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Lake Wales election today: Former KKK leader a candidate | News

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Lake Wales election today: Former KKK leader a candidate
News, People, Politics
Lake Wales election today: Former KKK leader a candidate

Lake Wales, Florida - While mayoral candidates John Paul Rogers and Mike Carter were counting down to Tuesday's city election, activists in the African-American community of Lake Wales were coming together. They're upset about Rogers' connection with the Klan.

But one of Rogers' biggest supporters who is African-American spent the day campaigning for him.

On Monday evening, half a dozen community activists from the northwest side of Lake Wales weighed in on Rogers.

The 70-year-old currently serves as a commissioner for Lake Wales. The grandfather owns a barber shop that doubles as a gun store in the heart of downtown Lake Wales. He is also a former Grand Dragon for the United Klans of America, which was one of the most violent branches of the Klan.

Photo Gallery: Pictures of a 1977 KKK rally in Tallahassee (photos courtesy State Library Archives of Florida)

Last month Rogers spoke to 10 News about his involvement with the group. He said, "I can't say about the violence because I never committed any act of violence. I never encouraged anybody to do an act of violence. In fact, I always spoke against violence."

The community activists say they're outraged that Rogers refuses to apologize or renounce his leadership role with the Klan. It's something other politicians have done over the years. Former Governor of Alabama George Wallace, Senator Robert Byrd and even Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black all apologized and renounced their participation with the Klan.

Reverend James Cleare of the Lake Wales chapter of the NAACP says, "If you want to confront the problem, then you say that I'm sorry that those things happened. I changed. I've mended my ways. I don't associate with that kind of activity. But that's not what he said."

One of Rogers' biggest supporters in the African-American community of Lakes Wales is 81 year old Booker Young. He agreed to talk with 10 News but later changed his mind once we arrived. He said he was too tired because he'd spent the day campaigning for Rogers.

But we caught up with Young about an hour later at a NAACP meeting. 

Many of the members of the group say they have a problem with Young picking up absentee ballots at Grove Manor, a public housing facility for seniors, because he has a seat on the housing board that oversees it.

David Smith, the president of the Lake Wales branch of the NAACP, says, "We feel that him being on the board at a government project is intimidating and somebody needs to investigate it."

Reverend Eugene Fultz adds, "The seat on the housing board I think is something he's been using as leverage - talking to the elderly saying 'you know I'm on the board that governs this housing area therefore sign those absentee ballots and give them to me and I will turn them in."

Voters are heading to the polls in the non-partisan race in Lake Wales on Tuesday starting at 7 a.m. Though party affiliation is not a factor in the race Rogers and Carter are both Democrats. Lake Wales voters will also vote on a commission seat and several charter amendments. 

Community activist Clinton Horne adds, "You only have yourself to blame if someone gets in that's not going to do the things to help improve your surroundings, your community, your interests."

If John Paul Rogers doesn't win the mayor's seat, he will continue to serve as commissioner until 2012.

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