Lackawanna Elementary School

by Tim Gilmore, 5/27/2017

cont’d from Ku Klux Klan in Jacksonville

(The Klan in Jax, part 2 of 7)

The six men, [k]lowns of the Ku Klux Klan, were charged not with a federal hate crime (since the bombing occurred four years prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and 30 years before the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act), not with attempted murder, but with conspiring to threaten and intimidate six year old Donal Godfrey and his mother Iona and to violate their Constitutional rights. The latter charge would depend on whether white jurors recognized the Godfreys as having any rights.

Donal Godfrey, age 6, courtesy Godfrey

Fifty-three years later, Donal Godfrey tells me from his home in Monrovia, Liberia, that if the family had been on the side of the house where the bomb detonated deep in the night, they’d be dead.

“It blew the refrigerator through the roof,” he says. “Not too many people have survived a Klan bombing. It’s an exclusive club.”

Donal Godfrey, age 6, courtesy Godfrey

A decade before, the Supreme Court had ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that establishing separate schools for children of different races was unconstitutional.

So in 1963, Iona Godfrey decided Duval County, Florida could abide by the ruling of the court and registered her five and half year old son for first grade at Lackawanna Elementary School, PS No. 10, built in the 19-teens, on Lenox Avenue. He was the first black student at Lackawanna and one of 13 black first-graders in formerly all-white schools in the county.

That first morning, a group of white mothers berated him and his mother outside the school.

“Where do you think you’re taking that nigger?” one of them yelled at Donal’s mother.

Donal sat in the back of the class, studied hard, and minded his business his first few months.

Donal Godfrey, age 6, courtesy Godfrey

Then Donal became friends with a little white girl in class. When the two of them walked home from school, a group of women on Phyllis Street shouted “Nigger!” and “Nigger lover!” at the six year olds. One of those women was the mother of another first-grade classmate. That other classmate’s father, Kenneth Overstreet, Sr., was in the Klan.

Anonymous phone calls warned the Godfreys they needed to remove Donal from Lackawanna Elementary before something bad happened.

In the dark before the morning of Sunday, February 16th, a bomb made of 20 sticks of stolen explosives tore through the side of the Godfrey home at 3259 Gilmore Street. Donal was asleep on the other side of the house, but the blast blew him out of bed and left a strange odor in his head. He was able, years later, to identify the smell, which never left him, as dynamite.

When five of the Klansmen were arrested on Thursday night, March 12th, they were identified by name, position within the Klan, and “klavern” (local unit). Burton H. Griffin was “exalted cyclops” of Jacksonville’s [Confederate General] Robert E. Lee Klavern 13. Jacky D. Harden was “exalted cyclops” of Robert E. Lee Klavern 8. Willie Eugene Wilson was a former Florida “Great Titan.” Robert Pittman Gentry was “kligrapp” of Lee Klavern 8. Newspapers failed to mention the position of Donald Eugene Spegal with the Klan, as well as that of William Rosecrans, who’d been arrested in nearby St. Augustine on March 1st.

As the Klansman tells the undercover Stetson Kennedy in his 1954 classic The Klan Unmasked, “In general, the Klan terminology is derived by substituting the letters ‘kl’ wherever the letter ‘c’ occurs. For instance, instead of ‘cavern,’ we say ‘klavern.’ Get it?”

Unfortunately, you couldn’t laugh off all the kleagles, klavaliers, klexters, and klonvocations as klowns kloaked in klowardly hoods and gowns when:

1) they bombed the home of a six year old boy,

2) Rosecrans testified in court that he’d placed the bomb “to get the niggers out of Lackawanna,”

3) Klan attorney J.B. Stoner admonished the all-white jury in his closing arguments, “What about these white people in the Ku Klux Klan? Don’t they have as many civil rights as the NAACP? Let the whole country know we white people have some rights.” Or,

4) another all-white jury acquitted four of the Klansmen on November 26th (the previous trial having ended in Harden’s acquittal, Rosecrans pleading guilty, and mistrial for the others) and Stoner crowed, calling the FBI the Federal Bureau of Integration, and declaring the verdict a “victory for the white race.”

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

Stoner’s most famous failure “for the white race” was as defense attorney for James Earl Ray, the murderer of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Klan’s victory in Jacksonville came on a holiday.

The Klan’s victory over a six year old boy came on Thanksgiving Day.

cont’d J.B. Stoner and the KKK