This piece was first published in July 2015 on the Boiled Down Juice and multiple online media outlets and was part of a regional campaign against white supremacist organizing.
Today in a little community called Zinc, Arkansas, the KKK is beginning their week-long training camp. Open to people ages 16 and up, the camp seeks to build “a mighty army” to take back the white race from what they describe as “racial genocide.”
I live about three hours away from the klan camp, and this same klan came even closer to home when they recently put up a billboard on I 40 in Russellville, the town where I was born, and less than five miles from where I was raised and where my parents and grandparents were raised and where the McElroy House sits. “It’s Not Racist to Love Your People,” the billboard read, with a link to something called “White Pride Radio.”
To coincide with the klan training, the Boiled Down Juice and the McElroy House—along with a coalition of organizations and people across the region—are coming together to say that we refuse to accept the culture of silence under which so many of these white supremacist groups find protection. Moreover, we are asking people to take a stand in their own small towns and rural areas across the south (and beyond) and break through this silence, recognizing that white supremacy seldom shows up in klan roves.
Though few people openly agree with the outright white supremacy of the KKK or League of the South, or other such organizations that make their home in Arkansas, the pervasive silence surrounding them serves as a protection. The ways in which we think of our community histories only perpetuate this protection. For example, growing up, I assumed many of the rural communities and small towns in Arkansas were mostly white simply because only white people decided to live there. I later learned that Harrison, for example, was once home to a thriving black community until white mobs drove them out during the the race riots of 1905 and 1909. Many towns around Arkansas were so-called sundown towns. Like so many stories that would help us better understand and fight against the racism of today, these narratives are largely invisible to our small town communities, seldom making their way into the everyday discourse of our history. When such stories do surface, it is all too common that we rush to cover them up, insisting, disingenuously, that the past is somehow irrelevant. Meanwhile, we stake our claims to the land with discussions of heritage, situating what it means to be southern in stories that transcend generations. We’re a people that claim to love history while trying so very hard to ignore it. This isn’t a Harrison problem. This is all our problem. And it demands our attention and action.
As part of a multi-state coalition, we are initiating a social media campaign to be followed up with a series of on the ground and long-term actions, including social justice Bible studies in Couch, Missouri and a series of living room conversations at the McElroy House entitled “What the Children Will Expect of Us: Speaking out Against Hate and Silence.” We’ll work to explore regional histories and delve into current situations, all with the goal of working toward solutions that center the lives of the coming generations. And we need you to join us. [Read our previous piece on alternate histories and following the lead of our children here]
Central Arkansas and the surrounding Ozarks and Ouchitas have long been the site of struggle. We have high rates of poverty and unemployment with few resources to handle problems with health, development, and access. Still we have skills and assets that born of this struggle. We live in in rural communities and towns large and small; we have different traditions of faith and often different viewpoints, but we turn to one another when we are in need of support; We offer a helping hand to those in need. This is no different, though it may less familiar at first. We’re not used to speaking up against racism or hate. But we must learn to be. We must pull together to fight for the future of our region and our children’s future in it. We know sometimes it can be easier to name the hate in places far away or to talk about racism as some far off concept. But change begins at home.
So this week—and all the weeks after it—We stand up as grandmothers, parents, youth, teachers, gas station workers, church members, farmers, writers, and organizers and say that we will not accept the KKK’s divisive tactics. We won’t accept cultures of silence of fear of history. We come together not only to speak out against white supremacy, but to support and build communities where such hate finds no protection. The time has come for each of us to stand up in our home communities and ask ourselves, what will the coming generations expect of us? And then we must act accordingly. Join us in taking a stand in your local communities as we dismantle cultures of silence and build new futures, not just for ourselves but for the generations to come.