BALTIMORE (AP) — David Allen, owner of A&M Auctioneers and Appraisers, never quite knows what’s going to turn up from the old homes and shops of the Eastern Shore.
Once, he said, he came across a box of wooden and metal washboards from an old general store, 100 years old and looking brand new.
Recently, though, the Wicomico County auction house handled an item with a somewhat darker history.
In an otherwise-humdrum estate in Cambridge — heavy on Persian rugs, china dolls and decorative crystal vases — was a white robe, with a deep red patch embroidered over the heart. A number, 127, adorned the left sleeve. The triangle-topped hood was stained brown at the edges.
A&M offered the robe as part of an online auction. The listing: “Cambridge Lodge #127 original Ku Klux Klan complete robe and cap with original patch and embroidered lodge number on sleeve …”
The KKK was active on Maryland’s Eastern Shore throughout the 20th century. In 1928, The Baltimore Sun estimated the group’s membership there at 3,000 to 8,000. In the 1960s, the Klan opened a recruiting office in Salisbury. In later decades, members passed out leaflets, spread racist graffiti and burned crosses on the lawns of African-American neighbors, according to media accounts.
More recently, Richard Wilson Preston Jr. of Baltimore founded the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan around 2013. The group gained notice late that year when it applied for and received permission to hold an “organizational meeting” in the Cecil County Government Building in Elkton. Last August, Preston was accused of shooting at a black man during the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. He was indicted in December on a charge of firing a weapon near a school.
Allen said this was the first time he’d ever come across a KKK robe as part of an estate.
“It’s the only one we’ve ever sold and probably the only one I’ll ever sell again,” he said.
Liz Harward, an antique dealer from Pasadena, came across the item through an ad on Facebook. Harward said she was horrified.
“To offer that item in Black History Month, are you kidding me? I was shocked . and also kind of sad,” she said. “You don’t offer something up that’s a symbol of death.”
She reached out to the auction house, hoping to dissuade it from selling the item.
Allen told her the auction house was contractually bound to sell all the items in the estate — including the robe. But together with the seller, he arranged to donate proceeds from its sale toward college costs for one of his employees, whom he described as an immigrant from Nigeria studying in the United States.
Contacted by The Sun, the student declined to comment and wished to remain anonymous.
“We didn’t really want it publicized,” Allen said. But the solution was “something that we feel was fair,” he said, given the item’s legacy.
Allen said that under the terms of the auction house’s contract, he couldn’t reveal the buyer or the seller. But he said the robe, which sold Feb. 7 during the online auction, went for about $1,300.
“Take it or leave it, it’s a piece of history,” Allen said.
Harward said that even with the proceeds being donated, she still disagrees with the sale of a KKK robe.
So did Malik Russell, a spokesman for the national headquarters of the NAACP in Baltimore, who said he found no worth in the preservation of a symbol of the Klan.
People who find items such as KKK robes in their closets, he said, should burn them.
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