KKK uses fear to divide

Left to right, cousins Margo Reid of Johnstown and Doren Gray Sr. relax recently in the backyard of Gray's home on South Judson Street in Gloversville. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series of the local presence of the Klu Klux Klan and its efforts to infiltrate and divide the community.

GLOVERSVILLE — Behind every verbal or physical attack on a cultural or ethnic group are living, breathing people who endure the abuse. For targets of the Ku Klux Klan, the threats can be real, as the victims navigate what they perceive as a senseless assault on their native people.

Blacks and Jews have always provoked the greatest ire of the KKK — top marks of the iconic white power movement’s vilification and ridicule.

In the eyes of the KKK, African-Americans are an angry people who hoard a huge “goodie pot,” continually looking for handouts from the white man in the form of affirmative action, welfare checks and food stamps. In the Klan’s eyes, Jews are smiling “banker communists” who also dominate the media and government.

Characterizations like those are contained in literature recently provided to The Leader-Herald by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who claim 200 members strong in Fulton County.

The outside of Gloversville's Knesseth Israel Synagogue on East Fulton Street is seen last week. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

The Leader-Herald contacted a member of a regional Jewish community group. She originally agreed to give her real name and the organization she represents, but decided against it for what she said later was “safety reasons.” The newspaper will refer to her as Jane Smith.

Smith said the KKK has always been anti-semitic.

“We’re the root of all evil,” she says. “If you are a Jew, you live your life looking over your shoulders.”

She said there is a particular uncertainty with new President Donald Trump, and where he stands regarding race and immigration.

Smith said she knows of a 97-year-old Jew in the region who is a Holocaust survivor. She said the woman stated recently that the politics in Washington D.C. today are like the Holocaust “all over again.”

“There seems to be some parallels,” Smith said.

An Aug. 21 statement online from Capital District interfaith leaders — including the Jewish Federation of Northeastern NY — was issued in response to hate crimes during the summer in Charlottesville, Va.

“As a united interfaith community, we join together to condemn in the strongest terms Saturday’s violence and the hateful demonstrations by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Va.,” it reads, in part. “We denounce their views and actions as an anathema to American values. We will not remain silent against the hatred and violence spewed by White Supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and anti-Semites.”

Smith said the Albany-based Jewish Federation of Northeastern N.Y. has an Annual Safety and Security Preparedness Program for Jewish community synagogues, agencies, and institutions.

In this area, the Knesseth Israel Synagogue Gloversville has been serving the Jewish population of Fulton and Montgomery counties and surrounding areas in upstate New York since 1891.

Smith said Jews don’t let threats from groups like the KKK dominate their agenda.

“You don’t let it rule your life,” Smith said. “You are very much aware. Personally, I am more apt to speak out at this time on any hint of stereotyping or prejudice. We all have to speak out.”

Smith said groups such as the KKK thrive on “otherness,” or the ability to compartmentalize a culture into a box and treat them like an “object.”

“When you have a human connection, it changes everything,” she said.

Smith said that even though American race relations have become strained, today is “also an opportunity” again for the oppressed to stand up against racism.

“Every single one of us is on the line,” she said. “This is not a time to be horrified, not a time to be fearful.”

The early, 19th Century KKK became a vehicle for white southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks. Though Congress passed legislation designed to curb Klan terrorism, the organization saw its primary goal – the reestablishment of white supremacy – fulfilled through Democratic victories in state legislatures across the South in the 1870s.

Black cousins Margo Reid and Doren Gray Sr., longtime Fulton County residents, were relaxing last week outside Gray’s home on South Judson Street in Gloversville.

They shared their thoughts about racism and the KKK. The 67-year-old Reid said she’s noticed the Klan is making inroads in this area.

“I’ve seen that,” she said. “I think in the last few years, it’s getting prevalent.”

Reid, who has worked as a nurse in various capacities for 37 years, said racists should take lessons from those in the healthcare industry. She said they work to help people and save lives.

“You treat people the way you want them to treat you,” she said.

She said racism raises its head when politicians, such as the president, try to stem immigration into America.

“It’s a shame,” Reid said. “It’s all around.”

She said getting along with others has much to do with how you were raised. If you treat people well, your own self-esteem will flourish, she says.

Reid called on groups like the KKK to “live and let live.”

The 70-year-old Gray, a retired musician and former leather worker, said racist comments by people like Trump are “putting oil on the fire.” He said groups like the KKK are only emboldened by such activity.

“They stop and try to hurt others,” Gray said. “They could get along with others. It’s going to start a whole lot of chaos.”

Gray said racism all comes down to whether a person looks inside himself.

“If you can deal with yourself as a person, you can deal with another person,” he said

The Gloversville Police Department isn’t fearful of an influx of KKK activity. Capt. Mike Scott, department spokesman, said that other than a few flyers, Klan activity is not raising red flags in the city.

“We haven’t heard anything, knock on wood,” Scott said. “We’ll respond to whatever.”

The city police officer was told KKK members ride the streets of the city cruising and watching for drug activity.

“We encourage everyone to be vigilant, but not act,” Scott said.

After KKK fliers were found in the city of Gloversville in July, Gloversville Mayor Dayton King was quoted as saying: “No one knows why anyone ever does this stuff. I think it is kind of ignorant honestly, certainly I understand there is freedom of speech, but I just have zero tolerance for any of that kind of activity. Who knows why people do that kind of stuff.”

King’s mayoral race opponent this year — Republican nominee Bill Rowback — says the KKK shouldn’t be listened to.

“When it comes to the Ku Klux Klan, which has the ability to effect racism, I’m totally against it,” he said. “We are all one being on this planet.”

The white Rowback — whose wife, Rosaland Jones-Rowback, is black– said interacial dating of his future bride when he grew up in Gloversville was “no big deal.” But he said that traveling and holding hands with Rosaland in states like Florida and Georgia, the couple felt some backlash from both races.

“It’s almost like you feel daggers in your back,” Rowback recounted.

Whether it the KKK, or the international terrorist group ISIS, Rowback said the media is to blame to some extent for fanning the fears with news coverage.

Speaking of today’s societal prejudices, Rowback paraphrases an old line by the late L.A. taxi driver Rodney King, who became internationally known after a tape was released of him being beaten by white cops in 1991.

“Can’t we all just get along,” Rowback said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

Editor’s note: The Leader-Herald does not support the Klu Klux Klan. These articles are meant to empower the local community, to report on an issue that affects everyone.