The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Little Pulaski, Tenn., to Suffer Through Another Racist Event

By Larry Keller on September 3, 2010 - 2:01 pm, Posted in Anti-Black, Klan

Although it’s a small town of about 7,800, Pulaski, Tenn. may well be the white supremacist epicenter of the nation — at least if the number of rallies held there by bigoted groups is any indication.

The mayor and other residents aren’t pleased. “There’s never been a local person involved in these marches or rallies,” Mayor Daniel Speer told Hatewatch this week. But they’re resigned to being a favorite locale for the haters on the American radical right. Speer’s town is more than one-quarter black, but it has for decades been a favorite place for white supremacist groups to rally because of one unfortunate historical fact: This was where the Ku Klux Klan was born.

The next such event on tap in Pulaski: the annual European Heritage Festival, scheduled for Oct. 23. The event, despite its name, has the heavy footprint of the Klan all over it. Sponsors include the Christian Revival Center led by long-time Arkansas Klan leader Thom Robb; the Knights Party USA (better known by its original name of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan), which is Robb’s “political” organization; Voice of Reason radio, which features interviews with white nationalist luminaries such as Jamie Kelso and Tomislav Sunic; and Abundant Life Fellowship of Morgantown, Ind.

Abundant Life’s pastor, Jonathan Harness, is apparently a reader of Klan material. Last year, he responded to a blog by Robb’s daughter, who is involved in her father’s racist group, by writing that he was dismayed when black rapper Kanye West rudely interrupted a speech by country singer Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Harness wrote that West had “absolutely disrespected this white woman.”

“It’s a great place to come and learn about the heritage of European Americans,” the festival’s website says. The site includes links to racist individuals and groups including David Duke, who founded Robb’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1975; the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity” and opposes “race mixing”; and The Barnes Review, the leading American journal devoted to denying the Holocaust.

The European Heritage Festival follows by three months a “White Unity Day March and Rally” in Pulaski conducted by the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations. A year earlier, in July 2009, the Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan staged a birthday march in Pulaski for their hero, Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. There have been many other Klan rallies in Pulaski over the decades.

The Klan was organized as a secret fraternity by six Confederate veterans in December 1865 in Pulaski. As the club grew, it evolved from a club for wealthy and bored young veterans into a vigilante terrorist organization. It soon attracted as its first national leader Forrest, who had been a millionaire Memphis slave trader before the Civil War and also presided over the massacre of black Union soldiers attempting to surrender at Fort Pillow, Tenn., in 1864. (It remains unclear whether or not Forrest actively encouraged the massacre, as many Union survivors testified.) Forrest led the Klan through its most violent period, when thousands of acts of terrorism essentially forced black Southerners back into a form of servitude.

Robb’s Klan group has staged events in Pulaski going back to at least 1983, says Speer, who has been mayor nearly 21 years and has lived most of his 60 years in the southern Tennessee town. So many Klan events were held in the 1980s that local businesses, large and small, closed their doors in disgust during a 1989 rally as a way of silently protesting, Speer said. At times, folks in Pulaski hoped that if they ignored the Klan and other white supremacist groups when they came to Pulaski, they would lose interest in the town and permanently leave, Speer says. But they didn’t, and over the years the groups’ events have brought people ranging from satirist Stephen Colbert to reporters from as far away as Russia and Italy.

That’s of no concern to those attending next month’s European Heritage Festival. They’re planning on hearing speeches and eating hot dogs, apple pie and barbecue pork. Entertainment will be provided by Charity and Shelby Pendergraft, singing sisters who call themselves Heritage Connection. Thom Robb is their grandfather. Their mother, Rachel Pendergraft, is spokeswoman for Robb’s Knights Party. And if that’s not excitement enough for those attending the festivities, there’s always the Sam Davis Museum on Sam Davis Avenue. Davis was the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy” who was captured by the Yankees in 1863 and charged and convicted by a court-martial of spying. Davis was hanged by the Union Army on his 21st birthday — in Pulaski, of course.

Speer says that his town can’t constitutionally stop these groups from staging events as long as they comply with terms of their rally permits. At one point, the town passed a parade ordinance banning participants from wearing anything covering their heads — say, a hood. But a federal judge tossed the measure, which Speer says could have barred Boy Scouts from wearing their full uniforms in a parade.

“It’s frustrating,” the mayor says. “[We’re associated with] the Klan. It’s a stigma. Unfortunately, I just don’t see it going away.”

