Tag Archives: Ku Klux Klan

The Day The KKK Came To Westport

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.

The KKK in 1982, at Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo copyright/Chandra Niles Folsom)

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.

Chandra Niles Folsom

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.)

Chandra Niles Folsom, at a Westport Black Lives Matter rally.

Memories Of Manny

Longtime Westport activist and civil rights advocate Manny Margolis was memorialized last weekend, in a service at the Westport Library.

After many touching tributes from family members, friends and admirers, his wife Estelle spoke eloquently and lovingly.

Three of her stories stand out.

Manny Margolis worked all his life in the law to protect the basic rights guaranteed to us in our constitution.

Manny Margolis

He took the case of a college student (from Westport) named Timothy Breen, who gave his draft card to Reverend William Sloane Coffin at an anti-war rally during the Vietnam war.  Tim had a student deferment, but was immediately reclassified 1-A and told to report to the draft board in Bridgeport for induction into the Army. Manny won his case on the basis of the right of free speech.

A homeless man was arrested for murder in his “home” under the I-95 abutment in New Haven.  His clothes were neatly wrapped in a couple of plastic bags.  The police went through his bags without a warrant.  Manny won his case on the basis of the right to privacy in his “home.”

In the spring of 1982 the Ku Klux Klan applied for a permit to march and rally in Meriden, Connecticut.  They were denied.  Manny fought for their rights of political speech, and they won the permit.  Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson wrote Manny a wonderful letter that said in part:

I would like to thank you for the many hours of hard work on our behalf.  Knowing that you almost certainly disagree with my beliefs, makes me even more humble in my thanks.  I must admit, I have never had the concern or the rights of those who oppose me that you obviously possess, but you may rest assured that I have been feeling more and more sympathy for them …..my association with you has made me even more aware of the importance of allowing everyone free speech.  Your dedication to your principles has truly touched me deeply.

I am not merely writing words on paper in writing this letter.  It is coming from deep within me.  I know that I will probably die a strong segregationist and anti-communist, but I have no hatred for any individual human being.

Wilkinson called Manny shortly after that letter arrived and said:  “I didn’t know you were Jewish when you were defending us in Court!  I am going to present a motion to the Board to allow Jews to join our organization!”

Estelle did not mention whether Wilkinson ever followed through.  But it’s a story that Manny Margolis’ many, many admirers — everywhere on the political spectrum — could relish.