What to Do When Bigots Adopt Highways

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 12 2012 11:45 AM

When Bigots Adopt Highways

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Members of the Ku Klux Klan in 2009 in Pulaski, Tennessee

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As you may have heard, a Georgia chapter of the KKK is trying to participate in that state’s Adopt-a-Highway program. The program, as the state’s own website says, “provides recognition for participating companies and organizations, brings the environmental and monetary costs of littering into public awareness, and promotes civic responsibility and pride.” Obviously, when a hate group asks to join in, that last goal of the program is, shall we say, a bit compromised.

Legally, however, it may be difficult to reject them. When a Missouri chapter of the KKK applied to participate in that state’s Adopt-a-Highway program, the state’s Department of Transportation rejected the application—only to have a U.S. District Court judge declare that rejection unconstitutional. (That judge’s decision was then upheld by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court declined to hear a further appeal of the decision.)

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The Missouri legislature responded wisely, however: They renamed that stretch of highway the Rosa Parks Freeway. Later, when a neo-Nazi group adopted a different portion of Missouri highway, the legislature put forward a bill to rename that stretch for the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent Jewish theologian who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Unlike the the KKK chapter, which was dropped from the program after never actually cleaning the highway, members of the National Socialist Movement did show up for their trash removal duties.)

The Georgia Department of Transportation was to meet yesterday with lawyers from the state’s Attorney General’s Office. No word yet on what they have decided to do—or whose name might soon grace a stretch of Route 515 that cuts through the Appalachian Mountains, close to North Carolina.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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