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Born of Painful Klan Memories, a Simple Message for Cross-Burners

If it sounded like something from another time, from an era we’ve left behind, that’s because it was. Cross-burnings are so rare today and so widely deplored as the work of ignorant fools that you’d think we could dismiss them.

But when Virginia Geldman heard about last week’s incident in Anaheim Hills, in which a mixed-race couple awakened at 4 a.m. to find an 8-foot cross ablaze on their front lawn, Geldman couldn’t dismiss it -- even if she wanted to.

The crime and its obvious evoking of age-old Ku Klux Klan activity in Anaheim took her back to a place she doesn’t like to go.

Geldman, 79, has returned in recent years to Anaheim, where her parents raised the family in a house on South Vine across the street from their grandparents. She was born in 1923, a year when an emboldened Klan was making its move to take over Anaheim city government.

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As a young girl, Geldman knew nothing about the Klan. But years later, as a young woman, her older sister told her a secret that still sears her today: Their father was a Klan sympathizer.

“It just came out in conversation, and I was shocked, truly,” Geldman says.

On two other occasions over the years, she made jolting discoveries. The first came as she was going through some things in a shed on the family property. Two signs on iron posts lay in the shed, each covered by a gunny sack. Lifting the sacks, Geldman saw that they were signs announcing upcoming Klan meetings. “I was so ashamed of them,” she says.

Then, years later, when Geldman had inherited several pieces of family furniture, she was going through a drawer. Inside she found a white hood.

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“It was a heavy, cotton hood,” she says. “Do you know what I did? I got out a sharp pair of scissors and cut it into 1-inch squares. That’s how horrified I was.”

Geldman had remembered that her father had no tolerance for nonwhite races or cultures, but doesn’t know if he attended Klan meetings.

A cement worker, he lived in Anaheim at a time in the mid-1920s when the Klan helped elect four people to the council, only to be recalled within a year.

According to Los Angeles Times accounts, the local Klan had about 300 members in a city of 10,000. They patrolled streets in their robes and hoods, and once burned a large cross in front of a Catholic church.

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The hoary past? Yes, but so painful for Geldman that she admits she is reluctant to even mention her family name. “I go round and round about this with my daughter,” she says. “She says I can’t hide the past.”

Geldman agrees, but tells her daughter it’s just something she wanted kept locked away.

Her father’s views never sifted down to her, Geldman says, because her mother was “a darling absolute angel.” As an adult, Geldman and her husband joined a church whose membership cut across racial and ethnic lines.

“We thrived there,” Geldman says. “I loved working there. I always felt like I was trying to right some of the wrongs my father did.”

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Because no arrests have been made in last week’s incident, we don’t know what the criminals did afterward. Perhaps they simply slipped into the klaverns of their minds and thought how clever they were.

But if they wanted to leave some hurt and dredge up some awful thoughts, they succeeded -- not only with the victims but with Virginia Geldman.

An anomaly, yes, but Geldman knows what we all know: Intolerance and old hatreds didn’t die with her father’s generation, nor will they with this one.

Yet, if she could just talk to the perpetrators.

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“I’d tell them we’re all God’s children,” she says.

“I know that doesn’t sound very smart, but I believe we all are the same and we’ve got to open our hearts to one another to live in this world.”

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at

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dana.parsons@latimes.com or at The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.


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