Sunday, April 11, 2010

When white supremacy meets a charcoal grill

The memories from Ceres are flooding back. How could I forget the Klan barbecue?

Toward the end of my year in Ceres, I heard that a local Klan "leader" named Billy Albers was planning a Klan rally and cross burning in town. Now, I want to say straight out the people of Ceres were wonderful. They generally were not racist and very welcoming. But for reasons I can't recall the Klan built a bridgehead there and held a huge rally there in 1981 that was featured in a KQED documentary called "Bad Moon Rising," produced by Stephen Talbot.

Anyway, Albers lived in a trailer north of town and decided to have another rally in 1983. I drove out to the trailer and got the poop and a lecture on why America needs to be rid of anybody who wasn't white. Just to poke the cage I said, "So Jews are OK?" He said, "No, I said WHITE."

I wrote the article saying the Klan was planning another rally, and Mayor Brian Carlin was livid. He was the town plumber and had a shop two doors down from the Courier. He stormed into my office still wearing his work shirt with "Brian" sewn onto a patch and read me the riot act for giving pub to the Klan in his town.

But I explained it was news and had to cover it, just as I had to cover the big rally on March 5 at Whitmore Park.

The day came and it was wet. Now, here I must interject how when you are 22 years old you do not understand irony. The story I wrote for the March 9 Courier was one of the funniest I ever created -- and I had no idea.

Turns out nine hooded Klansmen showed up. They put out a spread of chicken and potato salad and such, and it looked like any other Saturday picnic except that it was raining and all the picnickers were wearing sheets and hoods. I remember snapping some photos when one of the supremacists approached me and said, "Do you have permission to take pictures?"

"I don't need permission," I responded. "This is a public park."

He looked me over for a moment then said, "All right, then," and returned to his chicken.

Here are some of the excerpts from my story. Again, remember. I was writing with solemn sincerity.

After eating a barbecue chicken lunch and spending about 90 quiet minutes in the park, the Klan members left...

...Albers blamed several weekends of rain for the (earlier) postponements, and said poor weather kept Saturday's rally small.

"Our guys from Clear Lake got muddied in and the guys from Washington didn't show up," Albers said.

Albers added the low attendance was one reason for canceling the cross burning. Another, he said, was the possible legal implications.

The picture was the best part. I don't know what possessed me to keep this, but here, without any comment needed, is the photo I shot of the big nasty Ku Klux Klan in Whitmore Park, Ceres, California, on March 5, 1983, along with the story:

Pass the mustard and some hate, OK?

Weeks later, I moved to the San Ramon Valley Herald, and Ceres became a memory.


  1. 1) Did you pass Richard Pryor on the way to the rally?
    2) Was the fried chicken only white meat?

  2. lol -- lower case. is there a col [chuckle out loud]?

  3. Can't believe you used to live in Ceres, as a former Modestan(?) I can safely say that Modesto wasn't any better, but come on Henry....Ceres........

  4. This is funny. I believe that most of these guys do it for attention they receive, which they love because otherwise life in the trailer park would be really boring.

  5. I moved to Ceres in June of 1983 and when the first Ceres Courier landed in my driveway, I eagerly picked up the weekly paper only to read the headline, "Hummingbird Builds Nest in Local's Tree!"....complete with photo.
    I wondered what in the heck I was doing here after moving from Pacific Heights in SF...and in earlier years growing up reading the Los Angeles Times.

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  9. And to think, I seriously thought about buying a house there

  10. The true KKK is almost dead in this country. Ignore them and the few remaining will be a distant memory.