This photo was taken at a Klan rally on September 5th, 1992 in the town of Gainsville, Georgia on September. The rally was the usual fare for modern-day white supremacists- a few people trying to rile the town up, a huge amount of police, and the media looking for a story.
Todd Robertson took the photo, as the backup photographer for the local daily. It was a late addition to section B of the paper, and though it was never published widely, it has endured. The Southern Poverty Law Center resurrected it for a booklet about combating hate, and it’s finally gained currency on the internet. Though it will never the kind of legacy that MLK pulling a burning cross out of his lawn or other iconic photos of the 1960s, it has a clear and immediate visual message.
The young boy, who was “Josh” according to his mother, embodies how hate is passed down through generations of social reinforcement, not a “bigotry gene” or such. A young child is not a racist nor a chauvinist. They are not a Christian nor an atheist nor a Muslim. They are not libertarians nor paleo-conservatives nor communists. These identifiers are formed over the course of a lifetime- by parents, the community, the church, the school. Some are raised by Klan members, others by tolerant and open-minded individuals. The path to being accepting and embracing diversity is not the same for everyone. While some people are raised and educated in a way that makes such behavior natural and easy, others have to break through years of lies and vitriol.
The journey is a park stroll, or a marathon. And where you start is just chance.