[Listen] Newly Discovered Images Document KKK Rally In Chapel Hill, 1987

Jun 3, 2014

The pictures capture a day that many in Chapel Hill, NC would like to forget. White-hooded figures marching carefree down Franklin Street. It was the day the KKK came to town: June 15, 1987.

About 60 people took part in the march and membership rally. The event started in Durham and then progressed to Chapel Hill. Two thousand people lined the parade route; some to support the participants, others to heckle them. 

That day, a young photographer, Michael Galinsky was there. Galinsky had just graduated from high school the day before. He'd always been a shutterbug, so when he heard that the Klan was coming to town, he headed downtown to document the event.

Credit Michael Galinsky

These images have been unseen for close to thirty years. Even Michael forgot about them. He moved away, became a successful documentary filmmaker. (One of his films was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.) When he moved home recently to be closer to family, he found the negatives.

"I have no visceral memories from that day. I can’t tell you what it felt like, and I can’t really remember snapping the pictures," he wrote on his blog. "Perhaps this is one of the reasons that I have always been drawn to taking pictures. They stop time in ways that my brain is not so adept at doing."

A friend read the blog post and contacted him to say that at the time, he'd been angry that Michael had chosen to attend the event. The friend asserted that Michael and others were giving the Klan "the attention they desired."

Michael sees it differently. He'd been an avid photographer in high school. He wanted to see the news for himself, he says. He finally had something "real" to photograph.

Credit Michael Galinsky

When Michael found this picture of a noose hanging from a mirror, he was shocked. But he also felt nervous, scared for his younger self. He recalls taking the photo with care.

"It felt dangerous enough that I stayed back and shot it with my telephoto lens. I felt as if I drew attention to it with my camera, that I would somehow be putting myself in danger," he writes.

Protesters lined the route
Credit Michael Galinsky

Michael ends his blog post this way:

Having recently moved back to North Carolina from Brooklyn, New York, I have been a bit surprised to see how entrenched social segregation is in Chapel Hill. Our town is not alone. Many studies show that school segregation is increasing at a rapid pace. We can all look back and be proud of what we have achieved in terms of limiting overt discrimination. However, if we look around and see that there is a lot of work to be done to bring true equality and justice to our country, we can’t sit around and expect others to do it for us. Let’s let this day be a reminder that we still have a long way to go.

Read more about the 1987 KKK rally in Chapel Hill in a New York Times article.

Browse more of the photos on Michael's blog post, "The Day The KKK Came To Town."