The first time I used Craigslist online classified site. I struck gold. I don’t know what city I chose, but I did choose for jobs “Researcher/Writer.” Among the writers’ jobs that popped up on the list, the only one with the word “researcher” jumped out at me. The ad was posted by a privately funded news project. They were seeking a researched piece of journalism. I had done investigative writing only once before in a creative non-fiction feature about Untouchable (Dalit) Women in Tamil Nadu called “To Marry a Dog.” For that, I had used as my centerpiece an Indian newspaper article about the marriage of an Untouchable woman to a wealthy man’s dog. Then I had conducted interviews in Tamil Nadu with women from this deprived caste as well as with a former judge on the Supreme Court of India, who then was a member of India’s National Human Rights Commission. When it turned out that no popular American magazine was interested in publishing my article, I submitted it to The International Journal of Women’s Studies where it founds its home. I cannot say if it helped the plight of the Untouchable women I had interviewed, though the editors and I surely hoped that it would.
The crux of this Craigslist ad for a researcher/writer concerned another kind of horror. A researcher was needed to examine the media coverage of the Klu Klux Klan from the beginning of the movement to the present time which was then 2006. The potential candidate would also need to be writer in order to produce a stirring essay. A private enterprise called the Jeles News Beta Project had posted the ad. After applying to them and being asked to send a sample of my work, I was hired for this assignment that would take me one week to do. From sun up to sun down I immersed myself in online historical newspaper archives about the KKK. I also spent time at the National Library in Jerusalem going over newspaper indexes and finding articles about the KKK that had been photographed on microfilm.
The research I did about media coverage of the Klan was electrifying but devastating. Tabloids presented violent acts against blacks by using words and ideas that hid the hideousness of the crime. Here are three events I learned about and wrote about in my summary essay.
“On March 1 in the small town of Oaksville in Ontario, the reporter states that Klu Klux Klansman “marched to the house occupied by a white girl, and her Negro sweetheart and courteously and politely evacuated the woman to the home of her parents and there they left her.” (The Gleaner, April 16, 1930)
According to The Gleaner report, the Police Chief of Oaksville was called to “the scene of the demonstration.” It is crucial to note the use of the word “demonstration” and not the word “crime.” Look at this. The Klansmen were not “trespassers” or “transgressors.” In the words of the Police Chief, they were “visitors whose conduct was all that could be desired. They used no force. Nor did they create a disturbance of any kind. When they finished they disrobed. I recognized many of them as prominent Hamilton businessman.”
The impression of a gallant incident enacted by outstanding citizens, rather than an offense perpetrated by outlaws, is strengthened by the positive reactions of witnesses. At first, neighbors watching the proceedings thought “it was only a surprise party with guests arriving in flowing white robes and a fiery cross over their left breast.” When it became known that it was not an anniversary celebration, but the enforced separation of a white girl from her black lover, they expressed their approval. “The Klansmen acted quite properly. The townspeople were against this relationship.”
In addition to bringing the Oaksville girl to her divorced mother, the Klansmen reinstated the black man’s parents in their home. Allegedly, they had been ousted from their home by their son when he brought Miss Jones home to live with him. The Klansmen underwent further image cleaning when they exacted a promise from the man that his parents would be allowed to remain in their home and he would never banish them again.
“It would take historians, scholars and contemporary journalists and writers, basing themselves on sources other than newspapers and magazines, to document the hidden history of the second Klu Klux Klan. Relying on minutes of KKK meetings, police reports and public records, the acts of terrorism that accompanied the Klu Klux Klan’s massive expansion throughout the United States and Canada was brought to light.
In this way, the tragic events that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 came to the attention of the public at large only decades later. On May 30, Klansmen went on a riot setting on fire hundreds of homes and businesses belonging to black residents. When the flames died down, three hundred black corpses were found smoldering. (Boy’s Life, May 2001, p18.)
Similarly, through publication of historical documents, the mob violence which left two blacks mutilated and hanging by their throats at the County Courthouse in Marion, Indiana in August 1930 (The Evening Tribune, Aug. 9, 1930 p.1) took on a different aspect. The murders and mutilations were not merely committed by a mob. The mob was made up of Klansmen. (Jet, Dec. 5, 1988 p. 30) Once again, the media was slow to recognize or reluctant to name the true perpetrators of the crime.”
I was promised five hundred dollars on completion of my report. The check came in the mail the following week. I had struck gold the hard way. I realized how the media can distort anything for their purposes. Evil can be made to look good. More than that, I had touched upon the sufferings of the victims and there was nothing this article could do about that.