5:23 PM EDT, October 3, 2013
No one can say that nothing good came of this week's federal government shutdown.
In an affront to every decent American, the hallowed ground of the Gettysburg National Military Park — a world-renowned symbol of the gallant struggle against a depraved crusade to keep people enslaved — was about to be desecrated.
A rally there was planned for Saturday by the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. What's next? A rally by al-Qaida at Gettysburg's Little Round Top to celebrate 9/11 glory?
It is repulsive to think of Gettysburg's atmosphere being contaminated by such rancid creatures.
The shutdown, alas, closed down our national parks, one of the few things the feds do well. But that action, thank heavens, also resulted in the cancellation of the KKK rally at Gettysburg.
Eleven permits were approved at the park for October, but they were rescinded because of the shutdown. They included the Kluxers' rally, but also some honorable events, such as a U.S. Marine Corps retirement ceremony and two weddings. It is sad the latter will have to be held somewhere else; it is a great relief the KKK will not be able to putrefy fields consecrated by some of America's greatest heroes.
Wednesday was too gorgeous a day to waste in an office, so I mounted my trusty steed (a Yamaha) and galloped off to the south, where other parts of America's most sacred real estate are located.
Valley Forge National Historical Park was closed by the shutdown. So was Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Pavilion, and other features of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.
Just a stone's throw from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, however, is the National Constitution Center, which remained open this week because it is a private nonprofit institution, not run by the National Park Service.
One of the first exhibits you see includes a big portrait of James Madison, one of my favorites among the Founding Fathers and the chief architect of the Constitution. Then comes a jarring photograph of a place that, like Gettysburg, put the viability of the nation's constitutional system to the test. It shows dozens of bodies strewn between a road and a fence at the horrendous Battle of Antietam during the Civil War.
These were men, as Abraham Lincoln later observed at Gettysburg, who "gave the last full measure of devotion" in an ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the freedom of others.
Then, even more jarringly, there is an exhibit portraying what is at the opposite end of America's societal spectrum — an authentic Ku Klux Klan robe from the 1920s, and a notation that the animals (my word, not the center's) who wore such garb did not care for a 1968 addendum to the Constitution's Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment, you see, gave every American equal citizenship and told our backward states they could no longer deprive people of their rights without due process.
The highlight of my visit was a "Freedom Rising" presentation in the center's circular theater. (It has seats for 356, but on Wednesday, perhaps because the shutdown kept visitors away from Philadelphia, there were only seven people seated.)
The 17-minite lesson in civics began with a narrator speaking the words, "We the people," which is the way the U.S. Constitution begins, much to the dismay of Kluxers, who feel it should say, "We the white neofascist Christian-only people."
The narrator discussed the "wrenching issue of the slave trade" that kept the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights from dealing with an atrocity finally addressed by other amendments decades later. "What makes us a nation?" she asked at the end of the presentation, which also featured moving visual displays. "It begins with three words — 'We the people.'"
On my way home, I made a long arduous detour through Northeast Philadelphia to visit the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in the city's Fox Chase section. That is the closest place to the Lehigh Valley where you can get decent doughnuts.
The shop's name, however, was disconcerting, especially after the warm fuzzies I felt from visiting the National Constitution Center. Krispy Kreme. KK. The doughnuts were delicious, unlike the cardboard-flavored things found elsewhere, but are they in cahoots with the Ku Klux Klan? If not, why not spell it Crispy Crème? Very suspicious. Very sinister.
If that seems silly to you, consider last month's fuss in the Northampton Area School District, where it became necessary to defend the "Koncrete Kids" name for sports teams. That name is derived from the town's role in the concrete industry, as in construction of the Empire State Building, and reflects the local German heritage. A petition crusade, however, tried to force officials to change the name to something less associated with the lowbred louts who hold rallies in hooded white outfits.
I admit I've been harshly critical of people in that school district, especially after they voted down library improvements, but I also have been to Ku Klux Klan rallies, and I even received death threats from Kluxers, although I can't imagine why.
I can tell you there is no comparison, and it is terribly wrong to malign Northampton people by comparing them to Kluxers.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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