J.B. Stoner and the KKK

by Tim Gilmore, 5/27/2017

cont’d from Lackawanna Elementary School

(The Klan in Jax, part 3 of 7)

J.B. Stoner’s defense of the Klan in the case of bombing six year old Donal Godfrey’s house in Jacksonville was apt, for Stoner was no stranger to bombs. In 1980, he’d finally be convicted of bombing Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church in 1958. The FBI had suspected Stoner of helping the Alabama city earn its nickname of “Bombingham,” but only scored one conviction. The Klan also bombed Bethel in 1956 and 1962.

J.B. Stoner in St. Augustine in 1964, courtesy State Archives of Florida, floridamemory.com

Stoner had rechartered the Klan’s chapter in Chattanooga, Tennessee when he was 18 years old.

In The Klan Unmasked, Kennedy quotes Stoner at a secret Klan meeting as saying, “I think we ought to kill all Jews just to save their unborn generations from having to go to Hell.”

J.B. Stoner in St. Augustine, 1964, courtesy State Archives of Florida, floridamemory.com

Stoner wanted a Constitutional Amendment establishing the death penalty for being Jewish. “We ought to be more modern about it than Hitler,” he said.

Like other white supremacists across the decades, including Trump supporter Richard Spencer, Stoner believed that only through war and brutality, through agonistic challenge and triumph, can a nation achieve greatness. Such thinking hearkens back to European imperialism and argues that white supremacy was achieved through conquest against the darker parts of the planet. It doesn’t fall far from Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden,” and Stoner’s and Spencer’s self-congratulatory self-righteousness ignores their own white privilege.

J.B. Stoner, courtesy World News

Kennedy quotes Stoner, “Only through intolerance do nations become great.”

In 2016, Spencer told Jacksonville’s Al Letson, host of the National Public Radio program Reveal, “I will be brutally honest with you. Fairness has never been really a great value in my mind. I like greatness and winning and dominance.”

Richard Spencer, courtesy Mother Jones

When Stoner defended the Klan in Jacksonville’s courtrooms in 1964, he’d already spent plenty of time in the vicinity.

Throughout the “St. Augustine Movement,” a major battle of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963 and ’64, Stoner spoke to Klan rallies and incited violence.

In 1963, in response to Klan death threats against Civil Rights activists in St. Augustine, black dentist Robert Hayling made national headlines by saying, “I and the others have armed. We will shoot first and ask questions later. We are not going to die like Medgar Evers.”

Medgar Evers, courtesy fbi.gov

On June 12, 1963, Evers took a bullet in the back of his head and died in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi after returning from an NAACP meeting. It was another 31 years before Klansman Byron De La Beckwith was convicted for Evers’s murder.

In September, the Klan kidnapped Hayling and three other NAACP activists, hauled them to a Klan meeting, complete with burning crosses and thugs in hoods, and beat them with clubs and chains.

J.B. Stoner successfully defended the Klan against Hayling and the other NAACP members. Hayling was convicted of assaulting the Klansmen. All charges against the Klan were dropped.

Civil Rights activists Dr. Robert Hayling and Len Murray, St. Augustine, 1964, courtesy State Archives of Florida, floridamemory.com

Though Stoner spoke regularly and sometimes nightly at Klan rallies in the woods outside St. Augustine in the spring and summer of 1964, he missed that 1963 rally. He told Atlanta attorney Edward Kallal, Jr. in 1976, “I wish I’d been there.”

Numerous Klan rallies occurred at the same time in Jacksonville, including a large annual membership drive outside Jacksonville’s Imeson Airport near rural Oceanway. In September 1963, United Press International reported on the annual airport rally, saying, “About 500 persons, some 50 of them in the flowing, hooded white robes of the South’s oldest secret society, burned a 15-foot cross and sang “Dixie” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Annual Klan rally outside Jacksonville’s Imeson Airport, near Oceanway, 1956, courtesy The Florida Times-Union

In the summer of 1964, Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, Ralph Albernathy and other prominent Civil Rights leaders led peaceful protest marches through St. Augustine. In early June, the St. Augustine house where King was staying was torched. The Klan rode through the historic black neighborhood of Lincolnville, firing their guns into houses, and Lincolnville residents shot back. When Civil Rights activists jumped into the whites-only swimming pool at Monson Motor Lodge, Jimmy Brock, the motel manager, poured corrosive acid into the water.

With what he called “royal treatment” from St. Augustine’s mayor and the St. Johns County sheriff, J.B. Stoner led a Klan march through Lincolnville, organized Klan counter-rallies denouncing Martin Luther King, “America’s King Coon,” in the most violent terms, and gave speeches like the one he described to Kallal, where “sorry niggers,” he said, “disturbed my speech” and “taunt[ed] the whites.” The cops had dogs, which Stoner said “helped a sort of pandemonium,” and assaulted and arrested protesters.

J.B. Stoner in St. Augustine, courtesy State Archives of Florida, www.floridamemory.com

“And the niggers, niggers, [the police] were carrying ’em off that night, it looked like a battlefield.”

Stoner said St. Augustine’s Klan numbers swelled greatly from the presence of several Jacksonville “klaverns” and the St. Augustine-based Klan-affiliated Ancient City Hunting Club.

In 1969, Stoner took over the legal defense of James Earl Ray, the murderer of Martin Luther King, Jr.

J.B. Stoner, on left, AP Wire, 1969

Shortly before he died in a nursing home in 2005, Stoner told an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, “Society has changed. It was changed by defeat—defeat of the white people against race-mixing.”

cont’d Murray Hill Heights: KKK Bombing Site: Donal Godfrey’s House