Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How did a picture from Ann Arbor's 1998 anti-Klan protest become a logo for anti-racist punks in Germany?

The front page of the May 10, 1998 Detroit News and Free Press. Note Tom Pidgeon's photograph on the right. It shows 18 year old Ann Arbor resident, Harlon Jones, kicking an unnamed white supremacist. Photo courtesy AADL's Old News program. 
On May 9th, 1998, Jeffery Berry, founder and imperial wizard of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, led a rally at Ann Arbor City Hall. Berry brought 37 members of his DeKalb County, Indiana, KKK chapter to Ann Arbor with him. The 1998 visit was a fulfillment of Berry's promise after his 1996 rally, which had resulted in protesters clashing with police protecting the Klan: in his own words, Berry had vowed to return and return they did.
The 1996 rally saw anti-Klan protesters clashing with police and scuffling with Klan supporters. The most notable photograph of the day depicts 18-year-old Keshia Thomas, an African-American woman, using her body to protect a man with SS tattoos from an angry mob. As the time of the 1998 Klan rally neared, tensions were running high in Ann Arbor. The city erected barriers around City Hall, where Klan members would be speaking, and brought in reinforcements from other departments. There was also a volunteer Peace Team, who were there to protect the fence around City Hall. The anti-Klan protesters, headed by Anti-Racist Action, the Revolutionary Workers’ League, and the National Women’s Rights Organizing Committee,were also well organized.
Pidgeon's picture of Jones, enlarged an in color (left). The Good Night White Pride Logo (right), which originated in the German Hardcore and Oi! scenes.  

I should say at this point, that this article will not answer the question I pose in the headline. Much of the information about the Good Night White Pride (German Link) logo as well as Harlon Jones, the young man kicking the white supremacist come from two articles on the Tumblr Antifa International. Antifa International has an article dissecting the history of the image, as well as an interview with Jones. Neither of theses articles explain how the image of Jones crossed the Atlantic and made its way to anti-racist elements in the German Hardcore and Oi! scenes. According to the interview, Jones was part of a large group of protesters who first rallied at the Union before marching to City Hall. There they encountered riot police and the Peace Team guarding the fence. After milling around a bit some in the crown began to head off in a different direction. From the interview:
Jones: Then all of a sudden, I saw people running in the other direction, so I ran that way and there’s like five people chasing the guy you see in the picture, his friend, and one of their girlfriends. One of them had been approached and asked if they were KKK and he said yes. So we were kinda chasing them and the smaller guy and his girl got away but the other, bigger guy - it just felt like everybody backed up for one millisecond and I just came in and kicked him.
And I’ll never forget that right after that someone came up to me and said “Yo! They’re taking pictures of you man! Change hats with me!” So for the rest of the day, I didn’t even have the same hat.
So, sometime during that brief moment, photojournalist Tom Pidgeon, captured the iconic image that would appear on the cover of the next day's News and Free Press. It's worth noting the image is essentially the inverse of the picture of Keshia Thomas from the 1996 rally. In the end, Jones was never charged, though several other protesters were arrested. Six people were injured, including Jeffery Berry's wife. The city spent $137,000 protecting the Klan. In the weeks following the rally and protest, there was a good deal of discussion in the community about the role of protest in the community and  a debate about the place of "lawful" versus "unlawful" protest. I think many community members, though opposed to the Klan and offended by their presence, were equally opposed to the destructive protests that broke out. They disliked the tactics employed by the anarchists and anti-racists. It is difficult to say whether the protests of May 9th were successful. That said, though Berry's American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan remained active until his arrest for kidnapping in 2001, they never did return to Ann Arbor. Photo credits:
First photo AADL Old News
Second and Third images, Antifa International

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