By Adam Smith
One of the more interesting news tidbits this week was the story about a Georgia faction of the Ku Klux Klan and its plight to become stewards of highway cleanliness.
The local chapter in Union County, Ga., applied to adopt one mile of a north Georgia highway, but an official with the Georgia Department of Transportation said Tuesday the application would not be approved.
April Chambers, the chapter’s secretary, told CNN the group wasn’t doing it for publicity, but instead to help keep the roads beautiful.
“People throwing trash out on the side of the road ... that ain't right,” she said, adding the group was not a racist organization. “We just want to be with white people. If that’s a crime, then I don't know. It’s all right to be black and Latino and proud, but you can’t be white and proud. I don't understand it.”
Did I somehow miss the memo that the KKK is no longer a racist organization? In these times of “hope and change,” has the Klan developed a softer side to its approach?
When I first heard about the group’s plight to adopt-a-mile, I immediately wondered if members would be wearing white hoods and robes while picking up roadside litter. On a hot Georgia day, it doesn’t seem like it would be the most comfortable attire for work generally set aside for short-time jailbirds.
I also imagined the shock on the faces of visitors as they passed by an “Adopt-a-Mile” sign stating that particular stretch of highway was being kept clean by the Ku Klux Klan.
Denying the group could turn into a nasty court battle for the state of Georgia, and the KKK might actually have a case that their civil liberties are being infringed upon. It could put civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union in a strange spot, since they spend so much of their energy filing lawsuits against racist organizations.
And despite the murder convictions, cross-burnings and whatnot, the fact a group with such a polarizing history wants to pick up garbage is a noble gesture. To play the devil’s advocate, would the Black Panthers also be turned down if their members wanted to pick up litter?
Apparently, the same thing happened several years ago in Missouri after a Klan chapter there wanted to adopt a portion of Interstate 55. The request was denied, and a lengthy court battle ensued.
A court ruled that Missouri could not bar the Klan from picking up garbage, but the group was eventually kicked out for failing to pick up the trash. The state then reportedly renamed the adopted stretch after civil-rights icon Rosa Parks.
Being the “live and let live” kinda guy I am, I don’t really care who picks up the roadside garbage, as long as it’s picked up. Nothing aggravates me more than seeing some redneck throw a plastic bottle or empty Sun Drop can out of a moving vehicle.
Growing up next to a major highway, I can remember the right-of-way behind my parents’ house being littered with an assortment of broken beer bottles, Styrofoam hamburger containers and half-empty bottles of tobacco spit.
My mom once brought in an entire binder of CDs, which I considered to be a major find. However, judging by some of the selections, it was easy to see why someone would have tossed them out.
Having lived in the South all my life, I’ve found that (many) Southerners don’t give a flip about the environment and are more than happy to share their trash with the rest of the world. I’d say it’s a cultural problem, but I’m sure the litter issue extends beyond the Mason-Dixon Line.
However, I have only one foot on the soapbox because I’m not type to get up at 6 a.m. and spend several hours picking up someone else’s garbage from the side of a dangerous road. I help cut down on the litter problem by simply not littering, and I’ve found it’s probably the best way to contribute.
But that brings me back to the Klan because these people are apparently the types who do want to get up at 6 a.m. and pick up garbage. It would be nice to think that all groups in America that have created divides among race, faith and gender are working to change their spots and be a positive influence in their communities.
Granted, it would take a lot more than filling up Hefty bags with aluminum cans to shine up the Klan’s image. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
In the meantime, keep your cans to yourself.