It looks like there may be some hope for my home state of Georgia after all!
The Georgia Department of Transportation on Tuesday denied a request from a Ku Klux Klan group who wanted to adopt a stretch of road in Union County, Ga. GDOT commissioner Keith Golden said it would cause concern among the public if an organization such as the KKK would be allowed to participate in the program.
The state first learned of the International Keystone Knights of the KKK’s plans on Monday when they applied to participate in GDOT’s Adopt-A-Highway program, which allows civic and community organizations to clean up litter along state highways. One member of the organization told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it planned to sue if it did not get its way.
An earlier article by the AJC went into details about the program, the KKK’s reasoning and the response to its request:
The application — which covers a one-mile stretch of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains near the North Carolina border — has placed Georgia officials in a bind. A lengthy legal battle took place in Missouri after that state sought to ban an effort by the KKK to adopt a road there. Missouri eventually lost, with courts holding that the First Amendment prevented the state from denying an applicant because it disagreed with their viewpoint.
Georgia officials could be forced to choose between approving the application in Union County, denying it and facing a likely legal fight or sidestepping the problem by ending the state’s 23-year-old Adopt-A-Highway program, where participants volunteer to beautify state highways in exchange for road signs advertising their efforts.
Harley Hanson, who filed the application and said he is the exalted cyclops of the Klan’s Realm of Georgia, said the group is simply trying to be civic minded.
“We just want to clean up the doggone road,” the 34-year-old electrician from Blairsville, said in an interview with the AJC. “We’re not going to be out there in robes.”
But state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, head of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials called on state officials to reject the application from a “domestic terrorist group” even if it means a costly legal fight.
“This is about membership building and rebranding their name in a public way,” the Atlanta Democrat said of the KKK. “If the state approves [their application] then they are complicit.”
Hanson said if he is denied, he’ll sue and would seek help from the American Civil Liberties Union, which assisted in the Missouri lawsuit.
Georgia’s “Adopt-A-Highway” program began in 1989, enlisting volunteers to supplement state cleanup efforts. Each group adopts at least a one-mile stretch of road, agreeing to remove litter from both sides of the highway at least four times a year for a two-year period.
In fiscal year 2011, there were 173 active organizations — mainly civic groups and businesses — involved in the statewide program encompassing more than 4,100 individual participants and covering about 200 miles of roadway.
Such programs have become more popular as states have struggled with budget crunches that have left dollars for cleanup in short supply.
Georgia sets very broad guidelines for who may take part. According to the state Department of Transportation website, “any civic-minded organization, business, individual, family, city, county, state, or federal agency is welcome to volunteer in the Georgia Adopt-A-Highway program.”
Each volunteer group must have at least six members, with three backup members. In addition to litter cleanup, Adopt-A-Highway volunteers groups may also contribute wildflower seeds, develop a public awareness campaign on litter prevention and remove graffiti.
The KKK began during Reconstruction as vigilante group to intimidate Southern blacks, using lynchings and cross burnings, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit group which monitors hate groups. Klan membership was once estimated in the millions but it has seen its influence wane over the years, especially since the 1970s.
Today, while some factions of the Klan have preserved an openly racist philosophy, others have tried to enter the mainstream, describing their agenda as “civil rights for whites.” The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different organizations that use the Klan name.
In Georgia, the group has not had much visible presence in recent years.
Hanson said his group espouses white pride in much the same way groups promoting blacks and Hispanics do.
“I love my race. Does that make me wrong? I’m proud to be white,” he said.
“We are good, decent Christian Americans, and what we’re trying to do is to work with the local community.”
But Brooks said by seeking to enter the mainstream — on par with other groups like the Kiwanis clubs and churches that participate in the Adopt-A-Highway programs — the KKK becomes even more dangerous.
“What’s next, are we going to let Neo-Nazis or the Taliban or al-Qaida adopt highways?” Brooks said. He called it “frightening” that in 2012, Georgia was even considering an application from the Klan.
“They have to say no. If it brings a lawsuit, so be it. If it ends the program, so be it,” he said.
I’m pretty sure myself and other more progressive Georgians are breathing a sigh of relief to this ruling. I am more than ecstatic the state DOT has stuck to its guns and not cave to right-wing political, faux free speech rhetoric and give this terrorist organization any legitimate form of approval. Had this application been approved, that precedent would have opened the door for GDOT to consider requests from other white supremacists/terrorists organizations. Our state would have been the poster child that caved to political pressure to legitimize the standing of fringe organizations that advocate for the regression of civil rights to marginalized bodies.
While the Klan and its splinter organizations have worked in the past 3 decades to revamp its image and position itself into a more mainstream place across the activists spectrum, the image of cross burnings and lynchings committed by the KKK have been seared into the minds of Americans who’ve passed on stories or lived to recount their experiences with this domestic terrorist group. Their efforts to redeem themselves as an organization that’s looking out for the backs of whites and white rights have come too little, too late for anyone to not equate the KKK with its racist roots and underlying principles.
The Klan has been and will continue to operate as a terrorist organization that, while not actively encouraging its members to inflict physical violence onto those they despise, advocates for the idea that white supremacy and white power are the default setting of the American society.