  • Deena

    I live in Pulaski but not from here. I have lived in several places in this great country. Pulaski is the worst. There are MANY racist people in this town, however about 80% of them are black. My son was told by a teammate, that he always referred to as a good friend, that ” u ain’t my friend, u r white so we can’t be friends.” Another teammate told him he should even be playing on the team at all because he is white. I have many black friend but none from this town. They r some of the tidiest people I have ever met. Although most of the white people here are rude too. Southern hospitality? Not in this town.

  • Mr. Mike

    For at least the past 10 years now, the town has virtually shut down on the Saturdays the Klan shows up, and no one who’s a citizen here even goes up on the square while they’re in town. What this has resulted in is that the out of town media no longer comes to report on it, and the turn out is less than 100 or so Klan’s men.
    So, in effect I’m happy to report, that most of the locals in Pulaski have pretty much forgotten the “Klan day”, as virtually few if any out of town Racist even show up for it anymore.
    And we couldn’t be happier about it!

  • betty

    I think that the townspeople need to stand together. Enough is just that. Go and get a town meeting-invite the mayor,etc. Take it serious-all your concerns-sign agreements of laws,etc. Send it to the Supreme courts-President,etc. If you know names list them-what state are they coming from. They can be made to STAY OUT. They are INVADING YOUR QUIET TOWN AND YOUR SPACE. They are NOT RESIDENTS–IF others choose to follow-they should be RAN OUT——-EVERYONE NEEDS TO STAND TOGETHER—–RUN EM OUT–THEN there needs to be a law to put them in PRISON FOR 50 years FIRST OFFENSE—-THEY”LL FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO -‘CAUSE THEY WON’T HAVE EACH OTHER ANYMORE. We are PUNISHED if we HIT A CONSTRUCTION WORKER—RIGHT

  • Bailey

    I have lived in Pulaski for 12 years now. It has the largest population of people of color (beautiful colors mind you) of any Northern place that I’ve lived. We all cringe when we find out people of hate want to march in our streets. How can this be the American Way? I think it should be against the law to allow a racial hate group to march. I think we should replace the “tolerance” word with compassion. Then we should be INTOLERANT of hate, bullying, and terrorism. We should be compassionate to those who look and think differently than us. People in Pulaski are kind and compassionate to one another.

  • Pulaski resident-not PC correct

    All of the comments I have read are way off base with the exception of Chobbs. We don’t ask the Klan to come, nor do we condone it. There has been no reporters around that I have seen, nor do we gather around the Town Square to cheer them
    They are basically ignored and/or mocked.
    What outrages me more then the idiots holding the rallies
    Is the corruption in this town, from the people that should be honest: FORMOR Mayer Dan Speers, Pat Ford, the cronies on the City Council, Who also sit on the Board of the Elec Co here, Judge Damoren, and on and on
    That is what is truely disgusting as it happens on a DAILY BASIS!

  • I’ll tell later

    I am the exwife of a nazi. I lived in the shadow of this lifestyle for about 5 years. The best way to stop these groups is to not protest them and not provide police protection. They get “high” off the endorphins from the rally confrontations. It starts several weeks before the event. It’s like a drug, and when you protest them, it’s like giving them crack. The more ridiculous the protest (ie clowns in Knoxville) the “higher” they get. The police protection is kind of like giving them a safe place to shoot up. After they get home from the event, they crash and start planning the next rally, where they can “get their next fix.” Seriously, they travel across the country spending money they do not have to get their next high. Many do not work but I have found that the people who are long time members of these groups who are successful are the really scary ones.

    The movement should be thought of as a paramilitary cult led by people who are very insecure in real life and need to blame other people for their own shortcomings. Depending on the group, they use subtle forms of blackmail, threats of assault, and actual physical/sexual assault if you don’t tow the line. Most in the WN movement are very unstable people who need serious psychological help. I’m not saying that jokingly. It is very sad. I considered having my exhusband committed because of his activities. My ex was very Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde – when away from other WNs, he was quite normal but he morphed into crazy SS guy when around his friends. I hate what he believes in but it’s hard for me to hate him because I know he’s mentally ill. They all are mentally ill.

  • Karen

    I really wish they would take the references to Gen. Forrest out of the article. This is an important issue and you lose credibility by making false statements that historians know are wrong.

  • Kate De Braose

    I had to laugh at the silly proposition that, since white supremacists are definitely basing their prejudice upon their loathing of black persons, then it must be true that black-skinned persons must also feel and act the same way about those who are a lighter color. White racists are definitely demanding special privileges. and pretend they deserve preference because they are superior by birth.
    There are many hate groups in America that have chosen to be particularly miserable to minority groups that are easily identified by their appearance only. For instance, they would include women,children, handicapped, people who dress differently, other religions, other nations and other languages in their lists for citizens with lesser rights. All hate groups claim to be superior to the minorities they target for abuse but they have no proof for their claims.

