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Klan memorabilia auction creates controversy

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  • Charles C. Primas
    Klan memorabilia auction creates controversy By Tim Martin / Associated Press http://www.detnews.com/2005/metro/0501/29/metro-73567.htm HOWELL -- Gary Gray
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2005
      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
      downtown business.

      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
      we're selling."

      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
      Communism Tomorrow."

      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
      along here."

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