Monday, February 7, 2011

"Fighting the Devil in Dixie": a Decatur appearance by author Wayne Greenhaw

Tomorrow, February 8 at the Decatur Library auditorium at 7:15 p.m., Prize-winning veteran Alabama journalist Wayne Greenhaw joins in a discussion of his new book, Fighting the Devil in Dixie: How Civil Rights Activists Took on the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. The book examines how the Klan, empowered by Governor George Wallace’s defiance of civil rights laws, grew more violent until confronted by a courageous and determined coalition of blacks and whites.

Greenhaw, now 70, was a teenager growing up in Tuscaloosa and his book is researched with the detail of an eyewitness account: he writes that as a young student he watched "Klansmen in their robes parading through the streets" and had the notorious Klan leader Bobby Shelton pointed out to him by a relative.

Later, as a reporter, Greenhaw saw many sides of the story, but as a resident he saw much of the history firsthand. In a note on his webpage the author writes

On one of my numerous breaks from school as a student at the University of Alabama I tended bar at the RFD Lounge in the Molton Hotel on 20th Avenue North. There, I served drinks to Police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor, (as well as) an undercover FBI informant whom I later discovered was posing as a Klansman, several KKK members I recognized, and a number of local politicians who hobnobbed with the Klan.

Greenhaw tells the complex and evolving story, from the Klan’s bombings and murders in the 1950s to Wallace’s run for a fourth term as governor in the early 1980s. By then, Wallace's tactics had altered: the governor who once proclaimed "segregation forever" asked for forgiveness and won re-election with the black vote.

As the struggle for civil rights developed in Alabama, Greenhaw -- who was a reporter from 1965 to 1976 for the Alabama Journal and Advertiser -- relates the daily victories and frustrations of a slowly turning tide that was in no way certain of success. Greenhaw has written extensively about Alabama history; in 2006 he received the Harper Lee Award as a distinguished Alabama writer.

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