    The demands of racists for preferences are well-known and are derived from ideas of America’s Southern Confederacy, which was not only defeated militarily, but in every court of public opinion as well.

  • Chobbs

    Mike Sr. …if we raised the price of permits to an outrageous amount for the permits for these hate groups then every group would have to pay them also or we would be considered a hate town also….Come on man, you either hate or you don’t… don’t ride the fence….we don’t have the right to price according to our beliefs. every1 is supposed to be equal. I don’t support what these groups believe, but I do support the fact that they have the right to believe what they want…. however confused and misguided those beliefs are!

  • Chobbs

    I have lived in Pulaski all my life, except for a few years here and there, and I have seen the hate groups come and go. I nor anyone I know have never attended any of the functions these groups have offered. I have seen the destruction they leave behind (i,e; trashing a local fast food joint) and it sickens me. We don’t ask them to come, we don’t want them to come, they just come! Pulaski is a wonderful place to live, every city has some sort of dark smudge in it’s past. Don’t judge the people that live here by the people that visit here.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Good points Scott. In the early 20th century, up until the 30s, there were several race riots insitagated by whites, where on several occasions whites literally mobbed and attacked black neighborhoods, driving people out of their homes and burning them. In the most extreme incident, whites dropped dynamite from planes onto a black neighborhood in Oklahoma. No such equivalent, carried out by blacks, can be cited- there has never been a mass black attack on white neighborhoods or towns.

  • Herbert E. Larson

    This sort of situation is damned if you do and damned if you don’t, if you do you give them news space if you don’t who know what insanity can occur. The fact sadly true that these sort of events need to be watched even more closely than ever because the level of idiot rage has increased due to President Obama. On the other hand it is hilarious that they hold a event for European culture(white culture) when from Normandy to the border of Poland and Russia. Europe has a long history of racism against each other, except the Roma who everyone hates proves white culture is a figment of a jackasses imagination.

  • Mike Sr.

    Why does the town continue to issue permits to hate groups? If they have to issue them then raise the price until it’s to expensive for them. They could also implement special protocols for such events making them more trouble than they are worth. If the town refuses to do this then they must love the rallies and that’s the bottom line. Also, the more you cover these events the more they know they are doing what they intend to do and that’s stir up a shit storm.

  • Stephen D. Calhoun

    Maybe the Klan should be required to read the article in Wikipedia about Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is their hero. The Wiki article has a section titled “Ku Klux Klan involvement”. The section states that Forrest reformed and was for “progressive” race relations, “reconciliation between the races” and the “admission of blacks into professional classes”. Maybe the Klan will prove that it has something good between its ears and rename their event to the Progressive Reconciliation Heritage Festival.

  • Roger

    Even if this was a racially motivated incident it is important to remember one thing, we are equal in everything, and that includes our faults.

    If this was such an incident, this was not the “mobs of black youth” that some right wing web sites and bloggers are claiming it was. They are blowing the story way out of proportion, as usual. The event in no way compares to the level of hatred filling our airwaves and streets by Muslim haters every single day as we read this. This incident would be an aberration compared to the daily insult of still denied dreams of the entire African-American community that suffers from substandard schools, housing, and job opportunities. The first of these issues, education is a downward cycle with a national education policy that punishes poor performing schools rather than assisting them with better tools and resources.

    Yes, if this is a racial episode it should be condemned as such. The SPLC is not a racist organization on matters such as this and has shown itself willing to take on Black Nationalism just as readily as White Power. So those of you trying to plead racial hypocrisy here need to take a closer look and you will find that the issue is not simply black and white. (Hopefully you can look beyond buzz words and conspiracy theories.)

  • Scott

    I have been hanging onto a clipped letter to the editor to The Nation magazine back in 1989 that I think is eminently apropos to the discussion at hand. I will only use the writers initials.

