The role of the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey will be the topic of a special presentation and book signing at the Asbury Park Public Library Thurs., Oct. 17 and local civil rights activists are urging people to attend.
“The Rise and Fall of the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey” by Joseph Bilby and Harry Ziegler covers the story of the bizarre white-supremacist organization, including the self-generated hyperbole that surrounded it, the reaction it inspired and, ultimately, its rapid downfall.
“Every state’s experience with the Klan differed, of course, and New Jersey’s was unique, in a way only New Jersey could be,” Bilby said.
The presentation and a book signing will begin at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Due to the book signing, the regular Thursday Asbury Park Historical Society meeting will instead be held on Wed., Oct. 16 at the Stephen Crane House at 7 p.m.
Asbury Park resident Rev. Gil Caldwell, who was a friend and activist with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, said he thinks the presentation represents a “real educational opportunity.”
“As a former civil rights activist, I think of myself as a foot soldier,” he said. “And the older I get, I realize that we have not spent enough time listening to each other, even to those whose actions and beliefs are different than our own. For us in this century, it is important to have an understanding why these types of groups are there, even if you don’t agree with them. Freedom of speech is essential, even if it is speech that you don’t agree with.
“This is an educational experience and it is important for people to look at history rather than live in denial, ignorance and unawareness. I think humanity is better than that and we need to get educated. We should also listen and speak the truth and that is what I imagine this book does. I hope there will be a good response to it,” he said.
Asbury Park Historical Society Trustee Kay Harris said the presentation at the library is the chance for a real “educational opportunity.”
“The presence of the KKK in Monmouth County is one of the very unpleasant chapters in our history but a chapter which should not be buried, but revealed for what it really was. It is something we need to be educated about and not something we need to dismiss,” she said.
Bilby said that the Klan never played an important role in Asbury Park.
“The city’s social diversity was not conducive to the Klan,” he said.
The book talks about the Klan trying to get rid of Mayor Clarence E. F. Hetrick, especially by spreading scandalous and sordid rumors.
“But that failed and that was pretty much the end of the Klan in Asbury Park,” he said.
The book also covers Klan activities in other nearby communities, such as Ocean Grove and Wall Township.