Drove from Kingsport to the Jack Daniel’s distillery today, then headed west on U.S. 64 bound for Memphis. We stopped in Pulaski to get a photo of the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and therein lies a tale.
In the days following the Civil War, this nefarious organization was allegedly conjured up by six bored Confederate veterans on Christmas Eve of 1865. The story (at least among white Southerners) goes that the young men really meant no harm in creating an organization with weird names and costumes. Covered with sheets, they pranced around on horseback on winter nights and just happened to notice that their actions scared the superstitious former slaves in and around Giles County.
Somehow baser elements took hold of the Klan (again according to white gentry) and transformed it into a terrorist organization that ruled much of the Reconstruction South and was led by none other than Nathan Bedford Forrest, former slave merchant and tactical genius for the Confederacy. When he saw that Klan lawlessness might bring more Federal troops to the South, he disbanded the Klan, but, alas, it has never really died.
The building in which the Klan hatched is at 209 West Madison Street–just off the town square–and is occupied by the law office of Rogers N. Hays. Apparently a plaque was affixed to the exterior wall to commemorate the Klan, and someone–bless his or her heart–has taken the plaque off the wall, turned it around, and bolted it back on. You can see it better here:
I think this was noble solution to an interesting problem. Most people would have removed the plaque and throw it in the trash and tried to forget the whole thing. But this person–lawyer or landlord, I know not whom–came up with an elegant way to repudiate the Klan and its evil works.
Pulaski has done its best to deal with its Klan legacy. When the Aryan Nations nitwits first held a rally here in 1989, the entire town shut down. You can read more about what happened here. Tonight, at a restaurant, we saw black and white members of what looked like a football team eating together. The local newspaper has a photo of this year’s Homecoming Queen, an African-American young woman with a white escort.
Pulaski is getting there. We are all getting there.