    “To the Editor:
    In an otherwise excellent column (“How Long America?”/#367, Summer 1989), Ira Glasser does us a disservice when he equates black and white racism–‘The majority of our young people, black and white’ grow up ‘in families whose “traditional values” include virulent racial biases.’ No such neat symmetry exists.
    White racism is based, not just on unfamiliarity with blacks, but on a cultivated tradition of superstition and infantile fantasy: the alleged threat to white women of the black man’s alleged sexual prowess, etc. To my knowledge, blacks have no parallel tradition of superstitious loathing of whites. Black anger and resentment…are usually based on bitter experience.
    Beyond that, I have lived in predominantly black neighborhoods for 20 years. If blacks are equally racist, I should have been burned out of a few homes by now. But in all these years, I have been only amazed by the tolerance and liberalism of the vast majority of black people, given what we are doing to them…

    Philadelphia, Pa”

  • EarleyDaysYet

    @NTX: “(2) any program or practice of racial discrimination, segregation, etc., specif., such a program or practice that upholds the political or economic domination of one race over another or other”. Note the wording: “upholds […] domination”. In order to be upheld, the domination must pre-exist. African-Americans founded (as someone above said above) the UNCF, NAACP, etc in an attempt to create a level playing field. If you hold a 400m race where half the participants have to start 50m behind the line, most of that half won’t be able to meet their goals. Same training, same surface, but obviously slanted in one group’s favour.

  • Sharon Gibson

    How many white people have been helped by the UNCF? <<


    Anyone who is interested in attending a historically black college or university. UNCF helps any such candidate, regardless of skin color or nationality. Historically black colleges have on campus white students and faculty, as well as African Americans.

    In fact, during the '30s and 40's, many of these colleges provided an academic haven for Jewish scholars escaping Nazi Europe. There is a documentary on these refugee Jewish scholars, From Swastika to Jim Crow.

  • Allen

    John – whenever a white guy starts whining about how there’s supposed anti-white racism, it makes me embarrassed to be white. In our society when a white man goes into a bar where he is the only white guy and feels like he is being ostracized, he can just go find another bar. That has never been the case for black men and never will be as long as white people remain in a power-majority status.

    I say if there is a situation where white people are being ostracized for their race, LEARN FROM IT! Either way, get over it and don’t come whining to us.

  • RockyMissouri

    Thank you, all of you speaking out… inspire hope and pride in my heart…you honor yourselves, your parents and community…….we are better because of your words and deeds.

  • UnpoliticallyCorrect

    If the upcoming event in Pulaski holds true to form, there will be far many more reporters and cops there than supporters. Same bunch of misfits spouting the same bunch of nonsense.

    Deny them publicity and let law enforcement keep an eye on them.

  • Shadow Wolf

    Ramon F. Herrera,
    I think that map is a bit outdated. And due to the hot topic of immigration. I also think everyone can agree on it, that Aryan-zona(AZ, which is the “ground zero” in immigration battle) has now top the list as the most hateful state, and a breeding ground for hatemongers and groups alike. Due in part to our racist SB1070, which ironically was authored by both Kris Kobach and neo-Nazi associator Sen. Russell Pearce. Signed into law, thanks to the now famous “Brain Freeze” unelected Gov. Jan Brewer. There is no shortage of hate in our state–from the vile hatemongers to the laws enacted.

  • Snorlax

    The right wingers love to claim that moderate Muslims do not protest the crimes of Muslim terrorists. (Actually, they do condemn terrorism)

    But when it comes time for the right, particularly the GOP, to condemn the criminal acts of their far-right fellow travelers, they are nowhere to be seen.

    No, you won’t hear the GOP condemning the KKK or any of these domestic terrorist groups.

  • skinnyminny

    it’s interesting you say that these programs aren’t needed. These programs are definitely needed for all minorities, blacks, asians, latinos. Otherwise, we will continue to have discriminatory practices against non-whites. Although we have these programs, whites continue to give us Sarah Palin (and yes, she is NOT smarter than a 5th grader) and her daughter Bristol. John McCain and his daughter, Bush and his family, Britney Spears and her sister… you see the pattern here? This is just like in the small towns where a sheriff hires his sons as deputies. And believe me, some of these people rising to the top are making it based on who they know, not by merit!

  • marko

    If anti-racists would just ignore these groups, it would save local governments a tremendous amount of money, and also prevent the racists from receiving free publicity.

  • NTX

    In response to Ruslan Amirkhanov, who posted the following on Sept. 6, 2010 at 7:07 a.m.:

    “John please explain why the UNCF, CBC, NAACP, and Howard University are “racist”.”

    Ruslan, here are two definitions of the word, “racism” as defined in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, which I believe best clarify john’s statement:

    “(2) any program or practice of racial discrimination, segregation, etc., specif., such a program or practice that upholds the political or economic domination of one race over another or others; (3) feelings of hatred and bigotry toward a person or persons because of their race.”

