History lesson for kids to include what Klan does not stand for

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

March 14, 2013

History lesson for kids to include what Klan does not stand for

It’s been all over the news lately that at the end of this month the Ku Klux Klan plans to march on Memphis. Like any good civic organization staging a rally, or a circus, they’ve applied for and received a permit from the city. And they have presumably tidied themselves up with Tide and some Snuggle fabric softener. It’s always important to make a good first impression.

But this is not their first impression, is it? They’ve been around for far too long. In 1923, my great-grandfather, J.P. Alley, was editorial cartoonist for The Commercial Appeal, and he, along with editor C.P.J. Mooney, used their respective talents to speak out against the KKK. They won the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service that year.

And now, 90 years later, we’re still talking about this gaggle of radicals? It’s the sort of news story I ignored for a while, hoping it might all just go away, thanks to good, common decency. But it looks as though this stain just won’t wash out.

I enjoy teaching my children about their family history, about the good that their great-great-grandfather did, but in this context it seems a bit ridiculous. As far as civil rights has progressed — right here, in this city set as a stage for the world — to have a conversation about a group of misanthropes hiding cowardly beneath cowls in this day and age is surreal.

This needs to be a time, not to teach children what such a group stands for, but what it is they don’t stand for. Equality. Decency. Common sense. Good, Southern manners.

And then there’s the irony that this current brouhaha is over a park. If there is one place in society where we should be teaching our kids to play fair and get along, it’s in the park. Games of freeze tag and kickball, waiting in line for the slide or a turn at the swing, making friends with strangers so there will be enough for a proper game of flag football. This is what should be happening within our parks.

For this discussion, our opinion on what that specific park on Union Avenue should be named is irrelevant. We’ve progressed a lot in 90 years and there are more civil and expedient ways to debate such a subject than with robed anachronisms.

Living in a house with many children, I’ve learned that lines of communication must be left open, that there are ways to work through any disagreement of territory and ownership. Even the newest parent learns quickly that tantrums are ineffective.

As a parent with some years under my belt, let me assure you that a kid wrapping himself in a bed sheet and shouting his misguided tenets at me would land that kid in time out and not upon a pulpit in front of the courthouse.

On the day of the Klan’s proposed rally, we’ll stay away; there’s no reason to poke a hornet’s nest. Perhaps we’ll take the kids to another park where they can run and play and get to know kids of varying ethnicities. Perhaps there will be a history lesson so that, hopefully, we’re not doomed to repeat our mistakes.

I’ll include a chapter on cowardice and one on standing up for your ideals, and that some clans who claim to be better than others because of the way they look are merely cartoons of themselves.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at uurrff.blogspot.com. Become a fan of “Because I Said So” on Facebook: facebook.com/alleygreenberg.

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