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 Spring, 1997


 Laurel Highlands fails to hire black teachers

Ku Klux Highlands

By Al Owens
I'm more frightened by the response to hate groups than I am by the hate groups themselves. On April 6th a thousand or so people showed up to protest the rally by 50 Klansmen and Neo-Nazis of the City-County building in Pittsburgh.

50 people who couldn't get a rise out of me unless they showed up in my living room. Lest you think I am antipathetic. Let me explain.
Millions of people live within driving distance of that City-County building.

Only 50 people adorned in sheets and swastikas showed up. I'd say their ranks aren't exactly swelling. Their ranks aren't exactly swelling because they apparently have nothing of real value to say that would lure many potential new members.

I guess I feel that way because I have had primary face-to-hood exposure to key members of their ranks. Twenty years ago, when I was a television reporter in Columbus Ohio, the Ohio Klan began a membership drive in the Columbus area. Being mindful that I could have been the first ever television reporter to join the Ohio Ku Klux Klan, I applied for membership. See the accompanying picture for an additional reason that would have a little out of the ordinary.

If you still haven't figured it out, congratulations!!! You're eligible to be a Klan member.
Anyway, I never heard back about my membership application until I sat down and discussed it with the Imperial Wizard of the Ohio Klan.

He thought it was funny. I thought it was funny too. Just
think, I was sharing laughter with a man who needed a dictionary to get through the comic section.
Later there was a television interview, with me standing beside a photographer. And a Klan leader who had three guys with loaded shotguns behind him.

Believe me, I've seen these guys up close and we all have nothing to fear. It's not that I'll be standing up and protesting for their free speech rights any time soon, but I won't be so naive as to protest their right to say anything they desire. Besides, I'm convinced that if you gather a cadre of their best and brightest, lock them in a hotel room, asked them to signal when they've been able to construct any simple sentence, we'd have a mighty long wait for that signal.

The Klan doesn't worry me. Those who protest them do.

Why aren't those protesters worried about real racism? Not the symbolic variety that rides in from some isolated outpost, shouts some babble about "white rights", and then returns to their isolated outposts.
I mean genuine effective racism at our feet. The kind that should be an affront to any decent American, white or black.

I recently called the Laurel Highlands School District to verify what I'd been hearing about their hiring practices. That there hasn't been an African American teacher hired since the late 1960's.
What a relief. I had been misled. It was in 1973. The person on the other end of the telephone sounded happy to answer my questions and to clear
up any confusion I may have had. "How many minority teachers do you have in your school district?".
The voice proudly acknowledged "ONE!!!"
I asked how many teachers do you have in the district. She said,"236"

She paused and then added,"We do have one black person in administration". After I finished rejoicing and singing a couple verses of "We shall overcome", I blurted out, "A black School Administrator". "No she replied, "A Secretary!!!".
My heart began pounding in excitement after she added, "and we have several black members of our security staff."
Whoa!!! . They're really making progress out there aren't they. One African American teacher hired in September of 1973. One!.

That's only one more than they have in the Tokyo School District. That's only one than they have on Mars. Check that. I called Mars and the alien on the other the end reported there were two black teachers in the Martian School system. Where are those protesters when you need them? The Laurel Highlands School District is far more influential and worthy of public scrutiny than a few burly guys in sheets.

It has administrators and board members who are supposedly entrusted to help shape young minds. And if I haven't as yet appealed to the School District's sense of equality and fairness, perhaps I can appeal to its school pride.

Your perennial rivals down the road, The Uniontown Area School District, have fewer teachers (219) but 10 more African American teachers than does The Laurel Highlands School District. When I called them I could hear the new Raider fight song in the background. "We'll HIRE, HIRE, HIRE in the morning, we'll HIRE, HIRE, HIRE in the night. Every Raider knows when the whistle blows, we'll HIRE whenever we choose." The final score: UNIONTOWN 11
It wasn't even close. Next up The Albert Gallatin School District. Oops!!!
BROWNSVILLE 3 (plus bonus points for having an African-American principal)
(minus penalty points for having no African-American School Administrators.

I've heard of football and basketball coaches getting the boot for having losing seasons can a school system fire itself? Especially since that School District hasn't had a winning record, in the area of minority hiring, since 1973. I'm sure each year The Laurel Highlands School District sets aside a day to acknowledge Martin Luther King's birthday. I'm wondering why it hasnít as yet taken any time to honor his Dream. Or perhaps it's just being ignored it altogether.
Now that truly scares me.