    The UNCF, CBC, NAACP, and Howard University work toward the advancement of minorities, typically black individuals, to the exclusion of white individuals. How many white people have been helped by the UNCF? The NAACP? Howard University? Whites absolutely aren’t allowed in the CBC. This is racist by definition. The old nonsense of “I can’t be racist because I am black/Hispanic/Asian/etc.” just doesn’t work anymore.

  • Ramon F. Herrera

    With a little arithmetic, I determined (and so can you) that Tennessee has the dubious honor of being the state with the highest density of hate.

    Just divide the number of Hate Groups in each state, by its number of inhabitants. TN comes up on top:

    Licence plate motto: “The state where MLK was killed”.

  • Karen

    This is good information, but you should stop perpetuating the myth that N.B. Forrest was associated with violent KKK activities. He quickly disavowed the KKK when he saw it morphing into a racist vigilante organization. Also he was never a millionaire.

  • john

    Thank you CM for making my point clear. It is the police, and Mayor that are covering up “beat whitey night”. And it “is” incidents like this that serve to “rationalize” white hate-group behavior. I would like to see an end to rascism. There is no “good” racism. With your view that it is OK to “counterbalance” the past, you must agree with the anti-mosque crowd in NY. Why not CM, two wrongs must make a right.

  • CM

    The “coverup” of “beat whitey night” doesn’t seem to be working very well. When I took up “John’s” invitation to Google it, I got 230,000 hits. Most of them seem to be racist-leaning websites that are trying to leverage this incident into some kind of self-justification.

    That kind of rationalization hinges on claiming equivalence between a spontaneous eruption of racially motivated violence on the one hand and a century and a half (plus) of systematic, pervasive, institutionalized racial discrimination on the other. Among other things, this means that for many decades, just about all college scholarship funds were “for white people,” which is what prompted the founding of the UNCF. It would be nice to think that America has changed enough not to need the UNCF to counterbalance the discriminatory administration of other scholarship funds, but the continuing occurrence of events like this KKK shindig give some cause for caution.

  • john

    Please do not accept anyones “proof” of anything. Google “beat whitey night” and look at the evidence itself. Keep in mind much evidence has been removed from the web, hence the coverup.
    The definition of rascism: descrimination or prejudice based on race. “American Heritage dictionary” I don’t make this stuff up. Would a college fund for “white people” not be considered racist, I would most certainly consider it so.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    John please explain why the UNCF, CBC, NAACP, and Howard University are “racist”.

  • daemonesslisa

    “Beat Whitey Night”? Really.

    Proof, or go away, troll!

  • john

    Perhaps when “Beat Whitey Night” in Des Moines, and other blatenly rascist hate crimes are no longer covered up, these hate groups will go away. Their numbers are rapidly increasing due to PC rascism like:: United Negro College Fund, Congressional Black Caucus, NAACP, Howard University… Two wrongs do not make a right.

  • Shadow Wolf


    Ruslan, I think you meant Skinheads(thus can be mistaken for SHARPs) or simply the more appropiate general use: neo-Nazis.

    “Skins” is just another short for Redskins, a supposed epithet for the Redman, otherwise known as Native Americans. Albiet, I don’t find Redskins or “skins” offensive, according to some. Since we Natives always call each other “skins” or Nativez all the time. The term is quite trendy among younger generations, therefore it can basically mean anything. But in its general usage, its a reference to Natives.

    Neo-Nazis or “Boneheads” sounds just about right.

  • Shadow Wolf

    They claim that participants will learn about European American Heritage. If there is somethng that they will be learning–it is hate. And anything that follows the famous notions associated with them, i.e. racism, racist joKKKes, bigoted idealogues, fear et al.

    I doubt it will be fun. Especially, if most of the participants are men.

  • Sam Molloy

    I’ve been to Pulaski, driving a truck, and it’s a really friendly, mixed race town with no hate vibe that I could notice.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Funny how the intellectuals in the movement keep talking about breaking away from the KKK and the skins, but they never actually do.

  • Paen

    Why not hold a diversity festival where the town of Pulaski can invite everybody who is hated by the Klan in order to celebrate tolerance.This would allow the town to show up the bigots while not taking away fundemental rights from anyone.

  • daemonesslisa

    Maybe they can disassociate themselves with the Klan if a whole lot of Pulaski’s residents don’t show up, or show up in protest.

    How many supporters are expected at this thing? Most KKK rallies don’t draw that many supporters lately…since they’re going to similar, more FoxNews-friendly rallies.