Time of My Life, Part 60: Covering the worst among us

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My career in print journalism exposed me to many fine public officials, people with servants hearts and those who listen to their better angels.

It also enabled me to see up close the very worst in our society.

I attended two Ku Klux Klan rallies during my years working for daily newspapers. The first of them took place in Orange County, Texas, just a bit east of where my family and I lived in Beaumont. The second rally occurred in Amarillo, in front of City Hall; the Amarillo rally in 2006 ended up being shouted down by counter protesters who marched onto the public parking lot blaring horns and beating drums.

The Orange County KKK rally took place around 1990. It’s worth mentioning today because contemporary society is talking more openly now about hate against minorities and about how the federal government for the past four years was turning its back on that hatred.

The event that triggered the KKK rally in Orange County involved a formerly all-white public housing complex that became home to an African-American man. The Klan didn’t like that the complex was integrating itself. So it decided to stage a rally to protest.

To be fair, it wasn’t a violent event. There were no counter protesters that I could see. The KKK honchos spoke what passes for their minds. They got cheers from the crowd.

The legendary newsman Dan Rather, a native Texan, has called Klan rallies a frightening thing to witness. To be honest, the Orange County KKK rally didn’t frighten me. I was appalled at the rhetoric I heard. I also was even more appalled at the reaction I overheard an audience member give to a media representative.

The media rep, from a local TV station, asked a woman why she supported the Klan. She said, and I remember this statement quite vividly: “Because I don’t want my fu**ing kids associating with those people.” 

Roll that one around for a moment or two. Who in the name of all that is holy would refer to their own children using such a profoundly reprehensible adjective?

We know the answer. It is the low-life who follows the hate-filled rhetoric of those who belong to an organization that used to lynch Americans whose only “sin” was to be born with black skin.

I was able to report on what I saw and heard that day. I wasn’t proud of what I witnessed. However, I came away vowing never to let those individuals out of my sight. It is better to keep them in front you rather than allowing them to skulk around in secrecy.