March 30, 2017
Port Summerville was as white as rice; meaning, hardly any folks of color lived there. Sure, we had our fair number of Mexicans and Vietnamese, but if you were a colored fellow in town, it was assumed you must of either been lost or passing through.
It was a strange year. Disco was coming alive, Nixon ended the Vietnam war, then we ended him. Blazing Saddles was a box office hit, and our youngest son was born. It was also the year that my dearest friend graduated. Jody was a few years younger than me, and was like a little brother. We met when Darlene and I played bridge with his parents. We caught up with him a few years later, and reminisced about his high school days. We attended his graduation, and after he received his diploma, told me that high school was the best six years of his life. Currently, he is serving his fifth term as a U.S. Senator.
I’m wasn’t particularly proud of this, but we had a local KKK chapter — sort of. It began when the founding club members, all of them friends or acquaintances, decided they wanted to start a club, which was more of an excuse to drink than socialize. Leslie was the first to bring up the KKK because he had a great-uncle who used to be a member.
As a kid, Leslie filtered out what he wanted to, and kept the memories of what he remembered was the fun stuff. I don’t think any of the organizers really understood who or what the KKK was or what they represented. What the group did know — they didn’t want to be Rotarians, and the Masons didn’t allow blacks or Jews. He said when he was about eight- years-old, his uncle Chuck told the youngins’ stories about his club. Leslie told the other founders what he recalled. The other members surrounded him like kids at a campfire. With clear and focused eyes fixed on Leslie, he told them of his memories. Those fellows weren’t Rhodes Scholars, but a far cry from being complete fools, but on the other hand…
Leslie paced around with his arms wrapped around his chest, then he stopped and said, “I’ve been thinking and studying on this for a while. We need a club instead of hanging around every Friday night, not to mention the women folk are fed up too. We need a cause, and I think this is the one.” As eager as beavers, everyone sat on metal folding chairs in a semi-circle, and zeroed in on every word Leslie spoke.
Hector, a Mexican national, stood up, and in his broken English, he asked Leslie, “What gives?”
Leslie continued to pace around, then stopped in place. “Well, boys, its’ called the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK for short, and call themselves a fraternal order, sounds sort of like a college deal, and we’d be like frat brothers.” Someone asked what a frat brother was. Leslie narrowly edged out the others as far as intelligence went; he made it to the tenth grade. So, with his over achievement, he used it to his advantage and improvised. “Those college boys use a lot of foreign words, I think frat is Latin for ‘frattis,’ meaning to drink and enjoy.” Most of these guys where shrimpers and deck hands on oyster boats, and I none of them had ever been to college, I doubted any of them could spell KKK, but that didn’t keep them from continuing the conversation.
Travis jumped out of his seat and said, “I like the sound of that!”
Hector said, “But don’t those frat boys grow up to be assholes? Tyler Smithfield went to college, and he was in a frat club, it was something like, I Felta Delta. A few of us know him, and he sure turned out to be an asshole.”
“I think Tyler went to one of those snooty colleges,” — then Leslie tried his best Bostonian accent — “up in Baaston. We’ll worry about that later; I don’t think any of us can afford to be a snob.” Everyone laughed out loud, then Leslie told them how he thought the club worked and what they did. “These fellows get together all the time and hold meetings and such. My uncle invited my brothers and me to one of their family events. They share picnics with their families, march in parades, and you ready for this, Travis?”
Travis, the only black member about fell out of his chair, and asked “What is it, Leslie?”
Leslie threw both arms in the air with excitement. “They make home visits to black folks!”
“So, Leslie, what you’re telling us, if you can’t come to the meeting, they’ll take the meeting to you?”
“Travis, it’s a whole lot bigger than that. I think more like a community outreach program. Guess what else? They call themselves ‘knights’”
Travis lowered and shook his head, almost in tears. “Just knights? More like knights in shining armor.”
Tuye, a Vietnamese refugee added, “What a bunch of neat guys, pardon me, Leslie, — I mean gentlemen.”
Adolf, the only Jew, said, “More like men among men. These are my kind of guys.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, then Tuye told Leslie he was worried they weren’t good enough. He told them they’ll just need to wait and see, then assured the others they’d be fair, because that’s just the way they are. Leslie continued in a concerned tone. “And guys, we need to watch our language, they’re pretty religious and big into crosses.”
