A Klan-themed past has come back to haunt Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison. Ironic, since Klan costumes were originally designed to make their wearers appear to be the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers in an attempt to frighten newly freed blacks into submission during Reconstruction after the Civil War. (The shotguns and nooses they carried helped achieve the desired effect tremendously.)
The Georgia legislature adopted an “anti-mask law” in the 1940s to force Klansmen to show their faces in public. This had a negative effect on the KKK’s membership. By the way, Cherokee, like Forsyth and several other North Georgia counties, conducted a purge of black residents in 1912—four years after African Americans were Constitutionally disenfranchised in the state.
These purges came during a time when there was no official Klan. The original group had been disbanded during Reconstruction—in part because its work was done. (The nightriding didn’t stop, however.) The Klan was resurrected atop Stone Mountain in DeKalb County on a November night in 1915.
This Wikipedia entry is correct and succint:
Three events in 1915 acted as catalysts to the revival of the Klan:
- The film The Birth of a Nation was released, mythologizing and glorifying the first Klan.
- Jewish businessman Leo Frank was lynched near Atlanta after the Georgia governor commuted his death sentence to life in prison. Frank had been convicted in 1913 and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young white factory worker named Mary Phagan, in a trial marked by intimidation of the jury and media frenzy. His legal appeals had been exhausted.
- The second Ku Klux Klan was founded by William J. Simmons at Stone Mountain, outside Atlanta. It added to the original anti-black ideology with a new anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, prohibitionist and antisemitic agenda. Most of the founders were from an Atlanta-area organization calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan, which had organized around Leo Frank’s trial. The new organization emulated the fictionalized version of the Klan presented in The Birth of a Nation.
But I digress. From the Cherokee Tribune:
CANTON — Photographs of Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison in a Ku Klux Klan costume taken at a Halloween party 30 years ago surfaced Friday on a metro television newscast.
Garrison said Friday he regrets the decision he made when he was 21 years old and that the photos were of a costume that was intended to be a spoof on a character from the movie “Blazing Saddles,” a popular motion picture at the time.
“This is by no means a reflection upon my career… or personal beliefs,” Garrison said. “It was a simple, childish Halloween costume party — nothing more, nothing less.”
He said the move feels like a political attack from his opposition, David Waters, a commander with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
“It appears Mr. Waters has sent those photos to the Atlanta media and asked for stories,” Garrison said. “I’m deeply appalled he would stoop to this level (and) that he chooses not to stick to the issues.”
Garrison said he found it especially appalling Waters was trying to make a moral judgment when his challenger has been married five times.
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