In Casper, Wyoming, last weekend, members of the NAACP and a member of the Ku Klux Klan met for an unusual meeting — believed to be the first of its kind — following a series of violent occurrences around the region. Jimmy Simmons, the head of Casper's NAACP chapter and John Abarr, a kleagle (organizer) in the United Klans of America met to seemingly better understand each other, but what followed was an awkward discussion of interracial marriage, racially motivated secession, and Abarr's hamfisted pitch of a more gentle Klan than the lens of history generally allows.
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“I think what Mel is saying, is that based on your history, based on the Klan’s history, it’s hard to shed the skin of your group not being violent, not being killers, murderers, terrorizers,” Simmons says. “It’s hard to imagine that.”
During the Reconstruction, those things did go on, Abarr says. The Reconstruction Era covered the period between the mid-1860s and mid-1870s. But what about the wave of Klan lynchings in the 1920s to 1940s, for example? Well, Abarr doesn’t know much about that.
“I just know what it is today,” he says. “I had relatives in the Klan in the ’20s and they didn’t lynch anybody.”
Hamilton shoots back: “As far as you know.”
The Associated Press spoke with Simmons and Abarr separately after the meeting. Simmons thought the meeting went well enough, but remained highly skeptical, noting, "They're trying to shed that violent skin, but it seems like they're just changing the packaging." Abarr, for his part, filled out an NAACP membership form and paid the $30 fee plus another $20 donation, saying that he was at least interested in learning more about the groups views. Abarr's twitter handle is @TheHoodedone33.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.