Society features

Suffolk County Historical Society apologizes for newsletter containing 1926 KKK ad

The Suffolk County Historical Society on Thursday issued an apology for circulating a 1926 advertisement for the Ku Klux Klan as part of its latest “Picture of the Week” newsletter.

The image was sent with a description of KKK activity in the early 20th century on Long Island. The newsletter was sent by e-mail on Saturday.

According to SCHS, the ad was placed by the Riverhead Chapter in a 1926 Klan magazine. The Riverhead Fair Grounds was used to hold the Monster Klan Gathering announced in August of that year.

The apology expressed the historical society’s “deep regret” for the photo, which “represents one of the shameful groups that have existed to strike fear in our communities and suppress residents of color.” The selection came from a previous exhibition, “Hidden and Forbidden”, which the SCHS said was intended to educate.

“To put forth this photograph and its description, however, without the larger context of its depravity was a grave mistake,” the historical society said. “We missed an opportunity to honor Black History Month with one of the many positive contributions to our history, and instead posted a totally inappropriate and painful photo that is the antithesis of celebrating the black history.”

The SCHS board’s apology came after the Eastern Long Island branch of the NAACP called an emergency press conference at the Riverhead Free Library to discuss images and videos released by SCHS and the museum. history of Southampton from the KKK. The press conference is scheduled for Friday.

Lawrence Street, president of the Eastern Long Island Branch, confirmed that the photo was among the documents mentioned in the press release and said he would provide more details at Friday’s press conference. He also confirmed he would talk more about a Feb. 10 webinar hosted by the Southampton History Museum called “The Clansman: A Novel that Reignited the KKK with Joan Baum.” A preview of the event included a description: “In this program, Joan Baum will look at how [the film and book] could be used to expand civil discourse in a constructive way that would be accepted in classrooms across the country.

In its apology, the SCHS added: “The Society has long been the guardian of our local history and as such offers valuable insight into our past. While our history also bears witness to horrible drama and suffering, highlighting this aspect of our history without denouncing it is inexcusable at any time, let alone during the month of February.

SCHS Executive Director Victoria Berger also issued a personal apology to the community, taking full responsibility for the circulation of the photo and ensuring that something similar never happens again. She said the photo was presented insensitively, with “descriptive context that failed to challenge past acts of racism and reverse a narrative of hate”.

“I am heartbroken for causing pain and insults to the community, as well as the many relationships and partnerships I have cultivated in our Society during my years here,” she said. . “I listen and I understand where we failed. I will continue to improve education and awareness training for my staff and myself, and I will involve the Board of Directors in these actions. »

In an effort to do better, the SCHS said it plans to educate staff ‘so that communication of this magnitude can never be repeated’; implement diversity and sensitivity training; open conversations with community groups such as the NAACP and the Suffolk County Anti-Bias Task Force to improve race relations; organize a series of public discussions led by experts “immersed in understanding the African-American experience”; and diversifying the SCHS Board of Directors.

Photo of the Week newsletters are usually sent out on Saturdays and feature an image from the museum’s archives with a brief description as well as information about upcoming exhibitions at the museum and links to the website and social media accounts.