The KKK in the 1960s

Today my English professor told the class a story which I find hard to believe. Basically, it was the story of when he was in college and did a sit in at a lunch counter. A group of friends and he (I suppose the fact they were white is relevant) went to a North Carolina diner in 1961 and sat at the portion reserved for black customers. As they battled the cooks not wanting to serve them, he noted a group of KKK members came in with white hoods and all. The group sitting in at the counter was subsequently beat up by the KKK members and arrested for criminal mischief. The KKK members got off because they were, to quote him, good 'ol boys.

I researched the issue myself and found that the KKK was indeed very strong in the 1960s and committing many of their crimes. I however find it hard to imagine that KKK members, with their trademark attire, would walk into a diner and beat up a group of white college students. :confused: I think my question stripped down is asking how prevalent KKK violence towards African American sympathizers was.

I hope I do not sound idiotic because this is something that you would expect someone over the age of eighteen to know. Unfortunately I have not had a lot of Civil Rights education beyond Martin Luther King Jr.

So is my professor’s story believable? Or is he full of hot air?

Doesn’t sound too likely. There wasn’t that much concern about ‘whites’ using facilities reserved for ‘coloreds’. Also the Klan wandering around in their robes is unlikely. But I suppose it could have happened if someone warned them that a bunch of ‘liberal Jews’ were causing trouble at the diner, except that no one would have cared in the first place. And the places where such problems arose would usually not have been serving ‘coloreds’ in the first place, not to mention that the cooks were probably ‘coloreds’ themselves. On top of that, even in many virulently racist locales the authorities didn’t like the Klan fucking around in public. I call bullshit. What city in North Carolina did he say? Many don’t even consider that state part of the ‘Deep South’, though they weren’t immune to the problems. It could have happened, but it sounds fishy.

I was around in the 1960s, and I have no problem at all believing it.

The KKK was present at times during the Greensboro sit-ins, but it is not clear from the article whether they were in hoods.

The Klan was not at all shy in the South during the 1960s.

The Greensboro sit-ins were a major organized event, not just a group of friends. Reading the OP it sounded like an impromtu event to me, but if that was not the case it sounds more believable. An organized event would have given the Klan time to gather, put on their Friendly Ghost costumes, and start a fight. Since the story’s being related second hand, maybe there are important details missing.

This shows an extraordinary ignorance of the history of the civil rights era, and of attitudes in the South during the 1960s.

Greensboro sit-ins.

One of the more violent sit-ins was in Jackson, Mississippi(about 2/3 of the way down the page).

Photo of the sit-in.

I just heard the story told this morning, and I think I got most of the details. Of course I could have missed something but what I relayed was definitely the gist of it.

The professor did not indicate a specific city and it was just an impromptu gathering. Just a friends getting together I guess.

Thanks for the response so far by the way.

I don’t recall the Klan, in full regalia, being in any Southern city or town in daylight in the Sixties during a Civil Rights Movement incident. Just seems like it would be a bit too high-profile for them. I guess it could’ve happened, but I suspect I would’ve seen a photo of it by now if it’d happened.

By that point sit-ins were going on all across the South. Even if it were impromtu in that instance, it wouldn’t have taken long for people to gather to harass them.

This shows an incredible ignorance for what actually happened as opposed to the second hand accounts. There is a big difference between Klan members engaging in violence in hoods and people harassing protesters. I clarified my comments about an impromptu event, and I stick with it. I wasn’t in North Carolina that day and don’t know, but the story does not ring true to me unless it was an organized event.

I can believe you’d get beat up at a sit in during the 1960s. The part about fully robed Klansmen coming out to do it makes it a little less believable. The Klan had a minor resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s in response to the Civil Rights movement (they actually peaked in the 20s with several million members, and were only ~25k-45k during the Civil Rights era.) Basically the Klan were kind of boogeymen in the Civil Rights era. Not that they didn’t commit real crimes (because they did), but from what I know both personally and historically is you were far more likely to get beat up by racists who weren’t in the KKK than you were to be beat up by robed members of the KKK.

I was referring to your statements about attitudes in the South: that no one would have cared much about such a protest at the time. The sit-ins starting in 1960 would have made it a sensitive issue anywhere in the South by 1961, especially North Carolina.

I was a kid in the 60’s in Oklahoma, not the deep south. However … white supporters of civil rights were definitely beaten up. The violence wasn’t just directed at blacks. And the Klan was considered legitimate enough in some communities that members had no qualms walking around in public in their regalia. I don’t find it ridiculously hard to believe that a group of Klansmen in their attire happened to stop by a local diner, stumbled on a group of white outsiders sitting the black section, and decided to rough them up a bit. It would have been an unlikely accidental encounter, but not a wholly implausible one.

Yeah, in the initial iteration of the Klan they were literally an armed guerrilla band that basically roamed the countryside killing thousands of blacks (lynchings were extremely high in the post-Reconstruction, far higher than any time since.) After that they mostly disappeared from history until they were revived in the early 20th century at a few major rallies. Their popularity the second time around was massive, and this was the only time in the history of the U.S. they had a huge membership with several million members. This iteration of the Klan fell apart because one of their leaders raped and murdered a young girl in a train car and it became a huge national scandal and the previously “respectable” social organization got a black eye and lost pretty much all but the truly die hard members.

In the 50s/60s the Klan had another resurgence but only had around 45,000-55,000 members during this time. Ordinary white Southerners who were committed to racist policies like segregation and who were willing to beat people up were a far larger population than the relatively small number of persons who joined the KKK. In the 60s as it is today (now the Klan is just a few extremely unaffiliated groups of fat white guys who do nothing but spew racial epithets and occasionally organize 20 person marches in small towns to stir up controversy) a lot of the Klan members were just people who liked to talk big about what they were going to do but many of them were far more words than action.

You are correct Martin. The failing here, short of this being an organized event, is that there would be no point to Klan members putting on their regalia. The Klan showed up at these events to get their picture taken. And they often traveled long distances to do it. Plenty of people were willing to start fights, but they didn’t need the Klan around to do it. And serious violence was often officially sanctioned, the assholes, KKK or otherwise, had no guarantee that the “good ol’ boy” defense would work.

??? Oh yeah de was, right smack in the middle of our little town. Broad daylight, mid afternoon. It was known that a “busload of niggers” was not only coming thru, but planning to stop and eat at a particular diner. We were there IN THE DINER (outsider liberals,) waiting to see what happened. The Klan in all their regalia were outside. The bus came thru alright, but wisely didn’t stop.

I also saw a burning cross in somebody’s yard one time. Mid-sixties.

My wording swung too far in that direction. A small group of ‘white’ friends sitting in the ‘colored’ section in an inpromptu event was not as incendiary as an organized protest, or ‘coloreds’ sitting in the ‘whites’ section. But you are correct that it was a sensitive issue, and I’m sure it could easily escalate. And timing is certainly a factor. If this wasn’t the first protest at that location, it could have been a more heated circumstance right off the bat.

This is the kind of situation where the Klan would show up in public wearing their Conehead suits. Advance notice was needed and an audience were big factors.

The part that seems a bit unbelievable to me is anyone giving a damn about white people sitting in the “Colored” Section. People weren’t exactly gung-ho about enforcing that. If you were white, you could sit anywhere you please. If you were black, you’d better be in the section “reserved” for you. if the establishment is full and there are white people sitting in the coloreds section, They are not going to be asked to give up their seat for any black customer who happens to walk in.

If it was seen as a protest or challenge against the “separate but equal” policy, I bet the white students would indeed get harassed.

Agreed. Crossing the color line in either direction was strongly, and sometimes violently, discouraged.