawdry barbarism. Governor Melvin Thompson took steps to counteract it. He ordered two prisoners removed from Reidsville's safe Tatnall State Prison and sent back to a rural jail in Emanuel County where they are accused of having murdered a state patrolman. This was done to prove that no Georgian would lynch them. The Governor said that the Klan meetings should be outlawed. His reason: their activities might encourage the interference of Northern "race baiters."
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