Klan symbol

I read that on July 4, 1977, the Imperial Wizard, Dale R. Reusch of Lodi, Ohio led a Klan rally on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse. There were protestors and a fight broke out. I’d like to talk to one of the men arrested. He knows what I know, that the Ku Klux Klan was alive and well in Columbus in the 1970s. I met Klan members that night. I saw how many white men gather to express their hate, to show the city how strong they are. It was like a movie I accidentally walked into.

See, I had this stepdad who infiltrated a local Klan group. His mom was Puerto Rican. He was Jewish. He spent time in prison. He didn't fit the mold of the Klan. Therefore, he couldn't stand with the white men. I watched him sit off to the side, he was an outsider. He didn't speak to the cops or ask questions of the man in charge. He didn't make as much money as they did on their endeavors. He also had friends and family that were not white. Or friends that were poor. Or criminals. The Klan did not associate with these types of people. It was too risky. They had a reputation in the community to uphold, a life to protect. They couldn't be found soliciting with people of different classes or colors. They were middle, upper class white men. This man was not.

So why did they let him in?

He had a white father.

I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I’d find Klan ties back to the early 1900s in New York. There are reports of schools for young boys at this time to indoctrinate them into this hate cult.

His mother came alone to New York. She never fully learned the language. She left her family and home in Puerto Rico to marry a man whose language she did not speak. In the 1940s, she was an immigrant alone in a country where she had little to no rights or real friends. Why would a woman do that?

Eventually they moved to Ohio. When they did, mom and kids were dropped off to another white man who already had children. Dad kept going to Tennessee with his new wife.

My step dad spent some time in jail. Early on, I went with him to visit his friends who were still incarcerated. I stood in a visiting center of a jail in the 1970s. I was 4 or 5. Everything was cement. It was cold. I saw a few guards but didn't feel safe. I didn't understand this place. He was setting up his own financial future. These men would get out of jail and have access to children after the white men were done. I remember thinking they were going to rip me limb from limb. So I stayed close to the only man I knew, creating the beginning of a lifelong pattern of trauma bonding.

He had something else the white men wanted - drugs. They were strong. Strong enough to subdue wives and fighting children. Strong enough to create addicts. The klan men allowed him access to their property and criminal activities as a reward for providing such useful opiates. He became their drug dealer.

Everything was done with a purpose. Everything had intention. Without it, the plan would fall apart.

The local group of Klan men I knew were from 3 families. They were generational friends, bonded through marriage. The roots run deep, as they say. The families were run by a man in charge. I met him a few times. He was tall, skinny, and old. He lived with his wife and family in the Miller/Kelton area.

This man and his brother also owned the property that housed all the criminal activity. The land, with multiple structures, was used for dog fights, child sex trafficking, torture and murder. I, myself, witnessed many crimes on this land.

I was in their office once. It was grand. I remember a big desk with ornamental trim, deep red coloring. I remember thinking they must have a lot of money for such a pretty office. We were there because he and his friends were being reprimanded. I knew the extent of their criminal activity. They were always bragging about things they did, fights they got into. Today I roll my eyes when I think of how fighting was such a part of their identity. Like it made them tough or something. Biggest, strongest, meanest man wins. I guess that's how the Klan works.

So as I stood in this office, I was expecting the head man to yell, throw things, and hit. As I listened, I hid behind his legs, waiting for the fight. That's not what happened, though. He calmly told this group of men to stop playing “Cowboys and Indians.” He couldn’t keep covering their messes. That's it. That's all they get? Stop killing people? Maybe that's why they didn’t stop.

I'd witnessed tortuous behavior toward black people from these men. They used the worst racial slurs on a daily basis. The indoctrination into racism is both subtle and outward. They talked about black people wanting to steal their stuff so they needed dogs for protection. They used the dogs to scare, intimidate and control any innocent black man, woman or child walking by. They'd say ‘come here, see my dog, pet it. I dare you. You scared? They'd laugh, proud of themselves. There were a lot of jokes about running black people over in cars, sometimes swerving toward the sidewalk to scare someone. These were games they played. The real crimes were committed in the dark.

The Klan meeting I attended in 1977 was inside a local dry cleaners. Just a few miles from home. Everything seemed to happen close to home. They controlled the area. They had the cops in their pockets. I saw the exchange of money with the Columbus Police Department. They didn't need to leave the south end of Columbus.

Right away I noticed the number of men at the meeting. There were a lot, standing room only. I stood next to my stepdad, at one point holding his hand. The men listened to the speaker. I was too small to see anyone's face. I only saw their pants. They all had on slacks. Weird. Like they were all going to work. Every single one of the men were white, except my stepdad. Maybe this is why we were in the back corner of the room. He couldn't go to the front of the stage, he wasn't allowed.

Now, I told you that my stepdad had friends that weren't white. One of these friends showed up. He had come for girls. A fight broke out. It was chaotic and I held onto another child's hand. The man was dragged out the back door, down the concrete steps. We followed and were left watching him try to revive his friend. When he looked up, he told us to stay still. Don't go anywhere. Of course. Where would we go?

This was the first time I saw a man die, but not the last.

When we think of the Ku Klux Klan, we consider all the assaults based on racial injustices. What we usually don't consider is the assaults on children, with no bias of color.

I stood in front of those white men, dressed in the “Sunday best” as they decided which child they wanted. I counted the men. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. They moved and I counted again. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. I don't know how many times I did this. Or what happened next. What I do know is that these men went home to their wives and their children.

They woke up and went to work as if nothing had happened the night before. And these men were not afraid to live this life. They knew they were protected. I was the one that was not.

So now I’m 50, living in Columbus, talking to women like me, who have been through things like me. I’m watching the after effects of years of trauma by men that were allowed to do whatever they wanted, destroying whoever got in their way.

Maybe all of this is too much for some to see. But our lives are worth more than your uncomfortableness. Because this is the god's honest truth. Girls and boys like me, left alone to be vulnerable, to be in constant stress, to walk our lives afraid.

We grew into relationships that were like the men we knew. These men continued to dominate us, relying on trauma bonding. And it worked. We were verbally attacked, physically beaten, degraded. While we tried to take care of our children the best we could.

Some of us got help. Some did not. Some of us raised our kids. Some did not. Either way, this tribe of women is still standing. We haven't fallen just yet.

Are you ready to look?


Pamela Daw

I am a 3rd generation born and raised on the southside of Columbus. I graduated from and taught in Columbus City Schools. I am currently on the board of directors and a volunteer for the nonprofit, 1divineline2heath, as we work to end human trafficking in our city. I am working on putting my stories into a book. Thank you very much for listening.