Several weeks ago, a Florida story broke in the Associated Press about an investigative report linking several police officers with the city police department of Fruitland Park to membership in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The town is one of the bedroom communities in Orlando’s constellation, about fifty miles northwest of the city, with a population of about 5,000. The story, written by Mark Schneider, describes the disbelief of the city’s mayor and other locals that such a thing could have occurred in their own community although the town had some history of racial violence against blacks dating back more than a half-century. The community is now quite different from when it was mostly rural and the orange trees outnumbered the residents, writes Schneider. Most residents of the community might reasonably assume the town has grown up and out of the old prejudices staining its earlier history, thus the legitimacy of their surprise.
The town is similar to hundreds of small communities throughout Florida that have been transformed by change, losing some of their long term memory because of the influx of thousands of well-heeled transplants from elsewhere that know little about the history of the places where they now live. Thus, according to the article, area residents “reacted not only with shock, but disgust that officers could be involved with the Klan…” Their reaction was genuine and legitimate but I still wondered why the revelations of the Klan in the bosom of their community were such a surprise. It has not been all that long ago that the Klan was highly fashionable in Florida and the South; and the cracker mentality that drove its membership is still very much with us.