I encountered white supremacy 52 years ago in an unlikely place, the newsroom of a daily newspaper.
A freshly-minted university graduate in the summer of 1965, I was hired by the Fort Lauderdale News and assigned to work as a general assignment reporter in its West Hollywood bureau, which was quartered in a cramped, one-story office building on busy U.S. 441. Eight battered desks lined either side of a narrow aisle. At the front the bureau chief’s desk sat crammed in a cluttered corner next to a teletype machine linking us to the main newsroom in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
My desk sat in the rear of this line of desks. Just behind me, on the other side of a plywood partition, a local family — two parents and their teenage daughter — labored as our circulation department, stuffing our South Broward edition into huge bundles of copies of the main paper and supervising their delivery to residents and businesses in the area: West Hollywood, Hollywood, Dania, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, and Miramar.
Frequent contact with these friendly folks was unavoidable, and I enjoyed our relaxed conversations until their daughter began introducing me to the family’s main passion, their membership in the Ku Klux Klan. Eagerly, she pressed Klan literature in my hand and made sure that I had the latest copy of the local chapter’s newsletter, which her father produced. Mainly, she explained, Klan members were concentrating on Jews, although African Americans were still in their sights, too. I was stunned that this sort of white supremacy still existed in the mid-1960s. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, Congress had recently passed historic civil rights legislation, liberalism was on the rise. The Klan? You’re kidding. I naively believed that such hate groups were on the decline.
Saturday’s events in Charlottesville remind us that hate is still among us and is on the rise. Who are these people, and why are they so angry? Why do they hate with such passion that they are willing to injure, even kill people whose beliefs are different from theirs?
I believe they are acting out of fear. What or whom do they fear? What particular anxiety drives this passion to arm oneself with military weapons and symbols of hate and prepare to wage war against those who have the temerity to hold views different from one’s own?
Such hate takes a lot of energy. So does love. More that this, love requires courage. Have we the courage to love everyone, even our enemies, as our faith teaches us? Such love drives out fear, the genesis of hate.