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KKK and NAACP leaders meet face to face, an apparent first

After reports of racial incidents in Gillette, Wyo., the president of the Casper NAACP reached out to KKK leaders for a meeting. It happened last Saturday, with plenty of security.

By Contributor / September 4, 2013

The leadership of the NAACP Casper branch speaks with John Abarr, far r., a kleagle of the United Klans of America in Great Falls, Mont. The gathering took place under heavy security at the Parkway Plaza Hotel in Capser, Wyo.

Alan Rogers/ Casper Star-Tribune/ AP Photo

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Three days after the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, a meeting took place that the civil rights leader probably never would have envisioned: A Ku Klux Klan member and officials for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a meeting to discuss race relations. 

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Katherine Jacobsen writes for the Monitor's international desk. 

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Last Saturday, KKK organizer John Abarr walked into a conference room at the Parkway Plaza Hotel in Casper, Wyo., went through a security check, and then greeted four local NAACP leaders.

For several months Jimmy Simmons, president of the Casper NAACP, had heard reports about black men getting beat up – usually when they were with white women – in Gillette, Wyo. Klan pamphlets began circulating there around the same time. A frustrated Mr. Simmons considered holding a rally against the Klan.

After all, the NAACP was founded to empower groups that the KKK sought to intimidate into submission.

But Simmons decided to do something different: He reached out to Klan leaders.

“If you want to talk about hate, get a hater,” he said. “Let him tell you something about hate,” he said, according to the Casper Star-Tribune, which had exclusive coverage of Saturday's meeting.

The meeting was a first, the Associated Press reported, citing the Southern Poverty Law Center and the United Klans of America (UKA).

Rosemary Lytle, president of the Colorado, Montana and Wyoming State Area Conference for the NAACP, said she had told Simmons not to arrange the meeting, according to the Star-Tribune. Bradley Jenkins, the UKA's imperial wizard, said he sanctioned the event, AP reported.

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