Western Courier

Ignorance restricts freedom

Joseph Poulos

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I read in the Daily Eastern News, Eastern Illinois University’s student newspaper, last week about J.Q. Adams, the acting director of African-American Students program at WIU, challenging students at EIU to make the world better. One quote in the article attributed to Adams really struck me.”When any one group is oppressed – we are all oppressed. We can only find freedom if we are all free,” he said.

I felt his words should be posted on the display wall in the University Union, because after my experiences as a college journalist, I felt I could understand what he said.

In September, I was fortunate enough to witness the essence of how I would describe the word hate, and I also watched the power of the love people share for each other.

I had seen things like this before in movies and on television, I had also read about them and studied them in school, but none of these things could have prepared me for what I would see that day in early fall.

I pledged two dollars to support an ad taken out in the Macomb Journal to fight racism and hate crimes, listened to people sing and watched children play together in Chandler Park. I said to myself it was too bad that ordinary days could not be so beautiful.

It was too bad that my job that Saturday afternoon was not over. As a journalist, I had to find out why over 300 people had gathered in Chandler Park to denounce the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in the surrounding area. To write it better, I had to find a way to explain to my readers what these crazy lunatics were doing in peaceful McDonough County.

So I traveled out to Duncan Mills and met up with several other media organizations who were all prohibited from entering the KKK rally. I was greeted there by some loser who had a pistol on his belt and a black mask on so I could not identify him. I wondered if he could be a teacher at WIU, or if he was an alderman, or if he was anybody at all. Perhaps another school teacher.

He and like many others at the rally would not let me take their pictures and threatened to use force if I did. They would not let our photo editor in because she had stopped to take photos of the protesters outside the KKK camp first. When she tried to join me inside to take pictures of the Klan they called her a “troublemaker” and forced her to leave. But that was okay with her, she felt better about covering the protesters anyway. They told me that some participants could lose their jobs if they were photographed. I asked them how they could be a part of something of which they were so ashamed. When they told me they weren’t ashamed, I said “then take off your mask and let me see who you are. I won’t even take your picture.” Still, they denied.

As I looked through the white mask on the leader, Edward Novak, I could see sweat around his eyes. I know it was hot that day, but since I didn’t have a stupid mask on, I was cool. I was free.

The ashamed KKK member wasn’t. He couldn’t crawl out from under the hood. As Adams said in his speech at EIU, this man fit his definition. His own racism had restricted his own freedoms. The guy couldn’t even remove a heavy article of clothing on a hot September day. I feel it is unfortunate for all of us that ignorance restricts freedom.

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Ignorance restricts freedom