BOGALUSA, La. — Hattie Dillon got a first-hand taste of the racial hatred that gripped this city in the 1960s when a metal bolt flung by someone in an angry crowd gashed her head as she marched for civil rights.
On Wednesday, sitting on her front porch just off Main Street, the 61-year-old said Bogalusa is better now. But the bloody legacy of racial violence and brazen Ku Klux Klan activity in the area remains — evidenced by the arrest of eight local people in the death of an Oklahoma woman shot when a weekend Klan initiation went awry.
"History was made this month," Dillon said, referring to Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president. "Then our eyes opened again."
Bogalusa, a logging town dominated by a huge paper mill about 60 miles north of New Orleans, is the largest city in Washington Parish, which, like the whole state, was won by John McCain, not Obama last week.
Shot in the piney woods
Sunday's killing was in St. Tammany Parish, just across the Washington Parish line and all the suspects are from Washington Parish. Cynthia C. Lynch, 43, of Tulsa, Okla., was shot in an area of vast piney woods, farms and bedroom communities separated from New Orleans by Lake Pontchartrain.
More than 40 years earlier, Washington Parish was beset by anti-desegregation violence. In 1965, Oneal Moore, the parish's first black sheriff's deputy, was slain in an ambush, a crime that has not been solved.
"In 1965, the Klan ran Bogalusa, and so it's not at all surprising to see the legacy of that organization re-emerge in the form of a new generation of Klan advocates," said Lance Hill, executive director of Tulane University's Southern Institute for Education and Research.
In this week's shooting, St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain said the woman was lured over the Internet to participate in the KKK ritual and then was to return to Oklahoma to recruit members. Strain said the group's leader, Raymond "Chuck" Foster, 44, shot and killed her after a fight broke out when she asked to be taken back to the town of Slidell.
Foster faces a second-degree murder charge and was being held without bond. Seven others — five men and two women ages 20 to 30 — were charged with obstruction of justice and were held on $500,000 bond at the St. Tammany Parish Jail.
Poor race relations
For Louisiana, the killing furthered its image of poor race relations that didn't end in the civil rights era.
In the 1990s, former Klan leader David Duke was in such a tight gubernatorial race against incumbent Edwin Edwards that opponents, fearful business would shun the state if Duke was in the governor's mansion, crafted a bumper sticker stating "Vote for the Crook, It's Important." Edwards, whose scandalous reputation inspired the slogan, won re-election, though he was later jailed in a gambling payoff scandal.
As many as 20,000 marched in September 2007 in the north Louisiana town of Jena in defense of six black teenagers accused of attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate. The march attracted national leaders and was hailed as reviving the national consciousness on civil rights.
And since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans black leaders have complained that blacks have not been treated fairly under federal recovery policies.
The Dixie Brotherhood
In this week's killing at a campsite, investigators found weapons, Confederate flags and six Klan robes, some emblazoned with patches reading "KKK LIFE MEMBER" or "KKK SECURITY Enforcement."
Authorities said the group's members called themselves the Dixie Brotherhood.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which investigates and collects information on hate groups, wasn't familiar with the group, although he said a KKK band known as the Dixie Rangers is believed to operate in Walker.
Walker is in Livingston Parish, west of Washington and St. Tammany and another one-time Klan hotbed. Seven Klan chapters of "various stripes" are in Louisiana, Potok said.
Potok said while hate groups have grown over the past several years — coinciding with discontent over illegal immigration — Klan factions are not solidly organized in Louisiana or nationwide. He said 34 different named Klan organizations with 155 chapters operate across the country with as many as 6,000 members — small numbers in his estimation.
"Really, it's a pathetic collection of losers and thugs," Potok said. "Even across the radical right most people look down their nose at the Klan these days."
Felton Adams, a white, 60-year-old retired boat captain and lifelong Bogalusa resident who acknowledges the 1960s racial strife, believes the weekend ritual was an aberration carried out by "wannabe Klansmen."
"These people were just trying to be something they're not," said Adams.
On Wednesday in Bogalusa, public officials promised to fight any perception Louisiana is sliding on race relations.
"It's a setback, not only for my community, but for the whole area and it's something I'm not going to tolerate," said Bogalusa Mayor James "Mack" McGehee, who is white.
State Rep. Harold Ritchie, who represents the Washington Parish seat of Franklinton, said he has spoken with authorities and wants to be sure the Klan group is no bigger than the "eight crazies" who were arrested.
"I thought we were long past that," said Ritchie, who is white. "I hoped all I would have to do is read about this sort of thing in the history books."
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