NEW: Letter to Klan cites "public concern"
NEW: Commissioner also says area will not be adopted because of safety concerns
KKK had wanted to clean part of Georgia State Route 515
Citing safety concerns and the organization’s history, Georgia transportation officials said Tuesday they would not allow a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to “adopt” a one-mile stretch of highway in North Georgia.
The Klan chapter wanted to clean a stretch of Georgia State Route 515 in Union County, Georgia, according to paperwork obtained by CNN.
The application was filed by the International Keystone Knights of the KKK on May 21.
Keith Golden, commissioner for the state Department of Transportation, wrote the chapter’s secretary that officials determined the mountain roadway, with a speed limit of 65 mph, was not a safe place for cleanup volunteers to work.
Golden’s letter to April Chambers cited other concerns.
“The impact of erecting a sign naming an organization which has a long-rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern,” he wrote. “Impacts include safety of the traveling public, potential social unrest, driver distraction or interference with the flow of traffic.”
The chapter did not immediately respond to messages left Tuesday by CNN.
Previously the Klan chapter said it would approach the American Civil Liberties Union if its application was denied.
“All we want to do is adopt a highway,” Chambers said Monday. “We’re not doing it for publicity. We’re doing it to keep the mountains beautiful. People throwing trash out on the side of the road … that ain’t right.”
“We’re not racists,” Chambers said. “We just want to be with white people. If that’s a crime, then I don’t know. It’s all right to be black and Latino and proud, but you can’t be white and proud. I don’t understand it.”
A similar request in Missouri set off a legal battle that stretched for years and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A Ku Klux Klan chapter there sought to adopt a portion of Interstate 55. A federal appeals court ruled the state could not bar the KKK from participating in the program, and the high court declined to review the case, letting that ruling stand.
However, the Missouri Department of Transportation eventually kicked the KKK, a white supremacy group, out of the program because members were not picking up trash as agreed, spokesman Bob Brendel said Monday. The state also named the stretch of I-55 after civil rights activist Rosa Parks, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Georgia has been participating in the Adopt-A-Highway program for more than 20 years. The program provides advertising for sponsors who agree to clean a stretch of road on a sign posted along the stretch.
“Any civic-minded organization, business, individual, family, city, county, state or federal agency is welcome to volunteer in the Georgia Adopt-A-Highway program,” the DOT website says.
Chambers said the group is more than 100 strong. “We have a lot of support,” she said.
“I don’t see why we can’t (adopt the stretch of highway),” she said. “Would it be any different if it was the Black Panthers or something? Someone always has some kind of race card.”
On its website, the International Keystone Knights of the KKK says it is “fed up with the Federal tyranny and oppression of Reconstruction, and the time was ripe for Clandestine Armed Resistance.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, lists the KKK as “the most infamous – and oldest – of American hate groups.”
“Over the years since it was formed in December 1865, the Klan has typically seen itself as a Christian organization, although in modern times Klan groups are motivated by a variety of theological and political ideologies,” the law center’s website says.