Photo by Corey McKinney
Photojournalist James Edward Bates, of Gulfport, has witnessed more in the last 16 years of his life documenting the Ku Klux Klan in video and images than most people have experienced in their entire lives.
Bates documents the KKK as a mean to expose the racism that the group espouses.
“I want to have a purpose here on Earth,” Bates said. “I cannot step away from it because I feel God has give me access to a population that few people have.”
Bates was inspired to start the KKK project after he was exposed to photographs by the late Charles Moore, who documented the Civil Rights movement in pictures. Bates saw Moore’s work while he was a student at The University of Southern Mississippi, studying under retired professor Ed Wheeler.
Some of Bates’ pictures depict children dressed in variations of KKK robes. The youngest child Bates said he came across at a KKK rally was a 1-month-old infant. One of his more memorable encounters involved a 3-year-old boy who was a fifth-generation Klan member, on both sides.
Bates titled his photographs and videos of the KKK “Passing the Torch” to represent how the belief system of hatred and discrimination is passed down from generation to generation.
Bates said he is still seeking answers about why KKK members believe what they believe. He said he has found that racism is very much alive, particularly in the rural South, but he hasn’t lost hope for the future.
“I really want to understand why (racism) is so prevalent,” Bates said. “It’s easy to respond to hate with hate, but I choose to respond with love and have hope for everyone.”