Klan Youth Corps: Just Like The Scouts
This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 8 No. 2, "Mark of the Beast." Find more from that issue here.
‘I pledge allegiance to the flag. . .”
The young voices, solemn and sincere, echo in the large, chilly room.
“. . . of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands...”
They extend their left hands in a military gesture reminiscent of a Nazi salute, but directed toward the American flag
“. . . one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The children, dressed in “White Power” Ku Klux Klan T-shirts, solemnly shuffle to their seats.
This could be the opening recitation in any class in any school in America — but it isn’t. It is a meeting of the Klan Youth Corps. And instead of reading, writing and arithmetic, the “students” are taught white “superiority,” black “inferiority” and “beware the ‘enemy’ — the Jews.”
The “students” are also told that they are losing all their rights to minorities. Youngsters in some Klan youth groups are instructed in the use of firearms, from pistols to sawed-off shotguns, in preparation for the day when “weapons may be the solution to the race problem.” Unlike students in some academic schools, these youngsters listen eagerly to the lectures, perhaps because it is a parent who does the “teaching.” And with constant encouragement from their elders, the children, aged 10 to 17, take an active part in the discussion.
“There was this black girl, and she hit a white girl,” says a freckled, red-headed youth. “She ordered her in a vulgar manner to get out of her seat. I would like to know what has been done about this problem.” It sounded as though the boy had memorized the question at home.
Gene Russell, den commander of the Tuscumbia, Alabama, chapter of David Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and father of the Youth Corps chairman, replies: “We went and talked to the principal about it. His first attitude was that we didn’t have any business up there at the school. But we took the girl back who had been abused, and he was a different person. He said we wouldn’t have any more problems of that nature.”
Although this meeting was designed to allow the children to air grievances against black students and teachers sympathetic to minorities, the children also gather once a month for “social” meetings, where they play games or go bowling and eat pizza.
"We try to tell the kids the way it is," says Tony Anderson, 22, of Bir- mingham, youth organizer for Bill Wilkinson’s Invisible Empire. “We want to teach them to fight back, stick together and take up for each other, whether that’s through verbal or physical help. We tell them that we have to keep going with what we believe in, because if we don’t, we will lose everything we’ve got.”
Literature especially written for children is handed out at meetings. It is not the sort of reading provided youngsters in the schools. One flier asks:
“Have you had it with blacks following you home to beat you up or holding you up for your lunch money? Are you fed up with special privileges given by the school administration simply because they are black? Are you really uptight because white girls have to submit to being molested by crowds of grinning black thugs?”
Says a Birmingham schoolteacher, “Such material is hurting our ability to keep order in schools. It puts a chip on the shoulders of youngsters who absorb it.”
The same flier states the “program” of the Youth Corps:
· “Organize white youth in every school along white lines.”
· “A get-tough policy with arrogant non-whites.”
· “Force school administrators to drop their appeasement policy toward minorities by threatening public exposure followed by possible boycotts.”
· “Implement ‘tit for tat’ policy by demanding equal rights for white students.”
· “We want segregation of classes, followed by eventual segregation of schools.”
Another pamphlet is almost a call to white violence: “Racial integration into the school system has brought crime, drugs, forced sex, disease and general havoc. Murder of white students by black students is on the increase. It is time that the nation’s white youth go on the offensive and organize to protect themselves in the schools.”
The Klan Youth Corps is only one of many strategies the “new” Klan em- ploys in an attempt to make the KKK a “family thing.”
· In Texas, a Duke-related Klan teaches women members to shoot pistols, but will not allow them to take part in the more rigorous paramilitary training offered to men.
· In Ohio, young Klan organizers — kleagles — of Wilkinson’s group move in on their high school classmates and recruit them for Klan work.
· In Alabama, Robert Shelton, Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America, teaches “survival training” to Youth Corps members.
· In California, a KKK leader who is a minister holds services in his home for Klan families. • In Louisiana, Klan families are urged to attend church together.
· Wilkinson’s Klan has “summer camps” for children at which there are racial indoctrination sessions and firearms training.
“The Klan is the only organization that’s going to stand up for the white children,” says Betty Mize of Wylam, Alabama, state secretary for Wilkinson’s Klan. “We work together and help each other out just like a big family.”
Last summer Klan youth put on “a carnival” in Summertown, Alabama. “They had a booth for throwing darts, one for a fortune teller and other things like that,” said Ms. Mize. “About 12 kids did it, and they made about $230.” This Youth Corps has its own checking account.
The women of the “new” Klan also take more active roles. “I have a state secretary up in the Riverdale area,” said Tom Metzger of Fallbrook, California. “I call her and tell her to give orders to the various men around. And so she’s not only a secretary, but she’s also giving orders.”
David Duke’s Knights also encourage “family” membership by placing women in leadership roles and offering special programs designed for children.
Reporters covering Klan events have heard female Klan members bark orders during a Georgia cross burning, make phone calls to solicit Klan support in Louisiana and deliver hardhitting racist speeches at a North Carolina Klan rally.
Klan leaders are also trying to involve the young recruits in more activities than classroom lectures. Metzger says his vision of the future places the Klan Youth Corps in the category of “the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts, only racist. What I’ve been trying to develop for the past couple of years is a youth corps where we have kids marching to national monuments and things on the weekends with Klan flags and T-shirts or whatever.”
One of Metzger’s teen-age daughters has her own view of the Youth Corps. “Oh, let’s see,” she said. “I like everything about it. I like the social functions. It brings us all like in one white family together. We’re brothers and sisters. You’re with people that are like you. They understand. They’re the same.”
Guns — at least in Metzger’s and Wilkinson’s Klan Youth Corps — play a definite, frightening role. “We have to use real bullets because you can’t target practice without them,” said Wilkinson. “We believe the kids ought to know how to use guns. They may have to, someday.”
As the Youth Corps meeting in Gene Russell's workshop winds down, Russell's son stands and offers a ceremonial benediction: “Open the portal of the world and go your way as Klan youth ready to die.”
The youngsters file out. Within minutes, they are playing tag on the lawn, children again.
Southern Exposure is a journal that was produced by the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Facing South, from 1973 until 2011. It covered a broad range of political and cultural issues in the region, with a special emphasis on investigative journalism and oral history.