Mab Segrest is a lesbian feminist who spent the ‘80s monitoring Ku Klux Klan rallies and tracking the activity of hate groups in North Carolina. But social activism was an unlikely career path for a woman whose grandfather was a klansman and whose parents who fought to keep schools segregated.
She first published her autobiography 25 years ago, but its re-release this year is prescient as the nation sees a rise in hate crimes. The book “Memoir of a Race Traitor: Fighting Racism in the American South” (The New Press/2019) is considered a classic text on white anti-racism. A graduate of Duke University, Segrest recently returned to North Carolina to find that her social activism is still needed.
Segrest joins host Frank Stasio to discuss the role race plays in the current political climate. She gives a history lesson in hate and how she was branded a race traitor. Segrest will speak at The Forest at Duke on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. and join other North Carolina activists in conversation on Thursday, Oct 24 at the Rubenstein Library on Duke’s campus.
On growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama when schools were desegregated:
During my lifetime there [it] had the largest percentage of black people of any county in the United States … By ‘54, ‘55, the Civil Rights Movement had erupted. By the 1960s it kind of came to my front yard when schools desegregated … The Civil Rights Movement presented many white people of that era with these contradictions — this crack in the cosmic egg that a different sense of justice could come through: Why does it take all this force to keep us apart?
On losing her faith in the church:
When I was maybe 13 or 14, I was singing in the choir, and it was when the SNCC demonstrators were targeting white churches, I think, to show the hypocrisy. But they were coming to pray on the steps when the doors were locked. My father was one of the door lockers ... I know my bible verses, and I know it says: Knock and it will be open to you ... Not so long later white men beat up those demonstrators with baseball bats. After that, I was kind of through — in my heart — with the church.
On the fact that North Carolina had the worst KKK movement in the U.S:
It’s the 40th anniversary this year of the Greensboro Massacre, and that was shocking … It was members holding an anti-klan rally in Greensboro ... A caravan of klan and neo-Nazis drove in with high powered rifles, got them out and just started shooting people. And [they] shot to death five of their lead organizers and were not convicted in either state court of murder or in federal court.
On forging unlikely partnerships to fight hate groups:
We had to solidify relationships with each other, and we all recognize that the racism within the gay community is detrimental. The homophobia within the African American community gives an avenue for the right-wing preachers to come in and distort things. We all recognized that we all had a stake in each other’s lives and each other’s struggles. It became a kind of intersectional organizing.
On what today’s white nationalist can learn from the past:
[The Civil War] killed 800,000 people, and if you want white genocide, you just try that. And it wasn’t the Yankees. It was the slave masters who engineered secession and pulled the whole country into this war. One out of five white men died. Three times more than in the North. So if white nationalists are interested in eliminating white genocide, they might want to eliminate white supremacy.