Just when you start to think no one really cares about roadside litter, here comes the cavalry over the hill to save the day.
Except in this case, it's not the cavalry riding those horses, it's the Klan.
A Ku Klux Klan group in Union County, Ga., applied to join the state's "Adopt-A-Highway" program, volunteering to pick up trash on a mile-long stretch of Route 515, The Associated Press reported. Such programs long have been the province of civic and garden clubs, Scout troops and the like, and those who take part are honored with their association's name on signs beside the roadways.
Many people understandably find that prospect mortifying in this case.
State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, called "insane" the idea of even identifying the Ku Klux Klan, with its history of intimidation and brutal violence, as a civic group. His organization would take legal action against the state, even calling for an end to the program, if the Klan's application was approved, Brooks said.
Late Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation denied the application, saying promoting such an organization "would present a grave concern," and it could "have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life" of county and state residents, according to the AP.
The KKK group's secretary, April Chambers, said she applied for the program to help preserve the area's beauty, not to make some sort of political statement or to attract attention. Hey, maybe she just got some bad advice. ("Go on, April, just do it. I'm sure no one will even notice.")
This is not the first time such a group has tried to join roadway cleanup efforts, and the prospects for legally thwarting this attempt by the International Keystone Knights of the KKK don't look good.
A neo-Nazi group "adopted" two sections of Missouri roads, and a white-separatist group was allowed to take part in cleanup in Kentucky, the AP reported. In both cases authorities likely gave in to the requests out of fear of losing lawsuits. And the Supreme Court ruled in a 2005 Missouri case that state could not deny membership in its cleanup program because of a group's political beliefs.
The denial of the application by the Georgia Department of Transportation, which oversees the state program, very probably will lead to a lawsuit likely to be lost.
We'll never know the Klan group's true intent, whether it was to set off a toxic bomb in the subway of public opinion or simply an effort to be viewed, and accepted, as just another batch of concerned neighbors working hard to keep their community clean (and, in this case, white).
But this sort of volunteerism is laudable, and regardless of the group's reasons for wanting to do it, it's basically a thankless job. Certainly they wouldn't be picking up cans while wearing hoods and robes, because that would constitute a demonstration and require a permit and a law enforcement escort.
The real problem here is the road sign "thanking" the Klan, which would be a shameful, embarrassing reflection on the surrounding area, not to mention a terrifying and shockingly offensive reminder to blacks that the United States hasn't changed nearly as much in the last 200 years as many would have hoped.
The vast majority of us would be far more comfortable if those who feel the need to publicly, actively discriminate against other people just quietly went away. In this country, though, that's not going to happen.
So, welcome to America, the land of enduring freedoms that all of us sometimes fervently wish others did not insist on exercising.