Confronting the Klan in Jasper

Revolutionary Worker #964, July 5, 1998

On June 6, three white racists brutally tortured and murdered James Byrd, Jr. in the small rural town of Jasper, Texas. They killed him because he was a Black man.

Outrage gripped millions of people--and the authorities, from the White House on down, rushed to claim that this lynching was an isolated incident, that such horrors have no place and no support in Jasper or anywhere else in modern America.

But this is a lie--that was quickly shredded for all to see: there they were, three weeks later on June 27, the hooded white racists of the Ku Klux Klan marching out of the Jasper courthouse, protected by rows of armed police and FBI agents! Those authorities had given an official permit and a public forum to the Klan to proclaim the murderous cause of white supremacy.

Everybody knows that these white hoods stand for the murder of Black people. And now everyone can see how they receive support and protection from those with official power in this society.


James Byrd was hitchhiking home from his niece's bridal shower that Saturday night on June 6. He was 49, the father of three children--a man disabled by a work-related injury, who everyone remembers fondly.

He was picked up on that lonely country road by three white racists--men who had hooked up with one of the Klan organizations in prison and who were now out looking for a Black man to kill. They beat James unconscious, and sprayed him with black paint. They tied up his ankles in chains and attached the chains to the back of their pickup truck. They dragged James for three miles, leaving his head, neck and right arm scattered along the way. They cut his torso loose in front of a Black cemetery. And they left behind beer cans and a Klan cigarette lighter. His body was so mutilated that he could only be identified by his fingerprints.

Then, quickly, after the news of this murder spread, the Klan announced that they would march in Jasper. Their intention was to seize this moment and the attention of the television cameras to promote their hateful program of murderous white racism.

Such events simply could not be allowed to go down unopposed. People mobilized to confront the Klan in Jasper and to make it crystal clear that today, at the end of the 20th century, the lynch mobs will be met, face to face, by militant and fearless opposition.


"In the face of all the 'racially motivated violence' being brought down, what is needed is not hypocritical--or even well-intentioned--calls for 'peace and reconciliation.' Talk about 'changing racial attitudes,' without focusing on white supremacy and fighting against it, is useless--or worse than useless. What is needed is to draw a hard line against white supremacy and to wage a bold, massive, non-stop and uncompromising struggle against this white supremacy and the system that upholds it."

Bob Avakian,
Chairman of the
Revolutionary Communist Party

Plans were quickly announced to confront the Klansmen. And on June 27, people gathered from across the U.S. to stand together in Jasper. There were members of the New Black Panther Party in Dallas and the Black Muslim group MFOI (Mental Freedom Obtains Independence) from Houston. They were joined by a contingent of RCP supporters led by Mary Lou Greenberg and by members of Anti-Racist Action (ARA) from Texas. Mary Lou Greenberg told the RW that the anti-Klan crowd numbered about 200 people, and that most of them were residents of Jasper. Most were Black, some were white and the majority of the crowd were women.

There was a tense confrontation in front of the courthouse as protesters repeatedly tried to get through the lines of police defending the Klan. Ending their rally early, the Klan retreated back into the Jasper courthouse. Their cars were rocked and pounded as they tried to escape out the back. Two anti-Klan protesters were arrested.

Charging Activists with Being
"Outside Extremists"

While people organized to confront the Klan in Jasper, the media carried out a truly shameful campaign to slander and isolate those who were mobilizing to face the Klan. In countless press accounts, the anti-Klan forces were portrayed as "unwanted outsiders"--and they were described as "extremists" and "publicity seeking opportunists" who were no better than the Klan! The media tried to say that the people of Jasper did not consider white racism a problem in their town and that they just wanted to be left alone to return to normal.

Does the national media think that the people don't recognize this talk about "unwanted outsiders"? Do they think people have forgotten the crude segregationists like Sheriff Bull Connor who called the courageous civil rights workers of the '60s "outside agitators and troublemakers"? In those days too, "prominent citizens" insisted that Black people in their towns had no problems with the way things were and that no one wanted to have things "stirred up."

The reality is that it is necessary to militantly stand up against murderous racist attacks on Black people. The killing of James Byrd is not a local issue. It was a message intended for every Black person in the U.S. And people everywhere felt it....hard. So it is the duty of all people in Jasper (and everywhere else) who say they are against racism to step out--and act on their beliefs, publicly and forcefully. Everyone needs to take a stand. And coming to Jasper on June 27 was an excellent way to do that.

Even if not a single person in Jasper supported fighting the Klan--it would still be necessary and important. But in fact, the media was lying when they said that everyone in Jasper was afraid of people marching against the Klan. Over and over again, people in Jasper told Mary Lou Greenberg that they were thrilled that people had come to stand with them against lynching and white racism. Many were angry that town officials had told them to "get out of town" that day. They described how white racists in the Jasper area routinely refer to Black people as "n*gger." They described how Black people have been fired for complaining about discrimination on the job. And they told about many racist beatings and murders that have taken place throughout East Texas.

The march in Jasper against the Klan was an important statement against the outrageous mistreatment of Black people in the U.S. today. And it was clear that the system, the authorities and the media did not want it to take place.

Time's up! No peace for racists!

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