By Michael Kunzelman and Kevin McGill
Thursday, November 13, 2008
BOGALUSA, La., Nov. 12 -- Hattie Dillon got a firsthand taste of the racial hatred that gripped this city in the 1960s when a metal bolt flung by someone in an angry crowd gashed her head as she marched for civil rights.
On Wednesday, sitting on her front porch just off Main Street, the 61-year-old, who is black, said Bogalusa is better now. But the bloody legacy of racial violence and brazen Ku Klux Klan activity in the area remains -- evidenced by the arrest of eight local people in the death of an Oklahoma woman shot when a weekend Klan initiation went awry.
"History was made this month," Dillon said, referring to Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president. "Then our eyes opened again."
Bogalusa, a logging town dominated by a huge paper mill and located about 60 miles north of New Orleans, is the largest city in Washington Parish, which, like the whole state, was won by John McCain, not Obama, last week.
Sunday's killing was in St. Tammany Parish, just across the Washington Parish line; all the suspects are from Washington Parish, which was beset by anti-desegregation violence more than 40 years ago. In 1965, Oneal Moore, the parish's first black sheriff's deputy, was slain in an ambush, a crime that has not been solved.
"In 1965, the Klan ran Bogalusa, and so it's not at all surprising to see the legacy of that organization reemerge in the form of a new generation of Klan advocates," said Lance Hill, executive director of Tulane University's Southern Institute for Education and Research.
In this week's shooting, St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain said Cynthia C. Lynch, 43, of Tulsa, was recruited over the Internet to participate in the KKK ritual in a rural area and then was to return to her state to attract members. Strain said the group's leader, Raymond "Chuck" Foster, 44, shot and killed her after a fight broke out when she asked to be taken back to the town of Slidell.
"She came here freely to participate," said Lt. Joe Piconi, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
Statements by the suspects suggest Lynch had gone through the group's initiation ritual, Piconi said, "but just didn't really mix well with the leader, the so-called imperial wizard, and after two days was ready to leave."
Tulsa police arrested Lynch in May 2005 on charges of breach of the peace, resisting an officer and obstructing an officer, but those charges were dismissed, Oklahoma court records show. She also was arrested on charges of possession of a controlled drug, first offense, according to Tulsa County arrest records.
Foster faces a second-degree murder charge and was being held without bond. Seven others -- five men and two women ages 20 to 30 -- were charged with obstruction of justice and were held on $500,000 bond.
For Louisiana, the killing furthered its image as a state with poor race relations that persisted after the civil rights era.
In the 1990s, former Klan leader David Duke was in such a tight gubernatorial race against incumbent Edwin Edwards that opponents, fearful business would shun the state if Duke was in the governor's mansion, crafted a bumper sticker stating "Vote for the Crook, It's Important." Edwards, whose scandalous reputation inspired the slogan, won, though he was later jailed in a gambling payoff scandal.
As many as 20,000 people marched in September 2007 in the north Louisiana town of Jena in defense of six black teenagers accused of attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate. The march attracted national leaders and was hailed as reviving the national consciousness on civil rights.
And since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans black leaders have complained that blacks have not been treated fairly under federal recovery policies.
This week's killing was at a campsite where investigators found weapons, Confederate flags and six Klan robes, some emblazoned with patches reading "KKK LIFE MEMBER" or "KKK SECURITY Enforcement."
Authorities said the group's members called themselves the Dixie Brotherhood.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which investigates and collects information on hate groups, was not familiar with the group. Seven Klan chapters of "various stripes" are in Louisiana, Potok said.
Potok said that although hate groups have grown over the past several years -- coinciding with discontent over illegal immigration -- Klan factions are not solidly organized in Louisiana or nationwide. He said that 34 separate Klan organizations with 155 chapters operate across the country with as many as 6,000 members -- small numbers in his estimation.
"Really, it's a pathetic collection of losers and thugs," Potok said. "Even across the radical right, most people look down their nose at the Klan these days."
Felton Adams, a white, 60-year-old retired boat captain and lifelong Bogalusa resident who acknowledges the 1960s racial strife, said he thinks the weekend ritual was an aberration carried out by "wannabe Klansmen."
"These people were just trying to be something they're not," Adams said.
On Wednesday, public officials promised to fight any perception that Louisiana is sliding on race relations.
"It's a setback, not only for my community, but for the whole area, and it's something I'm not going to tolerate," said Bogalusa Mayor James "Mack" McGehee, who is white.
State Rep. Harold L. Ritchie, who represents the Washington Parish seat of Franklinton, said he wants to be sure the Klan group is no bigger than the "eight crazies" who were arrested.
"I thought we were long past that," said Ritchie, who is white. "I hoped all I would have to do is read about this sort of thing in the history books."