Linda Sewell, Heritage Preservation Association of Alabama head, retains organization position despite an Intelligence Report exposé on her ties to the Klan.
One of the nation's largest Southern heritage organizations has decided to keep its Alabama state president in office despite revelations about her secret associations with hard-core white supremacists. The group's national leader said the woman had done "nothing to deserve to be removed."
The Intelligence Report's Spring 2003 issue carried a photograph of a clumsily disguised Linda Sewell, head of the Heritage Preservation Association (HPA) of Alabama, with her husband Jim at a neo-Nazi protest outside the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery on Jan. 25.
The story also included pictures of an undisguised Sewell at a post-rally luncheon receiving a "certificate of appreciation," embellished with a Klan blood drop symbol, from Bradley Jenkins, the imperial wizard of the Aryan Nations Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Standing right behind her at the ceremony was Rick Spring, a security official with the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations who once served years for bank robbery.
Smack in the middle of Confederate Heritage Month this April, the well-known Mobile, Ala., activist found herself confronting tough questions from local newspaper and television reporters. Sewell at first denied everything, saying the allegations were part of a smear campaign orchestrated by people who resented her success in making Confederate heritage politically palatable in Mobile — something attested to by the Confederate banners hanging downtown during Alabama's Confederate Heritage Month.
"We're not racist," she said of the HPA (see also Lincoln Reconstructed). "We're not supremacists. We're simply a heritage preservation group."
But Sewell's story changed by the day. Initially, she denied she was the person in the photographs and told a reporter that she had been at a Robert E. Lee birthday function that day. Told by the reporter that Lee's birthday had come more than a week earlier, she then agreed that she had been in Montgomery Jan. 25, but at a different rally entirely.
After friends identified her to Mobile reporters as the woman in the photos, Sewell, who had already seen the pictures, agreed that indeed she was. But she now claimed that she was never at the neo-Nazi luncheon and had only accepted such a certificate from another organization, on another day, not in Montgomery. She also told one television station that the certificate she received had not carried any Klan symbol. But, as WMPI-TV reported, the photos "clearly show Sewell accepting an award with ... a KKK logo."
Ultimately, Sewell bowed out. On April 22, Ben George, Mobile's leading neo-Confederate activist, sent an E-mail message to Mobile Mayor Mike Dow and other city officials announcing that Sewell had resigned from the Atlanta-based HPA. (During the entire brouhaha, Dow and the many other politicians who had worked with Sewell on heritage issues declined to condemn her.)
George also wrote that both Sewells had resigned from the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans heritage group, which George leads. "I would have rather they renounced hate and their associations with hate," George told the Report, but all in all, "for them to resign was the best thing."
Apparently, the HPA's national president, P. Charles Lunsford, disagrees. "Linda Sewell is still the President of the Heritage Preservation Association of Alabama," Lunsford wrote in an E-mail to the Report some six weeks after the scandal exploded in the Mobile media. "She has done nothing to deserve to be removed." He followed up a few days later, claiming that Sewell "had no idea" there would be Klansmen at the post-rally luncheon.
Lunsford did not address Sewell's participation in the rally, which was hosted by the neo-Nazi White Revolution group and took place under flags decorated with swastikas, iron crosses and other neo-Nazi symbols, was attended by a variety of convicted criminals, and included the leaders of major hate groups like the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations.
He also did not address the fact that Sewell had disguised herself to attend, and in fact covered up her car's license plates to avoid detection. And he didn't mention that Sewell accepted the award immediately after a tirade from Jenkins at the podium about "Jews, the niggers, the Mexicans, the mud race."
Like many "heritage" organizations, the Atlanta-based HPA, which claims members in 49 states and six foreign countries, portrays itself as promoting "heritage, not hate" — a phrase coined by Lunsford himself, who told the Report that is "simply a civil rights group." The group's Web site pointedly disavows racism. "We do not foster hatred, nor do we tolerate those who do," it says.
Whether or not the Heritage Preservation Association tolerates haters, Linda Sewell does not appear to be sticking around. Sewell's one-time ally, George, says that she and her husband — who has been a local leader of the Council of Conservative Citizens hate group — have left public life, vowing never to be heard from again.