Guilford schools 'sorry' for linking UDC to KKK

Greensboro News & Record - 9-6-02

GREENSBORO -- Guilford County Schools officials apologized to local leaders of the United Daughters of the Confederacy Thursday afternoon, saying they made a "poor decision" last week when a middle school principal
halted the UDC's annual essay and art contest and compared the group to the Ku Klux Klan.

"We want to sincerely apologize for anything we said or did that was offensive to the UDC," Aycock Principal
Melissa Harrelson and teacher Jean Botzis wrote in a letter given to officers of the Guilford UDC chapter at an
hour-long meeting at the school.

"We made a poor decision based on incorrect information," the letter said. "We were trying to respond to a parent's request to remove their child from any further recognition or participation in the essay contest. It could have been handled better and we are sorry that it wasn't."

UDC leaders said the essay and art contest, offered to local school students for more than 50 years on a voluntary basis, will resume at Aycock later this year. Contest topics, suggested by the UDC chapter's historian, vary each year. This year's suggested topics for high school entrants included "The War Between the States in the North Carolina Mountains."

Ten local schools participated in this year's contest, held last spring. A total of 67 students won awards, and the UDC gave $395 in prizes, Bissell said.

Harrelson, Botzis and central office administrator Barry Williams represented the school system at the meeting,
said Ellen Bissell, program chairman of the Guilford UDC chapter. "They were very, very apologetic," Bissell

"They sincerely were distressed that all this had happened. I think we'll have a good relationship in the future."

The flap broke out last week, when Botzis sent a letter to the UDC, a heritage group of female descendants of
Confederate veterans, requesting that the name of an eighth-grade essay contest winner or any other entrants
at Aycock not be entered in further competition or published in affiliation with the UDC.

That letter said the "philosophy and goals" of the UDC conflicted with those of Aycock Middle School. Then, in a telephone conversation that day with the News & Record, Harrelson, the Aycock principal, described the UDC as a "modern-day version of the Ku Klux Klan."

Harrelson refused to discuss Thursday's meeting with the News & Record. But Aycock PTA President David Hoggard said that the school's initial letter to the UDC had resulted from a parent's complaint.

"This parent was investigating something they had heard about a post-Civil War linkage between the UDC and the Ku Klux Klan on the Internet," he said.

Hoggard said he found the same information on the Internet by typing the words "UDC" and "Ku Klux Klan" into a search engine. That led him to an article a Public Broadcasting Service Web site that linked the carving of the UDC-sponsored Confederate monument at Stone Mountain, Ga., with the founding of the modern KKK at the same location.

Harrelson's mistake was in making an "unfortunate choice of words" regarding the UDC, Hoggard said.

Margaret Carver, president of the local UDC chapter, described Thursday's meeting as "cordial."
"I think they truly were sorry," Carver said.