Sundown towns | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sundown towns

Posted By on Tue, Feb 19, 2008 at 6:58 AM

The Washington Post reviews "Banished," a PBS documentary on three Southern cities -- including Harrison, Ark. -- that once banished black people. (The YouTube link above is to an interview with the filmmaker, Marco Williams. He describes his interview in Arkansas with KKK leader Thom Robb. Below is a clip from the film in Harrison) I'm uncertain on AETN's plans for this program. It doesn't appear on today's schedule, though it will air in Washington, D.C. tonight. From the article:

Harrison, Ark., which bills itself as one of the "Best Small Towns in America," was the site of an expulsion in 1905. Today, Thomas Robb, 61, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, makes his home nearby.

In the film, Williams listens as Robb defends cross burning as "cross lighting, an old Scottish tradition." Bob Scott, a retiree, says he moved to Harrison for the "lack of blacks." And Layne Wheeler, of the Harrison Chamber of Commerce, deems the Confederate flag flying outside her office window a harmless nod to history.

"My role playing helped reveal the idiocy or hypocrisy of a situation," Williams says.

Why, though, would the citizens of Harrison speak so candidly to Williams? "I make a habit of never lying, ever," Scott, 80, says by phone from Arkansas.

Wheeler, 47, believes it is vital to acknowledge her town's past. She says Williams depicted Harrison fairly, although she downplays the influence of Robb. And she is quick to mention that the flag has been changed to "a different version of the Confederate flag, not the symbol of the hate groups" -- and that a six-year-old community task force on race relations is developing a driving tour of the former African American neighborhood.

For his part, Robb, who compares a Klan hood to a businessman's tie ("It's just tradition," he says), believes the film is "an attempt by an elitist crowd" to force integration on Harrison and "to create white guilt."


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