A recent visit to our excellent local library turned up quite an interesting item, Thomson’s original entry in the “Georgia Power Company Champion Home Town Contest” for 1949. The contest awarded prize money up to $1,000 for communities that had progressed the most during the year. They were judged by their size. Washington won the year before, and Harlem was in contention to win in 1949. Thomson was eventually given a certificate of excellence, but no money. The booklet had many pages documenting the great things Thomson had done, how it had progressed in every field, and was accompanied with many original photos.
I want to mention today item No. 7 under the topic “Advertising and Publicity.” It reads: “Thomson’s opposition to the KKK received state and national publicity with an article in Time magazine.” Then appears a clipped article from The McDuffie Progress, titled Praise For Thomson. I will recap it for you as follows:
Thomson gained nation-wide recognition last week when more than 100 citizens signed a statement expressing “regret” that a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan had been organized in our community. The Atlanta Constitution said: “The Thomson citizens recognize what we here at The Constitution have through the years noted - that many otherwise well-intentioned persons are led into the Klan …”
The Atlanta Journal commented: “By their approach to the problem confronting them, the progressive elements of Thomson and McDuffie County show their understanding of the fact that many decent people are lured into the Klan either through ignorance or a misunderstanding of its motives. Persuasive logic will do more good with such Klan members than will holier-than-thou condemnation. A distinguished editorial writer has remarked that anybody can be brave about Hitler at 3,000 miles distance. But it takes more courage to grapple with Nazism, or Fascism, or Ku Klux Klanism when these ideas crop up in a next-door neighbor …”
The Augusta Chronicle said: “It required courage of the highest order and a noble devotion to citizenship and morality for these citizens, individually and collectively, to strike … at the Klan. We hope that our friends up East, who picture the South as a section where everyone wears the mask and robe, and where violence and racial prejudice is the rule rather than the exception, will take note …”
And, lastly, The Augusta Herald commented: “McDuffie County is growing by leaps and bounds. Her people are happy and prosperous and her governments are operated upon the highest principles. Her citizens are well-behaved, God-fearing, and resent the idea of masked citizens … trying to regulate their lives. The Klan is gradually passing out...of Georgia and South Carolina, but its final disappearance would be hastened if the citizens of every community spoke out with the clearness and vigor expressed by the good people of Thomson.” That’s the end of the article.
It is not hard to guess at who the good citizens of Thomson were who signed the statement. I looked through The McDuffie Progress for a related story that might name the signers, but to no avail. Does anyone reading this know where we could get a copy of the document? We would not be surprised at the names of most of the people who signed it.
In conclusion, I’d like to report that The McDuffie Progress ran an editorial on Thursday, Sept. 15, 1949, headed Grand Jury Action Against the KKK. It said: ‘The twenty-three men who served on the September term of the Grand Jury are each to be congratulated in the action they took in regards to the Ku Klux Klan. This was in the form of an anti-mask law recommendation “to all our governmental bodies …” The paper, however, took issue with the grand jury’s congratulations to the Klan leaders for ordering their members to abandon the wearing of masks or hoods. It continued with “There is no place in our democratic government for secret organizations such as the Klan and its like, and therefore we feel that their leaders are not entitled to any sort of congratulations … We need no Klans …”