Originally published in the Commercial Appeal, Holy Saturday, March 30, 2013
By The Rev. Dr. Doug Bailey
On a Saturday morning in January, 1998 the Ku Klux Klan came to Downtown Memphis. They were bound for the Shelby County Courthouse. Across the street from the church where I served as Rector. This extremist white supremacy group, exercising Constitutional rights, came to rally in the city of Dr. King's assassination. They came to protest a national holiday which commemorated Dr. King, the black preacher, prophet and charismatic leader of America's nonviolent civil rights movement.
The Klan also came to provoke, to bring hate and to divide. A large crowd assembled in opposition to the KKK. Areas around the Courthouse were barricaded. Police were in riot gear. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Calvary Church’s Youth Group made a large banner. We hung it over the Adams Avenue entrance to the Church, facing the Courthouse. The banner consisted of one very large word and prayer: PEACE! Several of us clergy in downtown churches invited clergy across the city to join us in a peaceful, nonviolent, counter-demonstration to the Klan rally. Eight clergy were present.
Like a scene from another century, the Klan marched up Adams Avenue to drumbeat. Their white robes were emblazoned with their symbolic burning red crosses. Their white hoods concealed their identities. The parade halted at the Courthouse steps. With microphones, they shouted taunting, racist words. The counter -demonstration group booed and hissed. Our small contingent of clergy, on the front lines behind the roped barricades, locked arms as best we could. One of the Klan’s “exalted dragons" read a perverted version of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream" speech (You can imagine it!).
The Klan came organized. Counter-demonstrators were disorganized. The Klan was there to breed violence. Counter-demonstrators began to show some violence. The Klan’s language became more ugly and vitriolic. Counter-demonstrators grew more out of control. The Klan accomplished their mission. Anger overwhelmed reason. Counter-demonstrators broke through the roped barricades. The yoked arms of eight clergy provided little resistance.