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As different as night and day

Editors’ Note: This three-report series contains graphic images of racism that are intended to inform our readers but that might offend some nonetheless.

Two events that closed 2002 and will likely carry over to 2003 suggest that racial harmony is perhaps more an ideal in our country than a reality.

Under pressure from conservatives and liberals alike, Sen. Trent Lott, who said the country would have been better off under the presidency of former segregationist Strom Thurmond, relinquished his claim to be majority leader of the Senate. The political fallout from his remark revealed a heightened sensitivity in our country to race matters, at least in this instance by those having strong political interests.

But, there are more serious impediments to racial harmony than the perceived or real, racially insensitive remarks by a politician. One of the most watched cases now before the Supreme Court involves the issue of cross-burning. Incredibly, while many in our nation mistakenly believe this is a practice of the distant past, white supremacists and separatists continue to use the symbol of a burning cross despite its link to racial violence (or perhaps because of this link).

Unfortunately, the radical worldview of racism continues to pass from one generation to the next, in many cases intentionally.

Following are stories of two men caught in the heritage of the radical worldview of racism but exposed also to the radical worldview embodied by the Gospel of Jesus, each man responding as differently as night and day as the other.

The first report includes images from a portfolio of materials compiled during a five-year investigation of the Ku Klux Klan by photojournalist James Edward Bates. These pictures seem from a distant era because they were shot in black and white film. However, they are from ongoing research into the present activities of Ku Klux Klan groups. Baptist Press has worked jointly with Bates on this project for the past two years. Readers may direct any inquiries about this body of work to [email protected].

Generation to generation: A dispatch
from the white revolution
By Jon Walker

PULASKI, Tenn. (BP)–When Ricky Draper was 6 years old, he had what he describes as a mystical experience as his family passed an open field on the way back from a drive-in movie.

“Here’s these people out there with their hoods and sheets. I had no idea what’s going on, but when these guys lit that cross, it’s been in here ever since,” Draper said, pointing to his heart. “I can’t remove it. I tried. I can’t.”

It’s been 40 years since that chance encounter, and Draper now teaches his 3-year-old grandson to shout, “White Power! White Power!”

Ricky Draper is the imperial wizard for America’s Invisible Empire (AIE), a growing chapter of the Deep South’s Ku Klux Klan. For Draper, this is a family affair. His wife, two daughters and a son-in-law are all part of the Klan, and his two grandsons come regularly to the rallies.

Glad that they are involved, Draper notes that he never forced his beliefs on any of them.

“Let me use my daughter, for instance,” Draper volunteered. “I’ve never asked her to become a member of the Klan. I will never try to persuade her. I hadn’t got to — She’s seeing what I’m preaching, the reality of it every day.”

What Draper claims he preaches is that it’s okay for whites to be proud of being white. He likens the AIE to a white NAACP.

“We’re standing up for our people just like the NAACP’s standing up for their people,” Draper said. “You can do it without being violent. You can do it without breaking the law.”

Draper’s daughter, Christina, has been a member of the Klan for about two years.

“We have pictures of me at Klan rallies from a long time ago,” the 16-year-old said. “I don’t think I was even 1 then, but up until I was 14 or 15, I didn’t really understand what the Klan believes in. I wasn’t old enough. But now I understand. I believe in it. I believe in everything they believe in.”

Christina is engaged to a young man whose parents do not like the Klan, so the couple is waiting until they are both 18 to get married. That is when he will join. They are planning a Klan wedding, which will be officiated by a Klan chaplain, called a kludd.

The bride, groom and most of the attendees will wear white – the traditional Klan hoods and robes.

“I plan to make the Klan a lifelong thing,” Christina said, adding that several of her family members were married in similar ceremonies.

In the meantime, Draper’s wife, Kathy, is having a Klan hood and robe made for their post-toddler grandson. “He’s getting to understand a lot of the concepts, since he turned 3,” she said.

“He knows the difference between the blacks and whites. We’ve taught him everything about race mixing. We tell him, ‘You can be nice to your little [black] friends, but we don’t go along with the race mixing and all that stuff.'”

