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 investigation that began a week after Wilkins went free. Grass-roots opposition among Protestants in the South spells further trouble.

The Klan probe is being run by the Southern-dominated House Committee on Un-American Activities. Early hearings dealt with financial fiddling by Klan leaders, but then HCUA started looking into infiltration of law enforcement agencies in the South, stockpiling of weapons, and terrorism. The hearings probably will recess toward the end of the year, then resume when Congress convenes in January. Important revelations and Klan-control legislation are promised.

The only organized protest of HCUA’s Klan hearings came not from right-wingers but from liberal clergymen and civil rights leaders who have opposed HCUA activities for years. They stuck to their guns despite their resentment of the Klan, but other political groups that had assailed HCUA in its Communist-hunting days were significantly silent.

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Christians are concerned not only about the Klan’s lawlessness but also about its extravagant use of its own brand of racist, white-makes-right Protestantism, which capitalizes on the cross and corrupts Christianity.

At super-secret initiations, the Klan converts (who claim to be white Protestant Anglo-Saxon Gentile 100 per cent Americans all) listen as their kludd (chaplain) adds new meaning to the time-honored words: “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds,” and “present your bodies a living sacrifice.” The enlistees mumble “yes” when asked. “Do you believe in the tenets of the Christian religion?”

In public Klan rites, fly-by-night preachers are used to warm up the crowd and call for a “turn to God” and America Past. They pray for new Klan recruits and wield their most important expertise when it comes time to pass the hat.

Television viewers won’t soon forget the bone-chilling boast of one of these Klan divines after the St. Augustine race riots last year: “We kicked the livin’ hell out of the niggers.”

Voluble Roy Woodle, a bricklayer and part-time preacher, used to be a kludd. But at the HCUA hearings he said he got disgusted at seeing men planted in the audience to put in $50 at offering time and encourage others to do likewise. The plants got their money back afterward.

The Klan claimed to be Christian, he said, but “there was nothin’ but cussin’ the name of the Lord, drinkin’ and drivin’ around in a big Cadillac.” After Woodle quit and told his troubles to a CBS-TV reporter, he got some pretty violent telephone calls.

A more faithful Klan reverend is B. H. Ingle of the small First Missionary Church in Raleigh. North Carolina. In late September, his church hosted 1,400 Klansmen at a service of dedication. Ingle, waving a Bible, told the faithful that “there are so many hypocrites in our church today, it’s made God sick and he’s vomited.”

The Imperial Kludd of Shelton’s outfit in North Carolina is George F. Dorsett, who founded South Side Baptist Church in Greensboro but now fills only a Klan pulpit. When he was called before Congress, he invoked his constitutional rights and refused to say anything about Klan finances. If he violated his sacred Klan oath of secrecy, Dorsett explained. “I would risk eternal damnation of my mortal soul.”

Most Klan leaders were equally silent before Congress. Wizard Shelton claimed the Fifth Amendment 73 times in 100 minutes. He had been more talkative when a reporter from sophisticated sex monthly Playboy came to call. He explained that the Klan’s burning cross “signifies that this is to light the way to Christ and to show light of truth to the world. We use it to rally Christians and to meet the oncoming tide.”

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In contrast to the twenties, when the Klan enjoyed open backing from many Southern and Northern churchmen, Klan sympathy among Protestants today is mostly covert. An increasing number of leaders are fighting back, despite threats of economic reprisal and bodily harm.

A case in point is North Carolina, where HCUA reports there are 102 “klaverns” of the United Klans alone.

In Reidsville, where the Klan is disguised as the “Fine Fellows Club,” the ministerial association said Klan activities were unwelcome. An Episcopal rector went further, charging that the Klan’s use of intimidation and hate are incompatible with Christianity.

The pastoral protests are coming from the sort of small Southern towns where the Klan presents a “clear and present danger,” in the opinion of HCUA Chairman Edwin Willis of Louisiana.

Baptist associations in North Carolina’s Vance, Warren, and Harnett Counties have stated that a Christian cannot, in good conscience, join the Klan. The Cullom Baptist Association issued a strong repudiation, then reported some pastors had received threats for speaking out.

The threats extended into larger cities. In Charlotte, the pastor of Grace Baptist Church denounced the Klan’s poisonous doctrine and got a rash of telephone calls ranging from snarls of “nigger-lover” to predictions of bloodshed.

