Under Huge Police Presence, Memphis Uneasily Faces the Klan
Then a man with a voice as deep as the nearby Mississippi River stepped to the fence and shouted to the Klansmen, “Ku Klux-cowards go to hell.”
All told, according to local media reports, almost 1,300 people passed through the police security checkpoint to protest. But because of the rain many people did not stay long and the number of those inside the protest area at any one time was never more than a few hundred.
Yet they outnumbered the Klansmen by 20 to one. Officials said 61 white supremacists showed up for the rally to protest the city’s decision in early February to rename three Confederate-themed parks, including one honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest (now Health Sciences Park), the wealthy slave trader and ruthless Rebel cavalry officer who later became the first national leader of the KKK. (The others were Confederate Park, now Memphis Park, and Jefferson Davis Park, now Mississippi River Park.) When North Carolina-based Klan leaders first announced the rally a few days after the parks were renamed, they said they would be bringing “thousands of Klansmen” to Memphis for “one of the biggest KKK rallies of all time.”
The threat was like a bad flashback for city officials. In 1998, the last time the Klan rallied here, the streets were filled with tear gas and the sound of broken windows as hundreds of anti-Klan demonstrators clashed with police. There were about 25 arrests.
History did not repeat itself Saturday. The Klan was brought in and out of the rally site on city buses, escorted by police. According to media reports, there was one arrest and police “removed” a few people from the protest area, including a teenage boy with a Confederate flag draped over his shoulder. In 1998, there were more than 1,200 anti-Klan demonstrators and onlookers on hand. This time, it appears many potential protesters were drawn away from downtown to a counter-event hastily organized by business leaders and city officials called Heart of Memphis, an all-day gathering held at the fairground with food, music and panels on improving race relations in the city of more than 600,000.