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Trooper, photographer reflect on iconic photo
Image of hooded, robed kid circulates on social media
Retired Georgia State Trooper Allen Campbell, right, holds a copy of the photo shot by Todd Robertson, left, in 1992 that shows Campbell looking at a small child in a KKK outfit during a Klan rally in Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed

The photograph has traveled through social media sites and articles, touching hearts while evoking memories of a racially charged, not-too-distant era in Hall County’s history.

It shows a young child, dressed in white Ku Klux Klan hood and robe, touching his reflection in a riot shield carried by an African-American Georgia State Patrol trooper during a rally in downtown Gainesville on Sept. 5, 1992.

The now-retired trooper, Allen Campbell, with his hands firmly planted on top of the shield, is staring down at the child, no particular expression on his face.

“Me and this kid, neither one, made a choice to be here,” Campbell said, recalling his thoughts at that moment during an interview Tuesday. “The state patrol made me come, and his mom and daddy brought him.”

That day, uneventful in other ways, was revisited by Campbell and Todd Robertson, the freelancer who shot the picture for The Times, as they met with reporters at the patrol’s Post 6 at 2000 Cleveland Highway in North Hall — where Campbell served throughout his 30-year career.

The two hadn’t met since the photo was shot. Since then, the picture has circulated overseas and has grabbed the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., and such TV networks as NBC and History Channel.

“Probably six months ago, it started showing up more and more on (social media sites) and as soon as someone would see it, they would share it,” said Robertson, who has hung up the camera and now works at a Gainesville cabinet shop since the mid-1990s.

Campbell, now living in Gillsville, was unaware of the hubbub.

“I watch the news every night, but I’m not on the Internet very much,” he said.

Robertson brought Campbell a color print of the photo — it ran in black and white inside the Sept. 6 paper — and showed him some other pictures of the rally, including some of the child, known only as Josh and whose whereabouts today aren’t known.

At the time, racial tensions were at the forefront in the area. The KKK was holding its third annual Labor Day rally in Gainesville.

In January 1987, a civil rights march in Forsyth County, led by the late Rev. Hosea Williams, turned violent as counter protesters threw rocks and bottles at the bus carrying the group.

A week later, the protesters returned, numbering in the thousands and a carrying of host of well-known faces, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Sens. Sam Nunn and Wyche Fowler.

“From the riots in nearby Forsyth County in the late 1980s through the almost monthly Klan events in Northeast Georgia, our community was drawn into some sort of epicenter of racial intolerance,” said John C. Druckenmiller, former managing editor of The Times, in an email to the newspaper.

“In almost all cases, these were outsiders coming into Northeast Georgia — be it Hosea Williams in Forsyth or Klan members elsewhere,” said Druckenmiller, owner/editor of Hometown Headlines Inc., an Internet media group serving Northwest Georgia.

“Gainesville was the stage, not the community staging (the) events.”

And it was Campbell, along with troopers from throughout Georgia, who worked to keep the peace at those events.

He recalled being particularly “ticked off” about working the Labor Day rallies in Gainesville.

“It’s the last holiday of the summer. We all get together, have a barbecue and adult beverages, and have a good time,” Campbell said. “But here I am, at a Klan rally in Gainesville, Ga., protecting the rights of Ku Klux Klan.”

He considers the encounter with the child — and the photo that followed — as pure “happenstance.”

“I never saw (Robertson) take the picture, never knew it existed until it showed up in the newspaper,” Campbell said. “... I didn’t even see the kid, didn’t know he was there. I was thinking about my Labor Day weekend being ruined and I felt something bumping on my shield.”

He reflected on the photo’s significance and why he believes it’s still creating a buzz.

“The fact that it is a black person and a little kid dressed in a Klan uniform — I guess you can say it was something racial,” he said.

“Any kind of stuff like that sells. I don’t think there would have been that much reaction to it if that had been a white trooper standing there.”

Standing next to Campbell in the photograph were two other troopers — one white and one black.

He said his job was to “uphold the laws of the state of Georgia and protect the Constitution, and the Constitution says we have a right to freedom of speech. I may not be agreeing with what you’re saying ... but I have to defend your right to say it.”

Robertson, 45, said he believes the photo shows “that racism is a learned process.

“I don’t think this kid really thought any differently about him being there than being anywhere else on a Saturday or a weekend,” he said. “He might have thought it was Halloween.”

Campbell, 61, who retired in June 2009, said he would like to believe that times are different, that race relations have improved.

“But it’s still there. If you don’t believe me, ask (President) Barack Obama,” he said. “He’s half-white and they’re giving him all this grief about being black. What are people thinking?”