The Biblical Recorder, official North Carolina Baptist paper, praised the strong statements and hoped out loud that not many Baptists were Klan members.

One of the best summaries of current Southern Protestant feelings about the Klan came in this credo from the Little River Baptist Association, a group of thirty-three churches in central North Carolina:

“First, we deplore the resurgence of the Klan and believe that it is basically un-Christian in some of its aims and practices.

“Second, we oppose the burning of the cross, the great symbol of our crucified Savior, at any time, but especially as an instrument of intimidation.

“Third, we urge all Baptists to avoid the Klan and its program, giving ourselves rather to the preaching of the cross of Christ, and the message of salvation in love and compassion to all people.”

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The Reporter And The Klansman

Pursuing a tip, lanky 37-year-old reporter John McCandlish Phillips of the New York Times sought a local Klan leader who was a Jew but hid his nationality and preached anti-Semitism. The confrontation between Phillips and Klansman Daniel Burros, 28, was that of a devout evangelical layman who keeps a Bible on his desk and a short, stocky follower of the Odinist religion, a Nordic supremacy sect, who was once an official of the American Nazi party. Their acquaintance lasted only forty-eight hours.

The two met in a Queens barber shop the morning of Friday, October 29. Phillips recalls that Burros was “civil, almost pleasant” until confronted with the facts of his Jewish parentage and upbringing. The Klansman retained his composure but told Phillips. “I’ll have to retaliate.… I’ll be ruined.” He vowed to murder Phillips if the story was published.

The following day, Burros telephoned Phillips and said he would “shoot up” the editorial offices of the Times if his Jewish identity were revealed by the newspaper. If it meant that he would “catch some lead” in the process, Burros said he would go in a “blaze of glory.”

How did Phillips feel about the threats? “I was scared, certainly,” he says. “I had a sense of the power of evil, and I was somewhat panicky inside, although I managed to retain my outward composure.”

Phillips wrote a story meticulously tracing the Jewish background of Burros and how he came to be involved with the Nazis as a teen-ager. The story was published on the front page of the Times’s Sunday edition.

Burros read the story, not in New York but in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he had an appointment with fellow Klansmen. According to their account, he came into their small apartment on Sunday morning with a copy of the Times and, in a state of extreme agitation, shot himself twice. Police found him dead, and an official suicide verdict was issued.

Although realizing that his story apparently prompted the suicide, Phillips has consolation in the fact that he was able to express personal concern for Burros’s spiritual welfare. After questioning the Klansman at length, Phillips quoted Scripture to him, declaring God’s love for him and the offer of salvation that Christ makes to all who believe. Phillips, who is a CHRISTIANITY TODAY correspondent, also gave him a copy of The Cross and the Switchblade, a popular documentation of the Christian conversion of numerous young hoodlums. The conversation thereafter alternated between the newsman’s witness and the Klansman’s threats.

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Flowers Among Thorns

Richmond Flowers, Alabama’s tall, red-haired attorney general, says his motives for fighting the Ku Klux Klan are “more religious than political.”

In Flowers’s case, the religion is Methodist, as it is with Klan czar Robert Shelton and Alabama’s segregationist governor, George C. Wallace. It would be ironic if the 46-year-old Flowers succeeded his ideological foe Wallace, but he has feelers out to see whether he has enough supporters to try.

Wallace bypassed the integrated services Billy Graham held in Montgomery early this summer, but Flowers attended with Richmond, Jr., and accompanied his son when he went forward to commit his life to Christ. Flowers called it “one of the greatest thrills of my life … a new and rich experience.” Junior is now a freshman at the University of Tennessee.

His father has lately become famous for fighting the Klan in court (and losing) and getting slugged in the jaw for his efforts. He has also become a good-will ambassador to the outside world, presenting a moderate side of ’Bama in a tour of law schools and TV shows. He is discussing a book with Random House.

To Flowers, the Klan’s use of Christ’s name is “just a guise.… They reflect no part of Christ’s acts, words and deeds.… They are not dedicated to anything but violence.”

At heart, Flowers is no more happy with integration than a Klansman. “I was born into a segregated society,” he admits with a faint drawl, and while he believes the South will “get used to” integrated public accommodations with little trouble, problems will remain. But he knows public segregation “is no longer legally right, and I am a man of law.”

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