Heil Highway: Knighthawk, left, April Hanson and her husband, Harley,… (Curtis Compton / Associated…)
Was that janitor wearing a hood?
Because nothing says "white supremacy" like picking up litter, a Ku Klux Klan group in Georgia has applied to adopt a one-mile stretch of highway through the Appalachian Mountains. That creates a quandary for that state's Department of Transportation, which is reportedly meeting with officials from the attorney general's office to decide what to do. Past experience suggests only one outcome: The Klan will get to adopt its highway. Rancor and vandalism will infect that stretch of road like the stink from a flattened skunk, and the International Keystone Knights (that's Knights, not Kops) of the KKK will achieve its 15 minutes of fame -- meaning it will have accomplished everything it set out to do.
Oh, and the road might stay tidy for a while.
This isn't the first time obnoxious organizations have used the national Adopt-a-Highway program to promote themselves, a scenario that tends to achieve the desired publicity for the group while infuriating everybody else. Perhaps the originator of this strategy was a KKK group in Missouri, which battled for years over its efforts to adopt a stretch of the I-55 in St. Louis. The state rejected its application in 1994, but after losing a court battle the state finally erected a sign crediting the KKK five years later (groups that agree to keep a mile of highway clear of litter, meaning they have to clean it at least four times a year, are credited with a sign by the side of the roadway under the Adopt-a-Highway program). The sign was cut down that same night. The state put up another sign, which was cut down again. The sign was never replaced, and in an attempt to soothe hurt feelings the state legislature put up a sign designating that stretch the Rosa Parks Highway, in honor of the civil rights pioneer. But the fuss didn't end there.
In 2001, the KKK members were dumped from the state program because they stopped picking up the trash, perhaps because they couldn't find any dark-skinned people to do the dirty work for them. Attempting to prevent a similar fiasco, the program's eligibility requirements were amended to prevent applicants with a "history of violence" from participating. A separate Klan group challenged that provision and won, both at the District Court and Appeals Court levels. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case, establishing the precedent that people and organizations have a 1st Amendment right to adopt a highway and get credit for doing so, no matter how repellent their political beliefs.
Others have followed this path, including a neo-Nazi group that adopted a highway in Springfield, Mo., in 2009. And the Georgia KKK group will almost certainly succeed, unless officials can contrive some reason to reject it other than the group's racist ideology. For a preview of the bad feelings to come, take another look at St. Louis. In January, nearly 20 years after the Adopt-a-Highway fracas on I-55 started, the Rosa Parks sign was defaced and had to be taken down and replaced. Someone had spray-painted "KKK" on it.
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