At first glance, Bill Wilkinson may appear to be nothing more than a friendly and harmless old man, but the jovial 72-year-old was once an Imperial Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan. From 1975 to 1984, he was dubbed the most powerful white supremacist in the world — so how come he’s now living in a majority black town, cheek to cheek and jowl to jowl with the very people he once professed to hate with a passion?
Wilkinson invited the newspaper along for a tour of his neighborhood after news reports circulated that a former Imperial Grand Wizard of the KKK who went missing in 1984 had been found living there. Wilkinson chose to break his 30-year silence by insisting he’s no longer a racist.
“I don’t hate blacks… Ain’t that something? I never have hated blacks, I still don’t hate blacks, I don’t hate anyone.”
However, there is a slight sting in the tail to the former head honcho of the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’s conversion to brotherly love and racial tolerance, and that is his firm and unwavering belief in segregation for the greater good.
“I’m just a Bible-crashing segregationist. I still believe in segregation, that’s how it should be. God has commanded me not to mix with other races. I have not changed, I’m the same man I always have been. I wouldn’t let one [a black person] marry my children or my grandchildren.
“I am a segregationist. By segregation I believe no intermingling in the schools and churches, things of that nature.”
A white “Bible-crashing segregationist” living on an island with a predominantly black, Mayan, and Hispanic population may seem a little odd, if not insane, but Wilkinson sees it another way. He invited the Mail to accompany him on a tour around his neighborhood to see what he magnanimously described as “how I am with the blacks.”
“Blacks, Rastafarians, Hispanics, you should see me with them.”
And see him the Daily Mail did, to the point that the reporter wrote that Wilkinson was “[s]eemingly at ease greeting black men and women he said were his friends. He laughed, joked, hugged and kissed several locals – black men and women whom he admitted he once marched against.”
The Mail reports that Wilkinson appeared to get an immense thrill from the accepting ways of the locals who are aware of his history and explained how they often make humorous references to his past as a member of the KKK.
“Some of them (black people) shout from across the street and make the shape of a Klan hood on their head, but they do it with a smile.”
Yet despite enjoying some jolly good banter with the natives, Wilkinson is quick to warn, “That doesn’t mean I would let my children or grandchildren marry ’em.”
Reading of Wilkinson walking around San Pedro like visiting royalty, shaking hands and kissing babies, it’s easy to forget that during his time as the most powerful white supremacist in the world, he was a proven master at stirring up racial hatred.
As an Imperial Grand Master, Wilkinson promoted the carrying of guns, knives, and clubs by all Klansmen during marches and organized paramilitary style training camps to train what he termed the “Klan Guard” for a “race war.”
Wilkinson once told the Washington Post, “Race-mixing, that’s the highest sin you can commit. Higher than murder.”
When quizzed about his past, Wilkinson appears to specialize in white-washing the more offensive elements and explains he only joined the Klan to improve American schools.
“We’re not the great Satan. The presidents of the United States, they had slaves, Billy Graham, he operated segregation in his audiences and it was accepted at that time.
“After the schools became integrated they started to have disciplinary problems and black people started to get automatic promotions, whether they passed the grades or not.
“The majority of the problems was with the blacks, they were not scholastically achieving as the whites did, so they [the establishment] started promoting them up. Eventually what they started doing was promoting everybody [all blacks] and I was catching on that they were lowering the standards of teaching.
“That was the trigger for me and that’s why I joined the Klan and I did the best I could to find a solution to improve the schools.”
Wilkinson, who now said he enjoys a pleasant life of scuba-diving, snorkelling and spear-fishing, insists he now has no connection whatsoever with the KKK, but ask him for his thoughts on Barrack Obama and he’ll tell you, “I’m not going down that road.”
Perhaps the man who many of the locals know a “King of the red-necks” is best summed up by a penniless San Pedro Rastafarian street artist called Kurt, who said he calls Wilkinson “Mr. Bill” and thinks of him as a friend, but a friend who can’t see what is in front of his very nose, and with whose views he passionately disagrees.
“He speaks like we can’t all live together, but he’s living in a f***ing town where all the people live, you’ve got black people, you’ve got Mayans, you’ve got Creoles, you’ve got Spanish. It takes a mentally insane person to think like that.”
[Images courtesy of Tim Boyle/Keystone/Getty Images]