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Montana Viewpoint
ONE IS TOO MANY
White separatists meet in Montana

July 19, 2004 

Last weekend was the first, and, I hope last, gathering of the Church of the True Israel—a white separatist group—in Montana. The event was to have taken place on a rancher’s property about 10 miles down the Clark Fork River from the town of St. Regis. That was until he (the rancher) became aware they were not the “Christian men’s veterans group” they had represented themselves to be. They eventually found a spot to hold their meeting on Forest Service land nearby.

As I stopped to chat with the Sanders County Deputies who were at the campsite entrance to prevent conflict, I thought back to a time 43 years ago when I was on the “other side of the law.”

As a kid I spent some time working at menial jobs in hotels and restaurants in South Florida. I was a Northern kid, and knew better, but I did an impulsive and foolhardy thing for that time and place. One night after work a buddy of mine and I went to shoot pool with a couple of black acquaintances at a hall in the “colored town” part of Boynton Beach, Florida. After a couple of games my buddy and I left and went over to the white part of town for hamburgers at the all-night Royal Castle. They were 15 cents apiece and the patties were the size of a silver dollar, but they were served with fried onions on top which more than made up for the puny size.

As we were eating we heard our names called and looked up to see one of the men we had been shooting pool with outside at the take-outwindow. It was also called the “colored window” (and worse), because if you were black and wanted a hamburger, that’s where you had to get them. We waved at him and told him to join us, and probably as much to his surprise as ours, he did. He came in and sat down beside me at the counter, while a deathly silence immediately enveloped the room.

Customers glared in our direction and walked out, meals half eaten. The countermen had disappeared in the back, and in less time than it took to take in what was happening, the building was surrounded by police cars and sheriff’s cruisers. They were efficient; they didn’t need to argue with anyone. They just came in and grabbed the black man and took him away. I never knew what happened to him, but I doubt he enjoyed it.

My buddy and I were given a polite dressing down. The police took us for a couple of Yankee dummies who didn’t know the way things operated in the segregated South, and took it upon themselves to educate us. “We won’t take you in because we know you don’t know better. You’re lucky.”

We weren’t “lucky”; we were white.

And we did know better.

Thinking about that time brought back other creepy memories: water fountains, waiting rooms, and bathrooms labeled “White” and “Colored”; kids bragging about speeding though Colored Town at night with eight foot long “N----- sticks” poked far out the car window to hit unsuspecting blacks; and lynchings.

If ever anything in American culture deserved to die, that did.

A couple of days before the white separatist gathering I attended the St. Regis Community Council meeting, watching the 60 citizens present unanimously pass a resolution repudiating the separatist group’s racist ideology. St. Regis is just an everyday Montana town, and these were everyday Montanans from all walks of life. After the vote several people came up and volunteered to me why what they had just done was so important to them: “My wife is from the Philippines”; “I’m Jewish”; “I have a friend who is Mexican”; “I’m an American.”

For over 16 years white separatist groups—some less than peaceful—have tried to establish a presence in Northwest Montana and have had their beliefs rebuffed at every turn by the very communities they are trying to become a part of. I know that it will continue to be that way, and I am proud to live in a community and state that stands up for people in the minority; not because they are people of different skin color or religion, but because they are friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans.

I am also glad that I can remember what happened to me in 1961 in Boynton Beach, Florida, because I am witness to the fact that in my lifetime, we Americans have come a long way in the right direction. Not all the way, but still a good, long way.

 

Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620

jim@jimelliott.org