The Klan at Antietam: Back to site of defeat

April 27, 2006

Their organizer probably doesn't realize it, but there's a great deal of irony in the fact that the Ku Klux Klan is planning a rally on the site of a battle that effectively ended the dream of a Confederate victory in the Civil War.

They might as well hold a rally at the village of Appomattox Courthouse where Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered, but then the Klan is not reknowned for its historical scholars.

If it were, the group might not have chosen Antietam National Battlefield for a June rally that Superintendent John Howard said had to be allowed under the free speech guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.

Why this site? To gain nationwide publicity, probably. The same rally at a town park wouldn't get nearly as much attention as the Klan's presence at a place where its long-ago champions were defeated.


Is that what happened? Don't take our word for it. In 2002, author James McPherson, Davis Professor of History at Princeton and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the respected Civil War survey "Battle Cry of Freedom," published "Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam."

In the book, McPherson notes that Lincoln had been waiting for a major Union victory to release the Emancipation Proclamation. He did so five days after Antietam.

The victory also hurt the Confederacy's cause with the European powers that imported cotton from the South. Once news of the victory reached Europe, any talk of diplomatic recognition was done.

If any good can come out of a rally such as this, it will be to remind citizens that freedom is not something that can be obtained once and is therefore secure forever.

It needs to be defended repeatedly, because there will always be a minority of people who don't agree that everyone should be free.

How such beliefs are developed and nurtured is anyone's guess. We have said previously that it must be difficult to tell relatives and supervisors that you need the day off to march in a Klan rally.

We suspect they are treated like members of the Flat Earth Society - as misguided and maybe a little bit odd.

The difference, of course, is that unlike the flat-earthers, whose members' rejection of scientific fact doesn't hurt anyone, the Klan's aim is to reverse all the progress made on race since the 1960s. For that reason, the Klan still bears watching.

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