Virgil Lee Griffin
Virgil Lee Griffin (c. 1944 – February 11, 2009) was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan who was involved in a 1979 violent clash with Communist party organizers in North Carolina.
Griffin was born to Johnny and Lizzie Griffin. He had a brother John, two sisters Geraldine and Francis, and one half sister Janie. According to Griffin, he grew up picking cotton and played with blacks as a child and then he worked at a gas station. He joined the Klan when he was 18. His reason for joining the Klan was that he did not believe in mixing the races, particularly in marriage.
The Klan brought Griffin notoriety, but it was the November 1979 Greensboro rally held by members of the Communist Workers Party where Griffin won his biggest headlines. Griffin became known nationally when five Communist marchers were killed in a clash with members of the Klan in Greensboro. On the morning of the shootings, Griffin's Klansmen and American Nazis, in a nine-vehicle caravan, veered from the destination and drove through the rally. Griffin told told his members to go without robes and guns.
The Klansmen and the Nazis drove a caravan of cars through the throng of leftist demonstrators. Everybody seemed to agree that the leftists began hitting the cars, but accounts of what happened next differed widely. The leftists contended that the Klansmen and the Nazis left their cars and opened fire with shotguns, rifles and pistols. Five leftists were killed and 10 injured. The Klansmen and Nazis contended that they reacted in self-defense to having their cars attacked. They said the leftists fired the first shot. Griffin said the shots that hit the demonstrators were not aimed at them.
"Someone fired a shot -- and all hell broke loose," Griffin said. "We had every right to be drive down that street with nobody touching the cars. I didn't come to shoot or kill nobody."
Griffin maintained that the shootings were not planned. Klansmen said the fight broke out between the groups because Communists tried to pull a 79-year-old Klansman out of his car.
In 1980, six Klansmen and Nazis, not including Griffin, were acquitted of murder charges in North Carolina state court. In 1984, after a three-month trial, Griffin was among nine acquitted in federal court on charges of violating the leftists’ civil rights. Griffin was tried and cleared of state murder charges and federal civil rights conspiracy charges.
In 2005, he told a group studying the Greensboro massacre that he never would have gone to that rally had he not been goaded. At a forum in 2005, Griffin was asked why no Klansmen were killed in the crossfire: "Maybe God guided the bullets."
KKK and other activity
In 1979, he was identified in The New York Times as Grand Dragon of the North Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He later founded the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and has most recently been identified as the imperial wizard of the Cleveland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
For most of the last three decades, the Klan has lost both prominence and viciousness, according to the Anti-Defamation League and other anti-hate groups. But its opposition to illegal immigration has helped draw new sympathizers, and Griffin tried to be a leader in that effort. “Shoot one, and let them know we are sealing our borders,” Griffin said in an interview with WCNC.com of Charlotte, North Carolina. He and other Klan officials were in the midst of rebuilding, exploiting fears over illegal immigrants. "People are tired of this mess," Griffin told The Charlotte Observer in 2007. "The illegal immigrants are taking this country over."
Personal life and death
By the late 1990s, Griffin had two heart attacks, bypass surgery and a ruptured disc in his neck. He was preceded in death by his son Virgil Lee, Jr., his daughter Christine, his granddaughter Ashley and his brother John.
Surrounded by family, Griffin died on February 11, 2009 at the age of 64 in Gaston Memorial Hospital located in Gastonia, North Carolina. He had been ill for some time, but his obituary did not say what was the cause of death. Griffin is survived by his wife Linda, his sisters Geraldine Peebles, Janie Weant and Francis, his daughters Linda Dellinger and Shirley Williams, his sons John and James, fourteen grandchildren including Steven Griffin, Christie Griffin and Melissa Redden, eight great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
- Martin, Douglas (17 February 2009). "Virgil Lee Griffin, Klan Leader, Dies at 64". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "Virgil Griffin Obituary". The Gaston Gazette. 13 February 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- "KKK leader Virgil Griffin dies". WCNC-TV. 1 November 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- "Leader of N.C. Ku Klux Klan dies". NBCNews.com. 13 February 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2015.