KKK leader decries S.C. city council’s decision to deny parade permit

Friday, May 14, 1999

A local Ku Klux Klan leader is accusing a South Carolina city council of violating his group's First Amendment rights by denying permission for a June march even before the officials received the Klan's permit application.

The Gaffney, S.C., City Council voted 4-2 on May 3 to deny the Carolina Knights of the Klu Klux Klan a permit to march and hand out literature downtown.

Grand Dragon Marc L. Willard told said that before he had a chance to send in his parade permit request and the $25 application fee, he received word from a reporter at the Cherokee Chronicle who had just come from the council meeting where the Klan's anticipated request was denied.

“I never even sent in the application, and they denied it,” Willard said. He says that the chief of police, who normally grants the permits, told him that he would receive a letter stating the reasons the request was denied.

The council “still has never given me a reason,” Willard said.

Willard says he will ask the council to reconsider its decision at its next meeting on May 17.

A Gaffney city ordinance states that, in order to be granted a parade permit, the parading group must show that it will not substantially interrupt the safety and orderly movement of traffic or interfere with proper police or fire protection or ambulance service.

Willard said that he informed the police chief in a letter, prior to his formal application, that the June 12 march would be peaceable and would include about 20 participants.

“If the Klan doesn't have a right to march, nobody has a right to march,” Willard told said.

Those council members who denied the permit were Michael Dale, Carla Weaver, Clyde Jones and Mayor Pro Tem Bernard Smith, who is also the president of the Cherokee County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Willard says that although he does not support the NAACP or their tactics, he would vote for their right to free speech. “If I opposed their rights, I'd be opposing mine,” Willard said. He says the fact that the president of the local NAACP chapter voted against another person's rights sets a dangerous precedent for Smith's organization.

“They have the right to have their march, but we don't have to give it our blessing,” Smith told the Associated Press after the council's vote.

Councilman Edward Burgess said he voted to approve the permit because the law states that anyone can march.

“We can't deny them a permit, no matter who they are,” Burgess said.

Jones said he voted against the permit because the Klan is a racist group.

“I'm a black man,” Jones said. “How stupid do you think I would have to be to allow the Klan to parade through this town?”

Andy Brumme, staff counsel for the South Carolina American Civil Liberties Union, said that “cities don't seem to learn that by denying these types of things, they give more publicity to the situation and the Klan.”

Brumme said that people need to realize that allowing the Klan to march doesn't mean the city agrees with the group, it merely acknowledges the group has the same right to free speech as everyone else.

According to The Gaffney Ledger, city attorney Fulton Ross said that other organizations had been permitted to parade and that the city could face litigation for denying the Klan's request.

In 1984, 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1993, Klan marches were permitted in Gaffney without incident.

Brumme said that if the council refuses to reverse its decision, the next step would be to go to court. “This could really cost the city,” he said.