A private — and likely first — meeting between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Ku Klux Klan in a small Casper hotel meeting room on Saturday night grabbed the world’s attention.
The Star-Tribune exclusively broke the story of the meeting Monday, telling the tale of how leaders of the Casper branch of the NAACP arranged a meeting with John Abarr, an organizer in Great Falls, Mont., for the United Klans of America.
Media reaction to the meeting varied widely. Some media outlets painted the meeting as a historic but awkward encounter — believed to be a first.
Others presented it as a useless publicity stunt, including James Braxton Peterson, the director of Africana Studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, in a column for MSNBC’s The Grio.
This "historic" meeting between two diametrically opposed groups came about after a recent rise of hate crimes towards black Americans and the distribution of Ku Klux Klan recruitment flyers in Casper and surrounding areas.
So, what exactly did both sides get out of the meeting?
“The meeting itself produced little more than the spate of national and local news reports that covered it,” he wrote.
But Jimmie Simmons, Casper branch president of the NAACP, justified the meeting to The Associated Press.
“It’s about opening dialogue with a group that claims they’re trying to reform themselves from violence,” he said. “They’re trying to shed that violent skin, but it seems like they’re just changing the packaging.”
In other words, nothing but headlines.
Sadly, the meeting also brought out the internecine slap-fights that often go on between NAACP leaders:
Lytle said she earlier told NAACP Casper Branch President Jimmy Simmons to not arrange the meeting.
“In fact, I did not give it it a green light when it was proposed,” she said when contacted by telephone Tuesday.
“The appropriate chain of command would have started with my approval,” she added.
Simmons indicated to the Star-Tribune on Saturday that he had faced some opposition from within his organization regarding the meeting, but had gotten something of an OK as long as long he hosted the meeting in Casper.
On Tuesday, Simmons was even more adamant that he had the right to arrange the meeting and didn’t have to get permission.
“That’s not how it works. I’ve been a branch president for 13 years; I have never asked for permission to give an event,” he said.
Simmons said he notified Lytle in June of his intent to meet with the KKK.
“I gave her a heads-up the meeting was going to happen,” he said. “If she thinks I was asking for permission, I wasn’t.”
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Lytle and Simmons hadn’t talked since Lytle heard about the meeting.
Personally, I can't exactly fathom why Simmons would give the go-ahead for this meeting unless he genuinely believed that dialogue would bring the klansmen and similar ilk to their senses. Either that or grabbing the headlines for being the first to bring the NAACP and KKK to the table together, similar to how Malcolm X, under directions from Elijah Muhammad, met with Ku Klux Klan officials back in early 1961 or how a similar gathering of Nation of Islam, American Nazi Party and KKK members played out during that summer.
Whatever Simmons attempted to accomplish here didn't pan out, at least as far as yours truly and others can see. As Southern Poverty Law Center senior fellow Mark Potok put it:
“I think it’s outrageous and counterproductive,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, to The Associated Press, referring to the meeting. “It gives legitimacy to the Klan as an organization you can talk to.”
Trying to put a reasonable face on a group devoted to cultivating racially-motivated hatred, whether it be non-violent or otherwise, is doing a disservice to not only those most affected by hate crimes and racial animosity, but also the nation at large.