Longform

The Racist Next Door

Page 5 of 8

Gerald

Dear Mr. Black:
Thank you for taking the time to care about our white pride and heritage. I am a firm supporter of your aims. The article entitled "What Is Racism" by Mr. Jackson touched me greatly. He clearly articulated what I have been feeling for many years. I will add your Website to my links page very soon... Again, thank you for your dedication and devotion to white heritage. White Pride!!!

Jeffrey

David Hoffman, ADL's Webmaster in New York, lamented Nightline's decision to grant the ex-Klansman such exposure. "The short-form medium of television gives him a legitimacy he doesn't deserve," he said. "He was like an honest computer consultant with a different point of view. I believe in contextualizing this stuff. Most Americans will reject this garbage when they understand what it is. But people do elect demagogues -- and any soapbox only serves to fan the flames." The irony, both Black and Hoffman say, is that Black's enemies are often his best promoters.

"It turned out about as well as could be expected," Black said. "Most of our supporters thought it was very biased. But it's as good as it's going to get for network TV."

Even in the unreconstructed world of 1950s Athens, Alabama, Black's prejudices led him to grow up an outcast. The son of a wealthy real estate developer, Black remembers always being "vaguely concerned" about the civil rights movement. "I thought it was disrupting," he says. He avoided sports and cultural currents like jazz or the likes of Jimi Hendrix. Richard Wagner was more his style. Black was a loner and never had black, Hispanic, or Jewish friends. He once read John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, a 1961 account of a white man who dyes his skin black. "It was a heart-wrenching thing," Black says. "He couldn't use the bathroom anywhere. But I didn't believe everything he wrote."

Black's views began to jell at age fifteen. A booklet called "Our Nordic Race" motivated him to write segregationist groups like White Power and Thunderbolt for similar literature. By his sophomore year, he was handing out their race-baiting tabloids at Athens High School. That was the young racist's first taste of controversy. The school board banned the distribution of political pamphlets. So he defied them, launching a mail campaign with addresses from the student handbook.

In 1970, a year later, Black joined the Virginia-based, neo-Nazi National Socialist White People's Party and went to Savannah to help entice Georgians to vote for white supremacist J.B. Stoner as governor. A few weeks later he nearly became a casualty to a conflict between Stoner flacks and the Nazis. Jerry Ray, Stoner's campaign manager and brother of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s killer, James Earl Ray, unpacked a .38-caliber pistol and pumped the teenager with one hollow-pointed bullet in the chest. Black had allegedly broken into Stoner's campaign office to filch records for the Nazis. He doesn't like to talk about the incident now. "The conflict has long since been resolved," is all he'll say. When he recovered, he returned to Alabama and finished high school.

Black sidestepped the draft during the Vietnam War by enrolling as a political science major at the University of Alabama. He joined the ROTC but was booted out for racism. The budding bigot then found his true milieu: the David Duke-led Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Black eventually rose to become the leader's right-hand man -- trolling for recruits and helping run his boss' unsuccessful campaign for governor of Louisiana. At age 26 Black sought to mirror Duke's veneer of clean-cut respectability by running for mayor of Birmingham in 1979. He got 2 percent of the vote.

Duke taught Black it's easier to attract supporters by criticizing affirmative action, illegitimate welfare births, and illegal immigration than labeling blacks as inferior or Jews as rich enemies. The goal was to avoid inflammatory remarks and present oneself as dignified -- sticking to the issues. Supremacy is presented as nationalism. And intolerance warps into a preference for one's own heritage. Black says he speaks to Duke, whose two daughters he helped raise, every few days. And the mentor has only kind words for his protege.

"Don is more than a very good friend, he is one of the leading individuals in the white-rights movement," said Duke, who knighted Black grand wizard in 1980. Duke resigned after a rival Klan faction alleged Duke offered to sell membership lists for $35,000. "He's matured over time -- like we all do with age -- into a very calm and stoic individual," Duke says of Black. "He has always been a dedicated individual that's self-sacrificing."

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