Klan memorabilia auction creates controversy
- Klan memorabilia auction creates controversy
By Tim Martin / Associated Press
HOWELL -- Gary Gray says he will be auctioning off history Saturday when
he sells seven Ku Klux Klan robes and other paraphernalia at his
But the uniforms, knives, books and buttons are reminiscent of a past
this small Michigan town would rather forget.
It's been 13 years since a notorious KKK leader who lived in the area
died. But the auction has touched a nerve in a community that says it is
a welcoming place to minorities, yet has very few living there.
"They want to make sure the image of Howell is not distorted," Gray, 51,
said of community leaders opposed to the auction. "They're afraid it
will be offensive to some people. But this is just a part of history
Gray, a white man and owner of the Ole' Gray Nash Auction Gallery, says
the auction is not about promoting racism. He says it's about education
and business -- a potentially lucrative departure from his more standard
auction fare of antiques, coins and books. None of those auctions,
however, has stirred controversy like this one.
The NAACP branch in neighboring northern Oakland County, along with
other civil rights groups in southeast Michigan, have blasted the
auction as insensitive.
Howell is a growing city that had 9,232 residents in 2000, according to
the U.S. Census Bureau. Located 55 miles west of Detroit, Howell is in
Livingston County, one of Michigan's fastest growing and least diverse
About 97 percent of the county's 156,951 residents counted in the 2000
Census were white. Only a half-percent -- fewer than 800 people -- were
black, compared to 14.2 percent across Michigan.
Howell business groups acknowledge they have trouble attracting
minorities. Only 29 blacks were counted in the 2000 Census. But
community leaders say they're making progress promoting diversity, and
they don't want the publicity from the KKK auction to undermine those
"This goes against everything we've tried to accomplish," said Victor
Lopez, a Hispanic accountant from Howell and president of Livingston
2001 Diversity Council, a group aimed at promoting tolerance.
Howell leaders say the racism stigma is undeserved, and they've been
trying to shake it for years. They trace the reputation to one man --
the late Robert Miles, a former KKK leader who lived on a Cohoctah
Township farm north of Howell until his death in 1992.
Miles was convicted of conspiring to burn school buses during an
integration fight in Pontiac and in the tarring and feathering of an
Ypsilanti area school principal.
Because of that link, Howell leaders say their community attracts extra
media attention for incidents that may be just as likely to happen in
other Midwestern towns of similar size and makeup.
For example, a white man was convicted in connection with a 2001 assault
on a black, off-duty state trooper who was dancing with a white woman at
a Howell area bar. In 1988, a cross was burned outside the home of a
black Howell area woman, which led to the creation of the diversity
The council is raising money to buy a robe at Saturday's auction -- then
ship it out of town to an anti-racism museum exhibit.
It will be a symbolic purchase. Since the first robe was consigned for
sale in early January, dozens more items have poured into the Ole' Gray
Nash Auction Gallery as publicity about the event has grown. There also
was more time for the arrival of new items because the auction,
originally scheduled for Jan. 15, was delayed after Gray learned it was
Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Local media first reported on the event earlier this month after Mona
Lindsay, co-owner of a New Age/metaphysical shop across the street from
the auction house, noticed a pink-and-white Klan robe in its window. It
has since been moved so it can't be seen from the street.
"Sometimes he has some really cool antiques up there," said Lindsay, who
is white. "But this day, I saw a KKK robe. We have customers from every
ethnicity and walk of life...I don't want them looking out the window
and seeing an item of hatred, fear and intimidation."
Now, the collection has ballooned. Long tables covered in black felt
hold books, movies and recordings. Silver pocketknives are engraved with
"KKK -- God, Duty, Honor." Buttons promote George Wallace's 1968
presidential campaign and an old David Duke run for Senate. Fading
stickers for the National Socialist White People's Party lie near
decades-old cards reading "Join White Power Today or Live Under Jewish
Gray has 125 chairs set up for Saturday's auction and figures he might
need more. Protesters, whom police expect will be peaceful, plan to be
"Howell is a nice community -- a conglomeration of many different
people," said Gray, adding he does not think the auction will hurt the
city. "Everyone here is welcoming, and for the most part, everyone gets
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