Racism Takes a Blow

The Ku Klux Klan

The KU KLUX Klan took a knockout punch from an Alabama jury last week. An all-white Alabama jury.

The story of the Klan's ultimate demise begins in 1981, when a group of Klansmen in Mobile did something generatons of Klansmen had done before them: they lynched a local Black teenager. Two were convicted in the slaying.

But this week the all-white Alabama jury did something no jury before them had ever done. It help the United Klans of America, the KKK faction to which the killers of Michael Donald belonged, financially liable for the actions of its members. Spokesmen for the UKA are unsure whether the group will appeal. If it doesn't, it will have to come up with the $7 million awarded by the jury.

The UKA, based in Tuscaloosa, is the largest of the several independent groups which, together, comprise "the Klan". Overall Klan membership reached its all-time high of three million to five million in the nativist 1920's and surged again up to 55,000 in response to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. It reached a recent peak of 13,000 in 1981, the same year Klansmen killed Michael Donald, but has been dropping ever since. The Klan today has 6500 members.

It is particularly significant that it was an all-white jury that reached this devastating judgment against the Klan, testimony perhaps of changing racial attitudes in this country, especially in the South.

It was not that long ago that the all-white powers that be in the South refused to penalize the murderers of Blacks or the KKK. The killers of Mississippi's NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers were never brought to justice. This time, however, justice was done. After Donald's murderers were sentenced to life imprisonment, a civil suit was brought against the UKA for inciting its members to kill him. Racial hatred was put on trial. It lost.