Ehrlich reminds me of someone

July 13, 1996|By Harold Jackson

THE FIRST ADMITTED member of the Ku Klux Klan I ever met was Don Black. Bob Ehrlich has been saying some things that remind me of him. No, I don't think the conservative Maryland congressman is a Klansman or even a closet racist. But he should be more careful about the image he projects.

Black -- which is a hell of a name for an Alabama Klansman -- looked nothing like your stereotype. This was back in the mid-70s. He was young, good-looking, carefully groomed, articulate and cordial. A dental technician by trade, he always wore a suit and tie.

As a cub reporter in Birmingham, I interviewed Black when he and a group of malcontents were protesting something innocuous like a curriculum change in city schools. It was a way for Black to get before TV cameras and be a poster boy for the new, improved Klan. ''We don't lynch, we lunch.''

Yes, Black was a forerunner of David Duke and the whole National Association for the Advancement of White People idea. You remember, the guys who said they didn't dislike African Americans, they just loved white Americans more; so much so that they wanted the United States reserved for Caucasians.

Mr. Duke became so adept with this type of spiel that by substituting a code word here and there for what he really meant he sounded just like a conservative Republican. That being the case, he decided to run for the Louisiana legislator as one -- and won.

Subsequent campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate failed when an embarrassed national GOP campaigned against him. But he's running again as a Republican for the Senate seat being vacated this year by retiring Democrat J. Bennett Johnson.

A bit of a scrape

Were Don Black still active, he probably would be involved in Republican politics, too. But he got into a bit of a scrape in 1980. He and some other Klansmen were caught in a plot to take over the island nation of Dominica. They claimed they were duped into thinking they were going to fight communism. After being sent to prison for violating the Neutrality Act, Black faded into oblivion.

Which brings me back to Mr. Ehrlich, who is young, good-looking, carefully groomed, articulate, cordial and is most often seen wearing a suit and tie. Black would be proud of the way the 2nd District congressman has criticized the settlement of an ACLU lawsuit that seeks to disperse some of Baltimore's poor to the suburbs.

Mr. Ehrlich complains that this is not a racial issue, but it was he who repeatedly couched the settlement in those terms in an April 25 letter printed in The Sun; at one point saying he believes the agreement suggests ''that the only way to improve the lives of black Americans is to ship them off to live in white neighborhoods.''

Don Black would have loved Mr. Ehrlich's visit to mostly white Dundalk last month to stir up opposition to the settlement. It didn't matter to the congressman that the terms of the agreement will bring few if any participants in the plan to Dundalk, which already has more than its share of poor people. He pushed the right buttons to heighten fears.

In his zeal to bolster his position among one of the most conservative constituencies in the state, Mr. Ehrlich has been sounding an awful lot like a David Duke or Don Black. He may not mean any harm to black people, but by indirectly associating himself with the rhetoric of people who do he gives them an aura of legitimacy.

That aura is why Mr. Duke is running for Senate again. He doesn't think he sounds any different from the Bob Ehrlichs of the Republican Party. Mr. Ehrlich has made it easier for racists to convince themselves they're like everyone else. That's damage the congressman must undo.

=1 Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

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