Klan robes going to Smithsonian
St. Augustine is planning its own Civil Rights Museum, but Parks said these robes are significant.
“The level of exposure that (they) will have in the Smithsonian is much better than the exposure they would have here,” she said. “People will come to understand the brutality of what was a domestic terrorist organization.”
Parks said the more historically valuable of the two is a bright scarlet robe handed down to Richard M. Rousseau of St. Augustine, who said it had been owned and worn by his great-grandfather, Phineas Miller Nathaniel Wilds of Yulee, who farmed 600 acres on the St. Mary’s River.
Wilds served as an “Imperial Kludd,” or chaplain, of the Joe Wheeler No. 80 Order of the Klan of Fernandina, Fla. He lived in Nassau County all his life and died at 80 on Jan. 20, 1930, a year that saw Florida with 15,000 Klan members.
An Imperial Kludd’s ritual book was called a “kloran.” Wilds is buried in a small family cemetery on that land.
Rousseau said he was donating the robe on behalf of his family.
“When my great-grandfather died, the robe was given to a great-aunt, who kept it until the 1960s,” he said. “Then it was given to my first cousin, Margaret Sue Rousseau Barthel of Pensacola, who had it until 2000. Then it was given to me. Until my cousin gave me the robe, I had no idea of any family member being in the Klan.”
Kennedy’s all-black robe indicated that it was worn by a Knight of the Klavaliers, an organization directed by a man called the “Night Hawk,” who was in charge of security at “klonvocations,” or gatherings.
Outsiders called the group “The Flog Squad” for its assaults on unauthorized observers of its rites.
Parks said Kennedy had infiltrated the Klan before writing his 1946 book, “Unmasking The Klan,” and he wore a white robe at klonvocations.
“If he had ever worn the black one at a Klan meeting, he would have talked about it,” Parks said. “Stetson was among the group of Klansmen who were supposed to find whoever was leaking information to the FBI, and that was Stetson.”