UPDATE: 7:02 P.M. EST
ATLANTA — The Georgia Department of Transportation has declined to accept a Ku Klux Klan group’s application to join the state’s “Adopt-A-Highway” program.
The International Keystone Knights of the KKK in Union County applied last month to adopt part of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains. In a statement Tuesday, the agency says “promoting an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern” and could “have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life” of people in the county and state.
Organizers said they wanted to preserve the area’s scenic beauty, but critics balked at the move as an offensive publicity stunt.
The state’s program enlists volunteers from groups and companies to pick up trash, and volunteers are recognized with a sign along the road they adopt.
ATLANTA — A Ku Klux Klan group is trying to join Georgia’s “Adopt-A-Highway” program to clean up litter on a mile-long stretch of road, creating a quandary for state officials hesitant to acknowledge a group with a violent, racist past on a roadside sign.
The International Keystone Knights of the KKK applied last month to adopt part of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains. The Georgia Department of Transportation is meeting with lawyers from the state Attorney General’s Office on Monday to decide how to proceed.
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The program enlists volunteers from groups and companies to pick up trash. Each group that volunteers is named on a sign along the road it adopts.
April Chambers, the KKK group’s secretary, said she applied for the program to keep the scenic highway beautiful, not for publicity.
“I live in the mountains and I want to keep them beautiful,” Chambers said, adding that tourists frequently litter along the road as they pass through. “We didn’t intend on this being big. I don’t know why anybody’s offended by it.”
State Rep. Tyrone Brooks said he welcomes the opportunity to educate Chambers and the group about the Klan’s legacy of violence and racism – which he experienced first-hand as a civil rights activist in the fight to end segregation in the South.
“I’d like to sit down with this young lady and say, `Your organization tried to kill me,’” Brooks said Monday, adding that he finds even the notion of a highway sign identifying the Ku Klux Klan as a civic group “insulting and insane.”
Brooks, who is president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, said the group will pursue legal action should the KKK’s application be approved.
“If the state would allow them to plant their name on one of its public highways in the home of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter, we would have to fight it with all of the resources at our disposal,” Brooks said. “If we lose, we would ask the state to abolish the program. It’s not worth it.”
Ed Martin, who moved to Union County from Tennessee seven years ago, said the community is the only place he has ever felt at home – until now. Martin said littering is not a problem in the area. He said the only trash on the highway would be a sign promoting a Klan group, something he doesn’t want to have to drive by every day.
He said the sign would be a divisive symbol in the community.