Mrs. Draper once invoked her convictions in a confrontation with the administration at Christina’s high school.

In a childcare class, the students were instructed to take home a life-like baby doll, the kind that cries and wets. But the teacher offered only African American ‘babies’ to the class of all white students.

Christina asked the teacher, “What if your parents wouldn’t agree with you taking home a black baby?” She said she was told, “Take it home or fail.”

“But then Mom put her opinion on that down at the school,” Christina said, “and that’s probably going to change.”

This weekend, if you met Ricky Draper at the gas-mart, he would not appear any different from other “good old boys” from the American South. His smile, though uneven, is friendly, and from his weathered face and calloused hands you can tell he is a man who works for a living.

Raised by a Jehovah’s Witness mother and “Holy Roller” father, he describes himself as having a deep sense of calling about the decline of morality in our society. He openly states his concern about the future of his children and grandchildren; his alarm that drugs and violence are dominating our schools; his beliefs that child molesters and rapists should face harsher penalties; that he thinks television and the movies are far too permissive; and that he also believes freedom of speech is disappearing in America.

His solution is a white revolution.

“To me, that would be for the white race to unite again, to take back our heritage,” Draper said. “Not take nothing from anybody. Get our heritage back, our self-respect back and be a race, a whole race again. Such as the black race is a whole race.

“I’d like to see it back to the ways of the ’60s,” Draper continued. “Not taking voting rights away, but ‘you go to your school, and I’ll go to my school.’ Not taking any rights away — because I feel every man’s got a right. But let’s keep it separate.”

Draper makes the distinction that he is a separatist, not a racist. “As far as me telling you that — if this was a black man — he’s working and taking care of his family, he’s not on welfare, he’s not dependent on our tax dollars, I ain’t got a problem with that man. He’s a family man.”

Blinking back tears, Draper declared, “If I’m so wrong in what I’m doing, I believe in my Lord and Savior enough that he would tell me that I’m wrong. Why would he not let me know that I’m doing wrong? That hadn’t happened. When that cross lights tonight, it’ll be just like it was 40 years ago. It’s so emotional, I can’t even talk about it.

“I know Satan’s powerful, but the Man upstairs is more powerful,” said Draper, who believes the King James Bible supports his separate-but-equal stance. “Why would he not tell me, ‘You’re wrong. Don’t do this no more.’ When that happens, I’m done, buddy. But it’s not going to happen. I’m not wrong. I’m not wrong for wanting to see these little white kids running around playing safe. I’m not wrong wanting to see these little black kids running around playing safe. My struggle here is for children. No matter what color they are.”

He maintains his nonviolent approach is, ironically, borrowed from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Attempting to distance himself somewhat from many of his supporters – who denigrate African Americans openly – Draper asserts that he does not consider the white race superior to any other. “I don’t consider any race superior. The day the good Lord puts that in my heart, then I’ll start preaching that.”

Draper repeatedly points to a Christian connection to his radical worldview, noting that he begins every Klan rally with the Lord’s Prayer and that his kludd encourages the Klansmen and women to read their Bible daily.

Yet, for all his references to Christianity, Draper admits he is not a Christian.

“To sit here and tell you that I’m a Christian man, I can’t do that, because I’m not. I do believe in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I know who he is. But as far as being saved as a Christian, I have not been. I want to make sure I can walk the walk before I talk the talk.”

As the sun sets, the Klan prepares to torch a wooden cross, soaked in kerosene.

“When we light the cross, it signifies God as light all over, and his light destroys darkness,” Draper explained, the irony of his words seeming to escape him.

“We’re not burning the cross. We’re not desecrating the cross. That cross is the most cherished thing in this world to me, other than my family. Before I would stand and watch somebody do wrong to that cross, then I would put my own soul in hell.”

As the cross explodes in flames, someone plays a recording of “The Old Rugged Cross” followed by “Amazing Grace.” The scene must seem reminiscent to Draper of what he saw with his family 40 years before. Now standing next to him are a daughter and a grandson, and a dispatch from the white revolution passes from generation to generation.

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