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Editor's Note: This is the fourth part in a weeklong series examining racial issues and their history in Polk County. Those things happened in Polk County with regularity throughout the 20th century as the Ku Klux Klan operated nearly unfettered for more than years, with their last local public appearance in in front of Auburndale High School. According to history. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Nearly every southern state had a chapter by and its members terrorized Republican party members, who were working to establish equality for former slaves.
They instituted poll taxes, a fee charged to Blacks to vote, which many could not afford to pay, and they limited bank loans to Blacks to keep them oppressed. Sharecropping was also created during this time period. It wound up being an extension of slavery for most Southern Blacks or a type of perpetual indentured servitude for poor whites.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, ina white mob pulled four Black men accused of raping a white woman from jail in Macclenny, near Jacksonville, and lynched them. That same year in Ocoee, near Orlando, two Black residents tried to vote during an election.
Several history and media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, said a confrontation ensued and two white election officials were shot, after which a white mob destroyed Ocoee's Black community, causing as many as 30 deaths and destroying 25 homes, two churches and a Masonic Lodge.
In Decemberwhites burned a Black man, Charles Wright, at the stake and attacked the Black neighborhood of Perry after a white school teacher was murdered, the EJI reported.
The next day, whites shot and hanged two more Black men in Perry, then burned down the town's Black school, the Masonic Lodge, a church, amusement hall and several families' homes. According to newspaper s at the time, on Dec. According to a state investigation conducted in the s and s, the next week a white woman said she had been beaten by a Black drifter and the mainly Black town of Rosewood, near Cedar Key, was burned down and at least six Black people and two whites were killed — although some estimates put the of Black deaths closer to One eyewitness told investigators decades later that they remembered a plow brought from Cedar Key that covered 26 bodies.
Residents from the town hid for several days in nearby swamps until they were evacuated by train and car to larger towns.
No arrests were ever made for what happened in Rosewood and no one ever returned. In in Groveland, four Black men were arrested for the rape of a white woman. One man escaped, but was tracked down, shot and killed. A coroner's inquest was unable to determine who killed him, as he was shot some times.
A mob convened in Groveland and burned down several buildings. They were convicted and sentenced to death, but the U. Supreme Court overturned their convictions. He shot both prisoners, claiming self-defense. Shepherd died at the scene, but Irvin, whom McCall shot three times, survived. He was found guilty a second time and sentenced to death, but Gov. He was paroled in and died the next year while visiting Lake County.
No one was ever arrested. Inthen-Attorney General Charlie Crist reopened the case and in announced the names of four suspects, who were all dead.
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The KKK first appeared in Polk County in the s, when the Klan was gaining ground in various parts of the nation, not just the South. Shofner said when citrus workers began organizing activity in the early s, the Florida Klan, allegedly the largest in the nation at the time, suppressed it swiftly and fiercely. Six Tampa policemen and several Orlando Klansmen were eventually acquitted of all charges of murder and kidnapping. On Aug. Many of the residents were citrus pickers, railroad workers and phosphate miners.
Even more astounding was the fact that Black residents actually confronted the Klansmen as they marched along Dakota Avenue — now Martin Luther King Jr. By Dec. Historian Canter Brown Jr. The protest was successful and the schools were reopened.
A counter protest was held at St. In the s, as Civil Rights legislation from Washington took hold, and schools began to integrate white and Black students, and Jim Crow laws began to topple one by one, the Klan and white supremacists tried to take the law into their own hands.
Ina group of young Black people showed up at Auburndale's Lake Ariana Beach, an all-white swimming spot.
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Jimmy Earl, 18, was a standout football player at Auburndale High School and had been accepted by his white peers because of his talent as an athlete. He went into the water. A year-old white man carrying a shotgun told employees to clear white children off the beach. And then he shot Earl. And this man shot my classmate. On the last day of school at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland inabout 10 parents showed up to display their displeasure about their children having to attend class with Black students.
We had pennies thrown at us. Some of the teachers made sure we got on the school bus safely. About 10 of them dressed in their garb. I love police officers, but God knows I saw some black club sticks. In Marchthe Klan began a recruiting campaign in Polk County, calling for schools to return to segregation and pointed to several incidents at Lake Wales schools — two violent — as a reason. Not long after that incident, two students — one white, one Black — got into a fistfight, which turned into a simmering feud.
The Black young man hit the white student in the head with a piece of wood, sending the white student to the hospital and the Black student to jail. The Black students held another walkout, while parents took their children out of school for a few days for fear of a race war.
Polk was hotbed for the ku klux klan for more than years; last kkk appearance in
At the middle school, a Black female was suspended and arrested for kicking her female teacher. We must return to a segregated school system. Rogers lost his job at a barbershop after a newspaper article named him as the state's Klan leader. InRogers was invited to speak at a parents meeting at Tigertown to discuss integration. Rogers encouraged about parents to file a petition to keep their children from being bused. No Black parents attended the meeting. In Octoberabout 30 robed Klansmen held a rally in Highland City, attended by other people in street clothes in a large field off U.
Speakers included national Klan leaders, who promoted Alabama Gov. He called for a counter revolution. As the country geared up for the presidential election, Rogers said the Klan would become a political force, endorsing candidates who believed in their ideology.
And some candidates, he said, were secret Klansmen. Highway 27, south of Lake Wales. Rogers and Shelton appeared together at a public rally in Orlando along State Road 50, with Shelton predicting a revolution in the U. He talked about the violent confrontations over busing as Boston public schools integrated. But there were reports that the Klan was involved in that violence. About 20 of the robed and hooded but not masked men also appeared at what was then known as Searstown and the old Lakeland Mall on Memorial Boulevard.
A young woman with him said she was from South Carolina. In andmore Klan rallies and cross burnings occurred in Lakeland and Lake Wales. One in was held on private property about one mile south of the U. At the rally, he talked about the problems of inflation, government regulation, moral decay, minority hiring and crime in the streets, but then veered into racial hatred.
He referred to race riots in the late s following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In return, the Klan burned a cross in a primarily Black cemetery. Two men and three juveniles were arrested on charges of burning a cross in public. Two months later, the Klan held recruitment rallies in Fort Meade.
At least two were spotted near Plant City and two men were arrested there. The burning crosses were anywhere from 3 to 6 feet high.
Kenneth Stephens, a military veteran, pastor and Southeastern University professor, said he remembered seeing the crosses that night. In Julya 9-foot by 4-foot cross was burned at Lake Parker Luxury Apartments, possibly because a white woman had several friends over for the evening, some of whom were Black.
We are the United Klans of America.