Fairgrounds Events Grow as Klan Protest Nears

By Bill Dries

As Memphis Police have been planning in preparation for the Saturday, March 30, Ku Klux Klan demonstration at the Shelby County Courthouse, the Mid-South Fairgrounds has been a busy place for organizers of several alternatives to the Klan protest including a “Heart of Memphis” gathering there.

Police and other public safety personnel this week have been walking the area around the courthouse where the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan plan to demonstrate from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Police surveillance cameras are also up in the area.

Police brass plans call for no vehicles or pedestrians in a 16-block area with North Front Street, Poplar Avenue, North Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue as the boundaries. The Klan protest will be on the northeast corner of the Shelby County Courthouse behind fences with the closest onlookers two blocks away, also behind another set of fences. The onlookers will also be searched before they are allowed into the area on the southeast corner of Adams Avenue and the alley that runs between Third and Fourth Streets.

Meanwhile, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. recorded a promo this week for the “Heart of Memphis” gathering at Tiger Lane that also has the backing of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city of Memphis.

The “Heart of Memphis” event covers the same hours as those Klan leaders listed on their demonstration permit filed with the city and then some. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wharton billed the fairgrounds event as “something for everybody – the largest collection of food trucks you’ve ever seen … a farmers market, good old Memphis music.”

And Wharton will lead an Easter Egg roll in the lane at 12:30 p.m.

Wharton never makes any mention in the recording of the Klan protest nor does any of the promotional material for “Heart of Memphis.”

Meanwhile, the group Memphis United is holding a “People’s Conference on Race and Equality” at the Creative Arts Building at the fairgrounds also from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The conference, which is next to Tiger Lane, is billed openly as an alternative to the Klan rally and with workshops and discussions to “learn to confront hate by building community.”

It also includes entertainment and an exhibit area.

The activities are a departure from the strategy of some civil rights groups who have urged Memphians to ignore the Klan presence Downtown. And as the weekend neared, the schedules for both of the fairgrounds gatherings continued to grow.

The strategy of ignoring the Klan dominated the response to a demonstration by a different Klan faction from Indiana 15 years ago at the courthouse. Because there was no alternative event, some believe inexperienced counter demonstrators filled the vacuum, resulting in police wading into the crowd with batons and pepper spray when some counter demonstrators jumped a police barrier.

Some groups are still urging Memphians to ignore the Klan presence as the best strategy.

The Klan group that is to protest at the courthouse is based in Virginia according to a video on their website. A hooded man identifying himself as “grand dragon” James Moore said other Klan groups including Aryan Nations and National Socialist Movement will be part of the protest of the Memphis City Council decision to rename three Confederate-themed parks earlier this year.

Moore, with a framed likeness of Confederate General and Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest behind him, called the renaming of Forrest, Jefferson Davis and Confederate Parks part of the “continuing cultural genocide of white Americans.”

Local opponents of the renaming of the parks including members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who have opposed the Klan demonstration, have downplayed and even questioned Forrest’s role in the Klan. That is despite numerous historians and contemporary accounts from Forrest’s time documenting the Klan’s history of violence then and Forrest’s role as its first leader as well as a slave trader.