Some Songs About Those “Very Good People” the President Has Defended

Recent events in North Carolina are a mere skirmish compared to what happened on January 18, 1958. On that evening a Klan rally was welcomed by more than five hundred Lumbee men, members of a state-recognized tribe. The cross burning was interrupted and the Klansmen scattered — their ‘grand dragon’ James W. “Catfish” Cole abandoning his wife in his flee for safety.

Two of the Lumbee men, one a World War II veteran, appeared in the following week’s Life magazine proudly displaying a Klan banner. The events were celebrated in song by Malvina Reynolds, later appearing on a great album called Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth. A copy this which was here in the record shop until yesterday, but before we could record “Battle of Maxton Field” someone purchased it. Fortunately for the purpose of this post the song was also sung by Pete Seeger on his album Gazette so there’s a recording we can share with you today.

A sweet sounding, sardonically biting satire of the Ku Klux Klan from 1966 has an unsettling relevance today. “Your Friendly, Liberal Neighborhood Ku Klux Klan” by the Chad Mitchell Trio lampooned the Klan’s effort to present itself as anything other than a terrorist organization in the 1960s. You may recognize one of the voices in this recording: it’s John Denver early in his career.

Satisfying as satire can be, the Klan caused terror in many parts of the country in the early 60s. After the murder of civil rights activist Viola Luizzo, who left behind five children at home in Detroit when she went to participate in the Selma to Montgomery Marches, President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation with clear language after he made history as the first President since Ulysses S. Grant to prosecute members of the KKK. Addressing the nation he called the organization “hooded society of bigots,” and “terrorists.”

We’ll leave today’s post with a song more fitting to the terror the Klan has brought to this country for far too long. Richie Havens recorded “The Klan” on his second album, Something Else Again. It was first written by Alan and David Arkin. We think of Alan Arkin as the merciless criminal in Wait Until Dark or the retirement home evictee from Little Miss Sunshine, but before he was an actor Arkin was a folk singer with the revival group The Tarriers. Havens performs the song with his characteristic fervor, effectively captures some of the fear caused by this terrorist organization.

 

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