Battling the Klan in the 1960s
During the racially charged conflicts of the 1960s, the Klan in Bogalusa, La., turned its wrath not only on blacks, but also on whites who didn't support segregation. Ralph Blumberg was one of the latter.
Blumberg had been in the broadcasting business for 16 years when he bought and began running a Bogalusa radio station in 1961. He and five other white civic leaders, including three ministers, invited former Arkansas congressman and onetime president of the Southern Baptist Convention Brooks Hays to meet with 100 white and eight black leaders in January 1965. Their intention was to lay plans to avert the racial strife plaguing other Southern cities and towns.
The Klan immediately distributed a pamphlet in Bogalusa telling citizens that Blumberg and the others were trying to force integration on them. It warned that the civic group would try and convince citizens to integrate with blacks by "hiring more of them in your businesses, serving and eating with them in your cafes and allowing your children to sit by filthy, runny-nosed, ragged, ugly little niggers in your public schools." And Hays? "He is a traitor to the South."
The Klan pamphlet also included an ominous threat. "Being a secret organization, we have Klan members in every conceivable business in this area. We will know the names of all who are invited to the Brooks Hays meeting and we will know who did and did not attend this meeting. Those who do attend … will be tagged as integrationists and will be delt [sic] with accordingly by the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan."
Blumberg and his group canceled the Hays appearance, but Blumberg broadcast a civil rights editorial. It was pretty mild, stating that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the law of the land and if the community didn't abide by it, there would be trouble. The Klan, however, didn't like it one bit. Blumberg got constant death threats against not only himself, but his wife and two children, at work and at home. His and his wife's car windows were smashed and tacks were placed in their driveway. Somebody fired seven bullets from a high-powered rifle into the radio station's transmitter. Blumberg sent his wife and kids to live with relatives in St. Louis.
At the same time Blumberg was being threatened, the Klan organized a boycott of his radio station's sponsors. Nearly all of them pulled their commercials. The Klan also organized boycotts of other businesses it claimed were pro-integration, including Mobil service stations that just happened to be competitors of the service station owned by the local Klan's second-in-command. Klansmen burned crosses on the lawn of the white publisher of the local newspaper, who was too moderate for their tastes.
Blumberg hung on for as long as he could. He wanted to set an example for other small radio stations, because "if the Klan could close our doors easily, this would be a tremendous display of strength," as he told the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities in 1966. And, Blumberg told the committee, he felt he had to make a stand in defense of freedom of speech.
Blumberg didn't broadcast another civil rights editorial, hoping to appease the Klan and end the boycott of his sponsors. But the Klan didn't relent. "This is when I knew I had made a mistake, because you just can't compromise with the devil, and that was what I was trying to do," he told the congressmen. A couple of months before he testified, Blumberg had shut down the station.
"Unfortunately, the Klan has won their battle in Bogalusa," he said.