January 29, 2005

Over-Reaction To Klan Auction

My teaching field is history, so I know that there exists a lot of ugly history in the world. We need to remember it all. Some folks specialize in eras or regions or other sub-categories of history, and I don't necessarily hold that against them. My interests happen to run to the development of Christianity and the development of the US Constitution. Others are more interested in darker things, such as Hitler and the National Socialists, or racist groups. This focus might even extend to collecting materials related to their area of focus.

That's why today's auction in Howell, Michigan doesn't bother me. Auctioneer Gary Gray auctioned off Klan robes and otehr racist memorabilia.

Gary Gray says he will be auctioning off history Saturday when he sells seven Ku Klux Klan robes and other paraphernalia at his downtown business.

But the uniforms, knives, books and buttons are reminiscent of a past this small Michigan town would rather forget.

It's been 13 years since a notorious KKK leader who lived in the area died. But the auction has touched a nerve in a community that says it is a welcoming place to minorities, yet has very few living there.

"They want to make sure the image of Howell is not distorted," Gray, 51, said of community leaders opposed to the auction. "They're afraid it will be offensive to some people. But this is just a part of history we're selling."

Gray, a white man and owner of the Ole' Gray Nash Auction Gallery, says the auction is not about promoting racism. He says it's about education and business -- a potentially lucrative departure from his more standard auction fare of antiques, coins and books. None of those auctions, however, has stirred controversy like this one.

The NAACP branch in neighboring northern Oakland County, along with other civil rights groups in southeast Michigan, have blasted the auction as insensitive.

My wife and I travel over to Rosenberg, Texas from time to time. Shorty Yeaman and his lovely wife, Dianne, has a little auction house over there, and we pick up items for around the house. I've been there when he's sold Confederate banknotes, Nazi-related war relics, and even a Japanese battle flag (complete with bullet holes and blood). I have never thought anything of it, nor have I seen it as an endorsement of the ideologies that led to the creation of the items. If he were doing this auction, I'd probably even go over, just out of curiosity. I would seen no reason to object to it.

This auction was about racism's past. The folks who are concerned about it would do better to worry about the present and future.

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