Angry citizens in Pulaski, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, closed their businesses Saturday and bedecked the town with orange ribbons in silent protest to a march by 200 white supremacists.
“Our protest is to turn our back on them. We’re shunning them to let them know they don’t have a welcome mat here,” said Bob Henry, a leader of Pulaski’s show of solidarity against the rally by the Aryan Nations. “We think brotherhood is better than prejudice.”
The members of the neo-Nazi organization and various klan and skinhead groups paraded peaceably to the public square and placed a wreath at the foot of a statue of Confederate hero Sam Davis on his birthday.
Many of the racists carried Confederate flags and wore klan robes or military-style uniforms bearing Nazi and klan insignia.
Robert Lawson, the state’s commissioner of public safety, said 100 state police, 100 local officers and from 60 to 100 intelligence officers from agencies outside the state monitored the march.
About 40 state troopers with riot helmets and batons stood by and a police helicopter circled overhead.
There was no counterdemonstration, although after Louis Beam of the Aryan Nations led the marchers in three chants of “Hail Sam Davis,” someone in the crowd of about 100 spectators responded with: “The hail with you.”
Racists are attracted to Pulaski, a town of 8,000 about 90 miles south of Nashville, because the Ku Klux Klan was formed here in 1865 by four men in a hotel room as a reaction against Yankee carpetbaggers and newly freed slaves, although the modern klan traces its roots to another branch founded in Georgia.
The KKK began annual marches there four years ago to protest the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Town leaders, fed up with the annual rallies, began organizing resistance to Saturday’s march after the Aryan Nations obtained a parade permit two months ago.
More than 180 businesses, virtually every one in Pulaski, agreed to close Saturday. Residents were asked to stay home, and churches planned activities to keep teen-agers occupied.
“There’s not a soul out anywhere,” Police Chief Stanley Newton said Saturday morning, a few hours before the supremacists arrived. “You’d think it was a ghost town.”
Town leaders adopted orange as the color of brotherhood, and orange ribbons festooned storefronts and flew from sign posts and car radio antennas. Protest petitions bearing 4,000 signatures were mailed to the Idaho headquarters of the Aryan Nations.
“We’re preaching nonviolence in the face of violence and brotherhood and love in the face of hatred and racism,” said Gregory McDonald, author of the Fletch mystery novels who lives on a farm outside Pulaski.
The Aryan Nations said it chose Pulaski for its march to honor Davis, a 21-year-old Confederate soldier hanged as a spy by Union troops in Pulaski.