Duval County Courthouse KKK Standoff

by Tim Gilmore, 5/27/2017

cont’d from Jax Klux Klan Politix

(The Klan in Jax, part 7 of 7)

A wave of mostly black protesters, about 300 of them, marched against the Klan before Duval County Courthouse on Bay Street, chanting, “Who’s gonna stop the Klan? We’re gonna stop the Klan!”

Clyde Wayne Royals, whose Klan title was “Grand Titan of Georgia,” later hid in the third-floor Courthouse bathroom with two other Klansmen and a supporter.

A black protester named Rose Marie Seay had snatched the white hood off Royals’s head and was parading around on the street with it for cameras.

Rose Marie Seay, AP Wire

On February 15, 1982, Sheriff Dale Carson, the same sheriff whose office ignored FBI information about planned Klan violence before Axe Handle Saturday in 1960, fired Robert McMullen, a sheriff’s office records clerk when Carson discovered McMullen was kleagle for a Jacksonville klavern.

A little more than a week later, Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson of Louisiana marched with McMullen, Royals, and three other Kluxers in front of the courthouse.

Local black leaders had issued a public statement, asking everybody, black and white, to stay away from the Klan rally. Counter-protestors said they didn’t appreciate it.

“I’m tired of our black leadership,” said 23 year old Greg Coleman, a member of The Forum, which newspapers called “a militant black Islamic group.” Coleman said, “If they were such good leaders, they would have been out here with us today, not sitting back in their living rooms.”

“This is 1982, not 1932,” said 24 year old Forum member Roderick Dorsey. “If we don’t stand up for our rights now, we’ll live in fear like our parents.”

Local black leaders, however, had watched Klan members grow more desperately aggressive as Klan membership declined.

At a February 24, 1979 Klan rally in Decatur, Alabama, 150 white-robed Kluxers drove their pickup trucks through town and waved rifles. Two weeks earlier, the town had passed an ordinance banning guns at demonstrations after Klansmen clashed with black demonstrators protesting the arrest of a black man charged with shoplifting. The Klan pickup-truck caravan, rifles raised out windows, drove threateningly past the mayor’s house. Local Klan leader Ray Steel said, “If the mayor wants our guns, he’ll have to come get them.”

Decatur, Alabama, 1979

On May 26th, Klansmen and black protesters came to blows in Decatur when the KKK stormed a march protesting the conviction of a retarded black man, Tommy Lee Hines, for rape. Hines had an IQ of 35 and the mental capacity of a six year old. Decatur police arrested Hines for loitering, then minutes later accused him of raping three white women.

Alabama police formed a protective cordon around the Klansmen and escorted them from the protest route. Decatur witnesses said “shooting erupted” when robed Klansmen tried to block a peaceful march of “70 blacks led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.” Newswire photographers caught Klansmen nursing semi-automatic rifles. They burned effigies of black men in the street, then beat those burnt effigies with clubs.

Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson of Louisiana confronted by an “unruly crowd,” AP Wire

Three years later in Jacksonville, police sealed the courthouse entrance when the three Klansmen scampered inside. When they thought it was safe, the Klansmen slipped past their police guard and ran outside, but quickly ducked back into the courthouse again.

The Associated Press reported that three of the Klansmen, “along with a new supporter, fled down one hall, up another, up a back staircase two flights, and hid in the bathroom,” where they told a reporter they were “surprised” at the “attitude of the crowd.”

Rose Marie Seay, AP Wire

“‘They accused us of being racists,’ one said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his shirttail.”

Klan members compared themselves to the NAACP, apples and oranges, and Great Titan Royals opined, “I don’t know of anyone who was ever fired for being a member of the NAACP, and that’s the same thing, just a difference of color.”

Then he disparaged Florida, and Jacksonville specifically: “If I ever cross the Florida-Georgia line again, it’ll be for a damn good reason,” which the whimpering white Titan seemed to suggest this recent Klan sojourn was not.

Then, as though Florida’s northernmost major city, and the Sunshine State’s most culturally “Southern,” had become a lost cause, he lamented, “It won’t be for any damn rally in Jacksonville.”

2.

It’s tempting to let this sordid history end on a joyous note of schadenfreude. But the absence of masks and hoods in our field of vision is not the end of this story.

In a 1971 conversation with anthropologist Margaret Meade published as A Rap on Race, James Baldwin says, “If history were past, history wouldn’t matter. History is the present. You and I are history. We carry our history. We act our history.”

Today’s masks are indistinguishable from the faces they cover. The figure of a racist villain hiding blindingly in his white hood makes for the perfect strawman. When he stands in our field of vision, we know with whom we’re dealing.

But before the Klan collapsed, it had learned to deny its racism. Racism no longer defended racism. Racism denied and decried racism. Saying it despised racism, racism could better go about its business.

So we must watch carefully. The root of “ignorance” is “ignore.” The fruit is death. Pay careful attention. If attention is, indeed, something to be paid, then consider to what we owe it. If we pay not the attention we owe, we fall into debt, a debt that exacts itself, over and over, again and again, without conscience, without mercy.

3.

She was in her early 20s when she helped crash a Klan march and her image appeared in newspapers across the nation.

Rose Marie, or “Ree” as many friends called her, died in 2005 of unspecified neurological causes at Shands Hospital, Jacksonville. She was 44. Everybody who knew her loved her.

Her friends and family recall “the laughs we shared,” “cuttin’ up,” and being “partners in crime.” Her friend “Sugar Bear” owes “Reesee” her nickname, given because she was “always smiling.” Her friend Lorenzo says “Ree” “protected [him] as a child.” If not for “Ree,” he says, “I don’t know what I would’ve turned out to be. [She] kept me straight. I could come to her about anything and she took care of things for me.” Her friend Shaniqua says, “She always treated me with so much respect. She treated me like I was part of the family.” Her friend Ira calls her “the big sister I never had.”

In those Associated Press wire photos, you can still see glimpses of the beautiful spirit her friends and family recall. Look again.

The get-togethers on 26th Street were never the same, her friend Yolandra says. I dare say that after Rose Marie Seay, no Klan rally in Jacksonville was ever the same either.

Rose Marie Seay, 1961-2005