Letters: Fighting the Klan in Coal Country

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To The Editor,

Klan activity and anti-Klan resistance have a long history in the Western Pennsylvania coal fields.  In 1923, in the small coal town of Lilly, 400 armed Klansmen rode into town via the railroad, marched to a nearby hillside and burned a cross to protest the fact that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) did not allow Klansmen to belong to the union.  Then the hooded fascists marched back to the train, and just as they were attempting to board it, some local residents turned a fire hose on them.  At that point, shots rang out and two residents lay dead, and many others were wounded.  A number of people, both Klansmen and residents, were arrested, but the charges were later dropped.  Murder went unpunished.

In Indiana, Pennsylvania, where the Klan was strong, some Italian immigrant coal miners burned a Klan meeting hall to the ground.  It should be pointed out that the Klan was very active in the 1920s, and thousands of them marched on Washington, DC.  One of the main targets of these thugs was immigrants, especially from Italy and Eastern Europe.  In this regard, they were not much different from the U.S. government, which rounded up and deported many during the infamous Palmer Raids.

Then, in the 1990s, following the closings of the coal mines and steel mills, the Klan attempted to gain a new lease on life.  The Klan was attempting to exploit the fact that the area was becoming economically depressed, and the main targets of the Klan were immigrants, black people, Jewish people and gay people.  One local Klan leader, C. Edward Foster, was featured in a film about the Klan and he stated that he didn’t care if someone killed a black person, as they did not have the right to breathe the free air of America.

Due to all of this, some local people, myself included, formed the Coal Country Coalition (CCC) to organize protests against the Klan at the sites of their rallies. This disturbed not only the cops but also the liberal Unity Coalition, which held meetings some distance from the Klan rallies.  However, the CCC had its own philosophy on all of this.  It was our position that it was not only important to confront the Klan but also to work to raise the class consciousness of other workers.  At every Klan rally, leaflets were distributed that pointed out that the Klan was the product of the class-divided capitalist system, and could only be really defeated through a workers’ revolution.

It must be emphasized that this approach was what really bothered the cops and the Unity Coalition.  Heaven forbid that someone should mention a workers’ revolution and be critical of capitalism.  At one point, I received a phone call from someone at the PA Human Relations Commission who wanted to know if the CCC was connected to any national organizations. It was clear that we were viewed in the same light as the Klan.  We merely stepped up our organizing efforts.

Our goal was to build united front-type protests against the Klan, and we always contacted numerous groups over the Internet.  At our protests, there were members of such groups as the Anti-Racist Action, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the International Socialist Organization and the Workers World Party.  Everyone was free to distribute their own literature and they did just that.  Our motto was “march separately but strike together.” Religious folks, as well as independents, also attended our protests. Two laid off coal miners attended our protest in Ebensburg ,which had been the headquarters of the UMWA District 2.

Of course, it is important to point out that not all of the resistance to the Klan was organized by the CCC.  There were spontaneous actions also.  In the coal town of Patton, the Klan attempted to distribute their hate-filled literature.  A large crowd of local residents gathered to demonstrate their distaste for the Klan.

There was also a tremendous struggle in Johnstown and the CCC participated in it.  It was a great fall day, and some 20 Klansmen, lead by Grand Dragon Barry Black, held a rally at a gazebo in Johnstown Central Park.  A large integrated crowd gathered at the gazebo to shout down the Klan, who were protected by the cops as usual.  Every time Black attempted to speak he was drowned out by the growing crowd of anti-Klan protesters, who continued to move closer to the gazebo and closer to the cops.  Some of the anti-Klan protesters attempted to break through the police line but they were stopped.  Some were arrested.

Eventually, the Klan decided to make their exit and then all hell broke loose.  The Klan was driven literally out of the park. It was a big defeat for the good old boys in sheets and a victory for the people.  It was also the last time the Klan attempted to hold a rally in the coalfields.

In conclusion, it is important to point out that the Klan functions as a tool of the capitalist bosses and must be fought, but that compared to the U.S. capitalist-imperialist regime itself, the Klan does not amount to a hill of beans.


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