A request made by a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to "adopt" a stretch of highway in Georgia was rejected by state authorities on Tuesday, setting up a possible court fight over the right of the white supremacist group to participate in the highway clean-up program.
Under the ‘Adopt-A-Highway’ initiative in a number of U.S. states, groups volunteer to pick up trash and plant trees along the highway. Road signs are installed to recognize the efforts of the volunteers and promote the organization.
The International Keystone Knights of the KKK in Union County applied last month to the program, saying they hoped to clean up part of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains.
Transportation Department officials met with lawyers from the state Attorney General’s Office on Monday and also consulted with Governor Nathan Deal. The agency said Tuesday it would deny the KKK group’s application, adding that the program is aimed at “civic-minded organizations in good standing,” The Associated Press (AP) reported.
“Participation in the program should not detract from its worthwhile purpose,” the department’s statement reads.
“Promoting an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern to the department. Issuing this permit would have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life, commerce and economic development of Union County and all of Georgia,” it continued.
The statement went on to explain that drivers, noticing signs promoting the KKK, might become distracted, thereby creating safety issues.
Harley Hanson, whose formal title is the Exalted Cyclops of the Union County Klan, insisted the group’s aim was to beautify the highway, not to seek attention. He has said that his group would consider legal action if the application were denied.
"We're not racists,” claimed the petitioner, April Chambers. “We just want to be with white people. If that's a crime, then I don't know. It's all right to be black and Latino and proud, but you can't be white and proud. I don't understand it."
A similar request in Missouri set off a legal battle that stretched for years and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A Ku Klux Klan chapter there sought to adopt a portion of Interstate 55. A federal appeals court ruled the state could not bar the KKK from participating in the program, and the high court declined to review the case, letting that ruling stand, CNN explained.
However, the Missouri Department of Transportation eventually kicked the KKK, a white supremacy group, out of the program because members were not picking up trash as agreed, spokesman Bob Brendel said Monday. The state also named the stretch of I-55 after civil rights activist Rosa Parks, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, who raised objections to the application, hailed the department’s decision as the right thing to do.
“They make the point we’ve been making: This is not a group that really qualifies as a civic organization,” said Brooks, a civil rights activist who experienced Klan violence in the segregated South. “It’s a terrorist organization. This is the right decision, and I commend the Department of Transportation for reaching a decision in due speed.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, lists the KKK as "the most infamous -- and oldest -- of American hate groups."
"Over the years since it was formed in December 1865, the Klan has typically seen itself as a Christian organization, although in modern times Klan groups are motivated by a variety of theological and political ideologies," the law center's website says.