Back before World War Two the KKK burned a cross on my mother’s lawn. It was the budget variety–the shape of a big cross splashed in gasoline on the lawn and set alight. It certainly caught everyone’s attention. Apparently the nice Philadelphia neighborhood my grandparents had moved into was restricted–Protestants only. No Catholics and certainly no Irish. The Irish back then were only white in color anyway, they weren’t really white, not like WASP white. Everybody knew that. They drank too much, bred like rabbits, were loud, obnoxious, always fighting and voting Democrat and were, well, thugs. Nice people didn’t want Irish people in their neighborhoods. But my grandfather had done real good for a shanty Irish, got himself a real job, an executive job, making good money working for a government contractor, getting bombers built for the war to come. So he moved uptown and even got the family a maid. An Irish family with a maid. There’s an irony for you. It apparently wasn’t lost on the neighbors. The local branch of the KKK–they were everywhere, back then, the KKK, saving America from negroes and papists and jews and intellectuals–well the local branch got together and decided that if one Irishman moved in there went the whole neighborhood. So some brave souls stole onto the lawn in the middle of the night and poured a few gallons of gasoline into the shape of the Holy Cross and set it ablaze. The light filled my mother’s bedroom and she looked out her window and screamed in terror. My grandmother collected her and rest of the children in a safe spot away from the windows and my grandfather waited for the fire truck. The firemen–all Irish–doused the flames. The police officers–all Irish–took down the information. Things were whispered between my grandfather and the police and firemen. They probably warned him there’d be more to come. They’d seen it before. Said it was a dangerous part of town for an Irishman and his children. We all know our place, they said, and it’s not on this end of town.
No one ever took responsibility for the act. No one was arrested. Not long afterward my grandfather took the family back across the river to New Jersey, where the local bars rang late into the night with Irish song, people voted early and often, and Mass was full all Sunday long. Those were his people, and he stayed with them and sang with them and drank with them till he died.
The KKK won that battle.