Dahlonega, Georgia, USA, home of 84-year-old Roberta Green-Garrett. Sweet little ol’ southern lady? Not a chance. More like a bigoted, racist, hateful rich white-supremacist. Roberta owns two buildings, which she rents out to antique dealers, several hundred units of student housing, and a Holiday Inn Express. She is seeking permission to build a new hotel, but has thus far been unsuccessful. She lives in a brick mansion with four white columns on a hill overlooking the town, and spends winters in Florida. She also nearly caused the town of Dahlonega to be ripped apart last month.
Dahlonega is a quiet little southern town, a former gold mining town an hour north of Atlanta, known for its redbrick square lined with antique shops and wine tasting rooms. It did not have the reputation for racial violence that many other north Georgia counties did. Until one day in the middle of last month when residents awakened to a large sign sporting a cartoonish drawing of a white-sheeted person raising a hand, and the words “Historic Ku Klux Klan Meeting Hall”. In addition, there was a Confederate battle flag at one corner of the building and a red flag with a white cross and the letters KKK at the other.
The building the sign was attached to was owned by none other than Ms. Green-Garrett. Though she obviously did not place the sign herself, she did, by her own admission, give permission for KKK members to put the sign up. Her only comment was that she had allowed the banner to go up and might try to put it up again.
The sign brought out the town’s best and its’ worst. Rednecks in pickup trucks drove through town, revving their engines and circling the square, with Confederate battle flags and ‘Make America Great Again’ flags flying. One man, Chester Doles, a former leader in the Klan and a white-separatist group called the National Alliance who had gone to prison on federal weapons charges, stopped to take pictures of the sign before it was removed, saying how “glorious” it was to see such a sign in the light of day.
But on the other side of the coin, there are a lot of good, conscionable people in Dahlonega, and they came out in droves to protest not only the sign, but that such a sentiment could take center stage in their otherwise peaceful town.
People honked horns in support. A local fiddler came. A member of the folk-rock duo Indigo Girls came and everybody sang “This Land Is Your Land.” “The only comment I’ll make is that the KKK does not represent the values of this town,” one of the men said.
One woman claimed that the whole episode constituted an ‘agenda’ to undermine the presidency of Donald Trump. She knew all of this, she said, because she had gone online and discovered a website for a group with locations across the country — including in Dahlonega — that was made up of “former congressional staffers working for the previous administration. They are supporting the impeachment. They support open borders. They are supporting Obamacare. They are promoting disruption at town halls — I call it bullying — and they have a potential for violence.”
Things have returned to normal in the month since the sign went up. Ms. Green-Garrett applied for a permit to restore the sign as a permanent fixture on her building, then withdrew the application two days later. The town issued an official statement saying that “Dahlonega is a welcoming community for people of diverse backgrounds” and that “recent episodes are not indicative of a change in our character or philosophy.”
Even though things have returned to normal, one resident said it feels that this was the beginning of something, rather than the end. Reverend Webb, pastor of a local church, said the episode was not simply about the banner. To him, it was about a banner that had appeared after an election in which the new president had said certain things that had appealed to white nationalists and other hatemongers, whether he intended to or not, opening the door to events that could spiral out of control. “The atmosphere he’s created in America today has caused people to think they have some kind of power again. I thought that before, and I still do.”
What happened in Dahlonega is happening all over the nation, it just stands out more here because it is a small town. If the same sign had been placed on a building in Chicago, Atlanta or Houston, we likely would not have heard about it. It is, truly, a sign of the times … an ugly sign. This is, and will be, the legacy of Donald Trump.