This week, the Sacred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was denied a permit request to burn a cross atop Stone Mountain. The event was to commemorate the KKK's 1915 revival in the same spot.
Despite the landmark’s history, the October ceremony would have been very unusual.
The late James R. Venable, a KKK imperial wizard and Decatur attorney, had cross-burnings on his property at the base of the mountain. But as far as the Stone Mountain Memorial Association knows, the last time the KKK tried to burn a cross on top of the state-owned mountain was in 1962, said John Bankhead, spokesman for the association.
It was July 8 of that year, a night that would end with bloodshed as Klansmen fought police.
The event was intended as the Klan's answer to the NAACP national convention in Atlanta. Gov. Ernest Vandiver knew the Klan was coming days before and ordered state troopers to stop them. At the time, the mountain organization's leader didn't want the Klan — or the NAACP — holding rallies at the state-owned property, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution archives, which detailed the night.
The Klansmen were armed with billy clubs, flashlights and rocks. Some also brought their wives and children. Babies rested on hips.
As the hooded men prepared to climb, police tried to stop them. Two Klansmen were clubbed. Police were struck with stones. Klansmen “rushed” police.
Troopers tried using tear gas to break up the crowd. Police dogs tried to help. But the bloody melee continued.
“Let’s go up the mountain, women and children first,” one Klansman finally hollered.
The police were outmatched. The KKK crowd had several hundred people. There were only about 70 lawmen.
Police agreed to negotiate a truce with a Klan Grand Dragon. As they spoke, Klansmen hurled insults at officers, the paper reported.
Afterward, the Grand Dragon, Calvin Craig, announced the settlement: police would allow 20 Klansmen to climb the mountain for a “religious ceremony.” The Klan had to agree to refrain from further violence, and police agreed to do the same. There would be no flaming cross.
The hooded man cheered. Then they climbed.
At the top, they lit a flare to illuminate the service.
The Grand Dragon spoke.
He claimed the Klan, which terrorized minorities for decades with assaults, intimidation and lynchings, would now try nonviolence.
He said passive resistance had worked so well for black people (his word was the typical racial slur of the day for African Americans).
Maj. Delmar Jones, then-head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said the decision to ignore the governor’s orders and allow the “religious ceremony” was to avoid further bloodshed “on both sides.”
“You saw the trouble,” he told a reporter, “the women and children and all the commotion.”
Asked why none of the Klansmen were arrested for assaulting police, Jones mentioned the difficulty in figuring out which attendees had broken the law.
Klan hoods served a purpose.
It also helped the Klan that this happened in 1962. The Civil Rights Act was two years away. Resentment and racism would hold for much, much longer.
As the Klan tried to climb that night, a state trooper told them: “Our sentiments are the same as yours, but we’re just following orders.”