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Can The Klan "Adopt-A-Highway"? Not In Georgia

This one probably isn't over yet. A local Georgia chapter of the Ku Klux Klan applied for permission to conduct regular trash clean ups along a state road, as part of the Adopt-A-Highway program. In exchange, Georgia usually posts a couple of small road signs honoring volunteers. This group's sign would read: IKK Realm of GA, Ku Klux Klan.

It would get your attention.

Citing that reason, Georgia transportation officials turned down the group's request, saying "encountering signage and members of the KKK along a roadway would create a definite distraction to motorists." The agency also said the highway wasn't available for adoption because it's not safe; the speed limit on that highway is 65 miles per hour. Volunteers can only work on highways where the top speed is 55 mph.

April Chambers applied for the volunteer work on behalf of the Klan group. She told Atlanta's WGCL-TV members only wanted to beautify the road. "We are not doing this for political gain, we are not doing this for recruitment. We love the white race. Why is that so hard for people to understand? But we don't hate anybody."

On its website, the International Keystone Knights of the KKK, Realm of Georgia, says members do not hate any other race.

"With that said it is important to understand that what we do hate is the INJUSTICE done by ALL Races. We don't believe in "Handouts" if you can afford $1500 rims for a $200 car than you can afford to buy your own food or pay your own rent! We stand up for the RIGHTS of the White Man".

There are guidelines to qualify for group membership. Applicants must be white Christians of non-Jewish descent; believe in the Constitution as originally written; and support racial segregation.

Despite their objectionable ideology, they might be able to protest the Georgia agency's decision in court. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center who tracks the activity of hate groups, says there've been similar cases in other courts and the Klan has won most of the lawsuits.

"You can't discriminate based on political views - it's unconstitutional," Potok notes. He observes that states worried about putting the name of hate groups on road signs could consider rewriting volunteer qualifications. For example, groups could participate in trash pickup only after they'd completed five years of documented charity work.

This could explain why Georgia also announced that it's not currently accepting any applicants for its Adopt-A-Highway program. Officials are reviewing the program's policies.

If the Georgia KKK group does join the program, members might consider a Missouri group's case. Potok says a Klan group joined the highway beautification project. Signs were put up announcing the KKK's work, but these were repeatedly stolen, possibly by Klan enemies or maybe for trophies. Missouri officials finally stopped replacing the signs.

The Missouri legislature saw this as an opportunity. Lawmakers named that section of roadway the Rosa Parks Highway, as the New York Times reports. When a different white supremacist group adopted another highway segment, Missouri lawmakers renamed that road for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian who escaped Nazi Germany for the U.S. where he became a civil rights activist.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.