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May 30, 2005 4:53 am

Burning Crosses ...

You may have read this story of three cross burnings in Durham, North Carolina. The police chief there assures us that Durham hasn't had a cross burning since 1968. The story does take me back, though. The local fuzz ran me out of Durham in 1962 for my work in the civil rights movement. Four years later, when I returned to the area for graduate school in Chapel Hill, one of the first things I did was to take my wife to a big Klan rally. Sure, it was in a big cow pasture out in the country, but the Klanguard were carrying flashlights big enough to use as weapons and, when they began to circle us, I steered the wife around a cow pie and got the hell out of there.

Despite the formal desegregation, which was itself a very big thing, indeed, Durham didn't then seem to have changed very much. Still, my heart swells with a little pride when the Blue Devils take to the basketball court because now so many of them are black and blue. I remember when they were all blue and white. So, I asked my virtual son, Chris at Outside Report about the cross burnings in Durham. Chris is a rising second year law student at Duke. Here's his reaction. He speculates that it may be a response to the public visibility of gay people in Durham. Unless and until we know for certain what motived the cross burnings, we can't even exclude the possibility that they are a hoax. There's an odd sense in which hoaxes anger me even more than a real cross burning. At least with a real one, you know the hate and ignorance that it represents. I don't understand what motivates people to thrill at the folly of playing with the symbols of hate and ignorance.

My colleague, Manan Ahmed, directs our attention to this report at Facing South, with a brief followup here. It argues that North Carolina has"a climate for cross burnings." They really catch our attention when they occur – not in some remote cow pasture – but in the heart of the state's wealthy and talent-rich research triangle.

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Jeff Vanke - 5/30/2005

Hoax schmoax. That's like a "joke" that insinuates lynching should be resumed. Whatever the intent, that's the effect. I don't doubt that when faced with a prison cell half-African American in population, if not sooner, the perpetrators might really think something like, "Gee, I never realized it was so serious." But at the moment, I'm guessing they're thrilled by all the attention.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/30/2005

Yes, definitely could be. Both Chris at Outside Report and the commenter at Facing South both suggest it. I'm still leary about the possibility of a hoax. There have just been so many of them in the last 20 years.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2005

I was struck by one of the commenters at Facing South who pointed out that the targetted churches had reputations as gay-friendly, and that anti-homosexual bigotry seemed to be joining racism as a component of these ... um.. incidents.

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