PERRY/Klan forced sin confrontation
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 1:00 AM
This week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church by a cell of the Ku Klux Klan, killing four young girls. Similar racially motivated attacks set on suppressing the civil rights movement earned the Alabama city the nickname "Bombingham." But Mississippi had its share of explosive attacks and murders in towns like Laurel, McComb, Philadelphia, Meridian and Jackson. And like Birmingham, the Klan targeted houses of worship in Mississippi.
Jack Nelson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for The Los Angeles Times writes about a Klan cell directed by Sam Bowers engaged in bombing synagogues in Jackson and Meridian, as well as the home of a Jackson rabbi. When I first read his 1993 book, "Terror in the Night: The Klan's Campaign Against the Jews," a few years ago, I discovered among the many crimes ordered by Bowers or his crew was the bombing of a home just a few blocks down the street from my own house in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson in 1967.
Nelson writes of the target, "A layman engaged in religious work with poor people in Jackson, Robert Kochtitzky was active in civil rights. He had worked with Nussbaum and Reverend Johnson on the Committee of Concern. He had urged his minister, Reverend Warren Hamby of the Galloway Memorial Methodist Church, to speak out against racial violence. And he had been credited in news accounts with originating the idea of the "walk of penance" after the Temple Beth Israel bombing. His wife, Kay, worked with Ken Dean at the Council on Human Relations. The Kochtitzkys had occasionally had blacks as houseguests. There had also been a report, unfounded but widely disseminated in a White Citizens Council publication, that the Kochtitzky house on Poplar Street had been the site of a meeting between Stokely Carmichael, the civil rights leader, and Robert Kennedy when Kennedy was attorney general of the United States. In hindsight, Kochtitzky also concluded that because of his name the Klan may have concluded, mistakenly, that he was Jewish. On the night of November 19, Kochtitzky and Reverend John Adams, a Methodist minister from Washington who was staying with him, returned home after a meeting and sat in the living room talking until about 11:00 P.M. Mrs. Kochtitzky and her six-month-old son were also in the house. Minutes after the two men went to bed, a powerful bomb exploded on the front porch of the two-story house. It tore away the porch, ripped through the front wall, shredded the couch on which they had been sitting. The blast shattered windows in the baby's room, showering his crib with shards of glass; miraculously, the child was unhurt, as were the three adults."
As the Kochtitzky family picked through the damage that Sunday morning, their pastor, the Rev. Warren C. Hamby, senior minister of Galloway Memorial Methodist Church visited them. The bomb shattered more than that house, it ripped away Hamby's reluctance to take a vocal and active stand. Later that day he addressed the situation from the pulpit and his message was printed in the Clarion Ledger two days later.
Hamby said, "The act was perpetrated by paranoiac cowards who would by their dastardly deeds of violence keep alive the fear that has spawned their breed and offered them not only silence and sanctuary for their deeds but a mandate to continue them under the illusion of public approbation. Let us not, however, draw a small circle of guilt, for we are all indicted. The so called decent and responsible people of our city, state and section are the Sauls at whose feet lie the clothes of the whole affair. Upon our consciences the whole matter must rest. ..Who is to blame? Every pulpit where justice and mercy and goodwill have not been enough proclaimed; every alleged Christian who has thought more of his or her prejudices than of seeking the will of God and the spirit of Jesus Christ in attitude and behavior; every newspaper that has defended indefensible positions and voiced its own prejudices; the responsible elected officials of city and state who have been more concerned with expediency than integrity- here, my friends, is the accumulated and collective guilt that is ours."
That message ran in Tuesday's paper, and that night, the bombers struck again, destroying much of Rabbi Dr. Perry Nussbaum's home on Old Canton Road in Jackson.
In its campaign to deny equality and freedom to black Americans, the Klan increasingly turned to violence, which -whether in Birmingham or Jackson - only emboldened civil rights workers and forced the silent majority of whites to confront sin and choose a side. Nelson's book includes stories of strength and redemption, and reminds us the fight for freedom has not only been oceans away, but also in our own neighborhoods.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.