KKK: My Mom’s story

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Okay, I asked Momma Dollop to record this, in true oral history fashion, but she declined for two reasons: she says her southern accent is too strong, and she doesn’t like speaking out loud about the Klan incident. It gave her nightmares for years, which I didn’t know. I also didn’t know the full story, the whole part about actually being in danger. Yeah, that.

You learn something new every day.

I also learned today, while researching the facts (Mom witnessed a ceremony being led by a red robed figure) that some Klansmen refer to their regalia as their “glory suits”. Uh-huh. Which begs the question–Glory suit over birthday suit?

Anyway, so not the point.

It looks like she witnessed (and interrupted) a ceremony being led by a Keagle, according to this article.

Okay, in the tradition of oral history, I am going to post Mom’s email as written, so I will preface it with some background. Momma was a hippie in a redneck town. I say both words with love–I come from good, hardworking redneck stock, and proud of it. Not a thing wrong with it. But there is a certain belief system clash there, about not minding anyone else’s business, and getting what’s coming to you.  Momma, with her feathered roach clip in her hair, and her jeans extra tight because she put them on in the bathtub then let them dry (you read that correctly, don’t try this at home)–they didn’t know what to do with their little hippie duckling.

One of Mom’s closest friend’s, John, was black. She mentions going into soda shoppes and delis and ordering for him, etc. Yes–she and he deliberately antagonized the status quo. Think Hairspray without the cute song and dance numbers.

Okay, so here’s Momma Dollop’s story.


This is a hard story to tell to most folks because it was a scary time in our history and, unfortunately, it still exists today only in more secretive ways. Some of the men who were in the Klan then, still live in my small hometown, some still in the Klan. I’m older now and I know what dire consequences we could have faced many times.
You see I was a young white girl born in 1950, raised in a small southern town. During my formative years restaurants had signs that said “for whites Only”, bathrooms labeled “whites only”, water fountains labeled separately for whites and blacks, etc. I could never understand what it was all about. How anyone could be so hated, so judged, because their skin was a different color. I used to say, “well dang, I guess I can’t eat there, I’m not white, I’m beige”, or I would sit in the back of the bus or drink out of the black water fountain. But hey easy for me because I had a choice, others didn’t. I even had blacks get mad at me wondering who I thought I was.
I remember once when I was only about 5. My mom and little sister were in Penny’s. It was a small store then with an upstairs. By the stairs were 2 water fountains…one “white only” one ” blacks”. An elderly woman was trying to drink from the “black” and the water would barely come out. Being young, I told her the other fountain worked good. The elderly woman thanked me and both her and my momma told me she couldn’t drink out of the other fountain. I kept insisting it worked well. Later I realized both my momma and the lady were getting scared but At the time I just could not understand why my momma was getting mad. By this time I was crying.
My momma started pushing me up the stairs, I broke away, climbed up the outside of the stairs, sat on the broken fountain, and said to the lady now you have to drink. She looked at me, drank some water from the “white” fountain and rushed out of the store. That was the beginning of how one little white girl from the south thought she could change the world.
As I got older, I got braver or stupid, depending on who you ask. I made friends with blacks and others who felt like I did. We went into those restaurants together. We went into dance halls together. My black friends got arrested, I got taken home. We got braver or more stupid.
Note: Not only was Momma white, but Grandpa had friends down at the police station. Otherwise, this story would have ended very differently.
When I was about 18 we heard about a large Klan gathering. This was our big chance to show them how it really should be, or so we thought. We climbed up the hill and there they were: Men, women and children all dressed in white sheets–Except for one who was dressed in red and looked like the devil himself. A large cross was burning.
I have never been so afraid as I was at that sight. There were about 10 of us. We stood up, linked arms, and started down the hill singing at the top of our lungs. Several of the crowd started pointing our way. Others were shouting the ” N” word and raising their fists, even these little children. The guy in red said something and several started running toward us. I just knew we were going to be killed. We turned and started running up the hill.
John threw me down in a gully and laid on top of me. We all got away unharmed physically that night but I had nightmares for a long time.
My momma and my grandma said the family was going to find out or they just knew I was going to be killed or arrested. They said I didn’t have to believe or feel the way the Klan did, but I needed to stop what I was doing and keep quiet. I left town after that and moved to the city. In the city I found it wasn’t my small southern town that was so prejudiced, it was in the heart of people everywhere.
My great-grandmother told Momma that Momma wasn’t the small town type, and that if she didn’t move to the city to be near people who felt as she did, something awful was going to happen.

Although I never stopped befriending and supporting anyone who was different because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation, I’ve done that in a much safer way. It isn’t for me to judge anyone, but that strongly, ingrained in my soul belief, is still there. It is really hard for me, and I’m not very good at it, to not judge those that hate folks they don’t even know because of how God made them.
Rita Pettigrew
Carla’s proud momma
The hippie still lives inside the sixty-five year old. I was allowed to curse after a time, but racial and ethnic slurs were verbotten. It has only been in the last few years that I have been able to use them in historical and literary context, because being her daughter was so ingrained.
And, with that, I say good night with this, some context. Love ya, Rubes:

Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word * Randall Kennedy

original episode: 98: D. C. Stephenson and the Klan

98 continued: D. C. and D. W.

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