Forty-one years ago, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley wrote a letter to a Ku Klux Klan leader and told him to “kiss my ass.”

The KKK’s Grand Dragon Edward R. Fields had insisted that Baxley respond directly to his letter to the attorney general complaining about the reopening of an investigation into the infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls.

Baxley did, and the confrontation is being recalled this week as 67 former attorney generals — including six from Hawaii — authored a letter in reaction to the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent.

There are times in the life of a nation, or a president, or a state attorney general when one is called upon to respond directly to the voice of hate,” the letter states. “As former state attorneys general, we take the liberty of reminding Americans — as we remind ourselves — that events can call out the worst in us ― and the best.”

Klan members in 2009. More than 60 former attorneys general are urging U.S. leaders to condemn hatred. Flickr: Martin

The attorneys, a bipartisan group, include Ron Amemiya of Honolulu, who served Gov. George Ariyoshi, a Democrat.

He said that Baxley, who he described as “a dear friend,” told the Grand Dragon to “kiss my ass.”

“That took plenty of cajones in 1976 in Alabama,” said Amemiya.

The letter does not mention the “kiss my ass” remark, but several national media outlets (including HuffingtonPost and The New York Times) have made note of it in news reports this week.

Nor does the letter mention President Donald Trump by name, although it is clear that the letter concerns him. Trump was widely criticized for his controversial remarks following the Charlottesville incident.

The other former Hawaii attorneys general signing the letter are David Louie, Michael Lilly, Margery Bronster, Robert Marks and Warren Price III.

Amemiya, who currently lobbies for the local Iron Workers union, said he was contacted to sign the letter by Society of Attorneys General Emeritus. He also said that Baxley is still alive.

“Bill is not the type of person to brag,” he said.

The letter includes several former attorney generals who went on to other work, including Bruce Babbitt, a former Arizona governor who was secretary of the interior under President Bill Clinton; former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who ran for vice president and president; and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Here’s the full letter, dated Monday, and who signed it:

Statement Of Former Attorneys General

There are times in the life of a nation, or a president, or a state attorney general when one is called upon to respond directly to the voice of hate.

As former state attorneys general, we take the liberty of reminding Americans ― as we remind ourselves ― that events can call out the worst in us ― and the best.

In 1971, the twenty-nine year old attorney general of Alabama began his quest to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Birmingham church bombing which killed four little girls. It was a crime rooted in hate and his determination to prosecute the case gave rise to voices of leaders of hate. He faced political furor, lack of cooperation from federal and state government agencies and constant threats of physical violence and death. But he persisted. It took years but he obtained a conviction.

In 1976 when the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan wrote a threatening letter and demanded that Alabama attorney general Bill Baxley respond directly to his letter, he did.

We commend his response to the attention of all who seek to equivocate in times of moral crisis.

Signatories:

  • Robert Abrams, New York
  • Ronald Amemiya, Hawaii
  • Jeff Amestoy, Vermont
  • Bruce Babbitt, Arizona
  • Thurbert Baker, Georgia
  • Paul Bardacke, New Mexico
  • Steve Beshear, Kentucky
  • Bruce Botelho, Alaska
  • Margery Bronster, Hawaii
  • Charlie Brown, West Virginia
  • Richard Bryan, Nevada
  • Charles Burson, Tennessee
  • Bonnie Campbell, Iowa
  • Steve Clark, Arkansas
  • Walter Cohen, Pennsylvania
  • Robert Cooper, Tennessee
  • J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Maryland
  • Fred Cowan, Kentucky
  • Frankie Sue Del Papa, Nevada
  • Jerry Diamond, Vermont
  • Richard Doran, Florida
  • John Easton, Vermont
  • Rufus Edmisten, North Carolina
  • Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma
  • Tyrone Fahner, Illinois
  • Lee Fisher, Ohio
  • Karen Freeman-Wilson, Indiana
  • Terry Goddard, Arizona
  • Chris Gorman, Kentucky
  • Slade Gorton, Washington
  • Jennifer Granholm, Michigan
  • Scott Harshbarger, Massachusetts
  • Peter Harvey, New Jersey
  • Hubert H . Humphrey III, Minnesota
  • Drew Ketterer, Maine
  • Oliver Koppell, New York
  • Peg Lautenschlager, Wisconsin
  • Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut
  • Michael Lilly, Hawaii
  • Alicia Limtiaco, Guam
  • Bill Lockyer, California
  • David Louie, Hawaii
  • Robert Marks, Hawaii
  • Brian McKay, Nevada
  • Jeff Modisett, Indiana
  • Betty Montgomery, Ohio
  • Mike Moore, Mississippi
  • Jim Petro, Ohio
  • Jeffrey Pine, Rhode Island
  • Warren Price III, Hawaii
  • Hector Richard, Puerto Rico
  • Clarine Nardi Riddle, Connecticut
  • Dennis Roberts, Rhode Island
  • Stephen Rosenthal, Virginia
  • Stephen Sachs, Maryland
  • James Shannon, Massachusetts
  • Mark Shurtleff, Utah
  • William Sorrell, Vermont
  • Rbert Spagnoletti, District of Columbia
  • Robert Stephan, Kansas
  • Mary Sue Terry, Virginia
  • James Tierney, Maine
  • Anthony F. Troy, Virginia
  • Jim Guy Tucker, Arkansas
  • Paul Van Dam, Utah
  • Bob Wefald, North Dakota
  • Grant Woods, Arizona

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