My Grandfather Was a Klansman!

Debbie Walker

Thank goodness, he did not know about me.

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I grew up in a violently racist family. I never witnessed physical aggression against anyone, however, I listened to stories the grownups told while they ranted and raved about people of color.

When I tell others about my past, it amazes them. How did you survive racism in your family and not be affected by it? Well, racism did wound me, and I still carry the scars in my heart.

I was verbally and physically abused by my own family and disowned me because of their beliefs. That was forty-seven years ago. But, I still had hope that somehow love for our fellow man could rise above the hate.

Then, about twelve years ago, when Obama was elected, I believed that somehow the flames of racism would flicker out. I found out it only smoldered underneath the coals of hypocrisy.

Today, I feel the overt rhetoric of the powers that be has refueled the affront of racism. It saddens me when I hear of the violence happening all around us, and I am reminded of my heritage.

My grandfather would roll over in his grave if he saw my family today. I rebelled against the family values and began a biracial family of my own, which has morphed into many colors of red, brown, black, and white.

But first, let me tell you the story of my grandfather and the legacy of racism.

Missouri

I awoke to voices yelling and lights flashing through the paisley blue curtain of the window in my grandparents’ house. I crept to the window and peeped out to see men in overalls with shotguns and pickups converging in the front yard. They were calling my grandfather to join them.

Right then my grandpa turned, and I fled back to the bed. When I asked him about it in the morning, he told me I was dreaming. Years later when I recalled the memory with an older aunt, she intimated to me that my grandfather was a Klansman and he possibly was going on a lynching.

That does not surprise me considering this was the 1960s in Pulaski County, Missouri, which has a history of racial violence. Even as late as 2017, the NAACP warned African-American visitors to Missouri to use extreme caution when traveling in the state.

Let’s get back to my story.

Every man on my dad’s side drank excessively and exhibited violent outbursts. My grandpa was the typical Southern bigot from the Ozarks who wore only one-strap of his overalls on his shoulder, no shirt, and no underwear that I could tell.

He and my dad and his brother often stood around the cast-iron stove drinking and cussing and discussing current events that inevitably led to race relations. In no uncertain terms, people of color were to blame for the economic issues of the day.

My Family’s Past

How did we get to this place? Why did my grandfather carry the evil of racism in his heart? I believe a journey into the past may throw some light on the issue.

When I was about seven years old, I remember reading about the births and deaths of family members in the big Bible my mother kept hidden away. I came across a name from 1890 that had a short bio describing a former confederate soldier.

The words were written in a shaky script calling him a brave man who fought gallantly. I knew a little about this ancestor because my dad possessed his Civil War rifle with the bayonet still attached. My mother used to brag that Yankee blood was stained on the steel.

Writing these words sickens me to the core. When I asked my husband to listen as I read this article, he became visibly upset. It is a hard truth to face. But if we don’t acknowledge a problem, how can we remedy it?

My paternal grandfather Klansman received the legacy of hate from his grandfather. How far back did it go? I do know he came to America in 1848 from Germany fleeing economic persecution only to inflict the same on people of color.

My Family

I believe racism is a stain on our society, and that bleeds into the hearts and homes of people afraid of change. Fear of the other chains us to lies spread by those who wish to disenfranchise generations of people.

How can there be so much hate in the world today? People tout that we must change this or change that. I believe the answer is we must have a heart change.

And forgive.

Forgiveness is not easy, and sometimes it is a hard lesson to learn. However, we cannot react, we have to reconcile. Even if the other person will not receive our offer, we may need to reconcile ourselves with them in our hearts.

When I look back on my life, I would not have made any different choices about my immediate family. I wish my grandfather would have held more tolerant views, but I cannot change that. I can only accept it and move on to be a light of love shining in the rancid darkness of racism.

Bigotry is a learned form of fear and helplessness. The person who harbors racism in his heart is afraid and has to form a barrier to protect himself because he feels helpless.

That in no way excuses the despicable actions and violent behavior displayed by people today. It goes to show that racism runs deeper than what we see on the surface. Cultural awareness is good and may open the eyes of some. But unless we get to the heart of the issue, change is only lip service, at best.

I broke the chain of bigotry in my family because I danced to the beat of a different drummer and stepped into love for my fellow man. You, too, can create a legacy of love instead of racism, one heart at a time.

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She writes honest and authentic articles to inform, encourage, inspire, and empower others to lead fulfilled lives. She is a writer, editor, and podcaster.

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