The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor brought the issue of killings of unarmed Black people into our national consciousness.
It’s been happening for years though — and not just in “other” places.
In 1981, a Meriden, Connecticut policeman shot and killed a Black man suspected of shoplifting. Several dozen Ku Klux Klan members demonstrated at City Hall in support of the officer. A far larger crowd protested the KKK.
But the men in robes — representing a faction called the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — did not remain only in central Connecticut.
A year later, Chandra Niles Folsom was enjoying lunch at Soup’s On in Westport. The Staples High School graduate — a photojournalist who has been published internationally — looked up and saw several men with pointed hoods parading past on Main Street.
Oh my God! she thought. The KKK has come to Westport.
She grabbed her camera, and watched the group turn the corner to Parker Harding Plaza. She headed there the other way, to make sure she faced them as they marched by.
Outside Town Squire restaurant, they came toward her. They wore their intimidating white robes and hoods. But their faces were unmasked.
Chandra asked what they were doing. They strode silently past.
She was sure this was a big deal: The KKK was in town. No other journalists were there.
But, Chandra says, no newspapers or magazines wanted her photos.
In fact, one editor — someone she frequently wrote “society pages” for — said that if she published such a “controversial subject,” she’d be fired.
It took 20 years for Chandra’s photos to see the light of day. They eventually became part of a story she wrote called “Civil Rights and Wrongs,” with a Westport focus.
Her editor had to fight for its inclusion; the publisher said “nobody wants to see this at their cocktail parties.” The story ran — but Chandra says that’s the last time she was asked to write for them.
Chandra was happy to see the turnout for Westport’s recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“Everyone is talking now,” she says.
Unlike nearly 30 years ago, when the KKK marched in Westport.
And no one wanted to notice.
(For more history of the Ku Klux Klan in Connecticut, click here.)