Travis commented, “They’re not only knights but saints too? This is too good to be true!”
Hector said, “Man-oh-man, Leslie. Travis is right. They sound like a bunch of nice fellows. I’m in.”
Tuye said he read somewhere they started a lot of their meetings with a bonfire. “Probably like a campfire to roast marshmallows and weenies for the kids.”
Leslie told them they also had a mascot. Not a lion or a bear either, but a dragon and not just any old dragon, — it was a grand dragon.
As giddy as school girls on prom night, they talked and giggled among themselves, then discussed the plans if they joined. Those fellows had no clue what they were getting mixed up with. Travis departed from the others and wandered to the other side of the room. After a few minutes of solitude, he returned and had a confession. He was worried about something, and the others asked him what the problem was. Travis clutched his hands together, and beads of sweat poured from his darkened brow. “I’ll just announce it to the world and be done with it. I don’t think the KKK will let me in.”
Hector asked Travis why? “I dropped out of high school. There, I said it.”
Leslie assured him they wouldn’t single him out because of that, because the KKK was bigger than that. With continued assurance from Leslie, he added, “I doubt any of this motley crew graduated Summa Cumma Lumma.” Again, everyone got a big laugh, and whatever concerns Travis had, were soon forgotten.
“If they let us join, we should invite them to Port Summerville. I’ll get Pearl to whip up a delicious meal.” Travis paused for a moment — “God I hope they let us in.” Leslie told the group more and more stories of his youth and all he could remember his uncle had told them. He recalled one evening his uncle had to leave and go to a blanket party.
Stanley, the only gay member, said, “Like a slumber party?”
“Not really, Stanley — more of a get together for other members who are having problems.”
Leslie said he heard it too. I’ve met most of these fellows, but they didn’t have the brains God gave a gnat. A blanket party is a form of corporal punishment usually used in the military on other members for misdeeds or rule violations; the KKK used it too.
“But boys, this is the best part, you guys ready?”
Tuye said, “Come on Leslie. What is it? Don’t keep us in suspense!”
Leslie continued to taunt them, then asked again, “You really ready?”
“Yes, Leslie, tell us!” Leslie stood up, paused for a moment, threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, “They have costume parties all the time! Now Fellows, this is the one downside. They’re not creative as far as their attire goes. They always wear the same getup. It’s like a ghost outfit with a cone-looking hat. But who cares? They dress up for Halloween all year long.”
“I’ve heard enough! Let’s contact the national organization to see if they’ll approve us.”
“Good idea, Hector. I’ll get Wilma to write a letter right away. Boys, we’re on our way to getting some respect in this town.” Wilma, Leslie’s wife, filled out the paperwork, including a handwritten letter and provided the list of founding members as required. About a month later, the three got together to open a letter from national. The group met at Travis’s house and took a seat at his kitchen table.
“Well, fellows, this is it.” Leslie opened the letter. It was written on formal letterhead. The letter was from the Imperial Klan’s of America. Their exuberance was deafened as Leslie read out loud.
We regret to inform you that your membership has been denied. The founding organizers of your proposed chapter appear to be of questionable national origin. Because of our decision, you must discontinue using the initials KKK, its symbols, trademarks or service marks, forthwith.
Gordon Smith, attorney-at-law
All in attendance sat in shock, and not a word was spoken; Travis was spotted shedding a tear. The others shook their heads in disbelief. Hector was the first to break the silence. “Well guys, that’s that.”
“What a bunch of snobs.” Adolf said as he banged his head on the table.
Hector added, “We don’t need them anyway. We’ll continue on like we never heard of the stupid KKK.”
The sadness was so overwhelming, and Travis left the room telling the others he needed to be by himself, Adolf tagged along. Travis told Adolf, that Leslie was probably to blame for the denial because he had a girl name. Adolf knew how upset Travis was, put his arm around him and promised him they will build an even bigger and better club. “We need to get back to the others. Stanley has been bawling for over an hour. I think the others are about to lynch him.” Adolf agreed, then the two went back to be with the others and worked on plan B.