Idaho’s Lone Black Lawmaker Receives KKK Mailing

Posted: 12:00am on Apr 10, 2012; Modified: 12:08am on Apr 10, 2012

Cherie Buckner-Webb, right, talking with fellow Democratic Rep. Elaine Smith during a committee meeting, said of the KKK: “I can’t hate them. Harboring hatred against anyone is not OK for me.”

When Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb travels around the country as a management consultant, people are often surprised to learn that there is a black female legislator from Idaho.

“When they think of Idaho, it is not Sun Valley, or our rivers or our mountains. It is the Aryan Nations. That is still what they think about Idaho,” said Buckner-Webb. “I hear it all the time.”

She represents District 19 in Boise’s North End and grew up on 19th Street in Boise. She knows about prejudice.

“Someone burned a cross on our lawn” when she was about 7, Buckner-Webb recalls.

She was reminded of the burning cross and other racist incidents last week when she received in the mail an application to join the Ku Klux Klan.

In addition to submitting $35 in annual dues and a photo, the applicant is asked to complete a statement proclaiming: “I am a White Christian man or woman.”

Also included was a newsletter, “An Introduction to the Knights and National Director Thomas Robb.”

Robb is the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He recently began calling his organization The Knights Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and hate groups. (In 2011, the center identified 18 active groups in Idaho.)

The envelope, hand-addressed to Buckner-Webb, had a return address of Harrison, Ark. — Robb’s home base — but was postmarked in Great Falls, Mont.

The mailing did not contain a personal note, but Buckner-Webb — the lone African-American in the Idaho Legislature — thinks that she was specifically targeted.

She said she was more surprised than disturbed by the mailing.

“Initially, I wondered what was someone’s thought process in sending that to me. My first inclination was someone wants me to know the Klan is still around,” she said.

She posted a copy of the KKK application and newsletter on her Facebook page Saturday to express her surprise and start a dialogue.

“It conjured up a lot of things for me that weren’t very comfortable — not fear, but sometimes we get to thinking things are settled,” she said.

Buckner-Webb said legislative battles this past session over gay rights, contraception and restrictions on abortion showed her otherwise.

“I am really concerned about the climate of intolerance in a lot of different areas. I see a lot of intolerance toward gays, toward women,” she said.

The mailing also reminded her of the story of Paul Bellesen, a black man from Nampa.

In 1965, he sent in an application and $15 in dues and joined the KKK. For one day, he was the official Klan head for the state of Idaho.

“That made national news,” Buckner-Webb said.

At the time, Bellesen told The Associated Press that he joined the Klan “to show it for what it is.” He said he opposed any group that preaches violence, but harbored no ill will toward individual members.

More than 40 years later, Buckner-Webb expressed a similar sentiment.

“People can choose their own path, but I don’t support fear or intimidation,” she said. “Do I say they have the right to develop a dogma that is theirs? Yes. Do I honor their tactics? No.”

Buckner-Webb said she does not consider herself a victim and refuses to respond with vitriol.

The mailing served as a reminder, she said.

“I would be a fool not to take note and govern myself accordingly,” she said. “It was a sign for me to remain vigilant, to remain careful and to remain thoughtful.”

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428

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