INFORMANT FROM THE '60S
On screen: How FBI got into N.C. Klan
Documentary tells how worst violence missed Klan-heavy state
Associated Press, June 11, 2007 posted at Charlotte.com
GREENSBORO --A documentary will focus on the unusual relationship between a high-level Ku Klux Klansman in North Carolina and an FBI agent who paid him to be an informant during the civil-rights movement.
George Dorsett, 90, was a national kludd, or chaplain, of the United Klans of America in the 1950s and '60s. His gave hate-filled speeches that inflamed crowds and generated money for the Klan. He once burned crosses outside a black minister's house after the pastor moved into a white neighborhood.
In 1957, Dorsett stood outside the all-white Gillespie Park School in Greensboro when it opened its doors to black students and heckled them as they entered the building.
That's when federal Special Agent Dargan Frierson first encountered Dorsett.
Frierson said he met with Dorsett several times, trying to persuade him to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation by appealing to Dorsett's distaste for violence. A relationship developed as the two men found common ground.
Typical of 1960s white Southern mainstream, Frierson knew integration was right but he wasn't enthusiastic about it.
He says he never bad-mouthed the Klan; his rich Southern accent engendered trust among informants. His grandfather once owned slaves in Sumter, S.C., his hometown.
"First, I'm a Southerner," Frierson said, adding that he made sure his informants knew "my grandfather was in the Klan, or what they called the Klan back then, Hampton's Red Shirts."
Dorsett would later feed Frierson information about Klan activities and potential troublemakers. That information, says Frierson, helped prevent serious violence similar to what the Klan did in Alabama and Mississippi.
On one occasion, another informant tipped off Frierson about a Klan klavern's plans to burn a Burlington church. Frierson dispatched Dorsett, who warned the FBI would be waiting.
"He helped me a lot in keeping down trouble," said Frierson, 86.
Dorsett says Frierson paid him $400 and $500 on different occasions.
The unusual relationship between the two men is being explored in a documentary produced by Michael Frierson, the agent's son, who teaches cinema at UNC Greensboro.
"I don't think most people know what it was like in the 1960s," Michael Frierson said. "North Carolina had the largest Ku Klux Klan membership in the South. Rallies attracted thousands."
Klansmen doubling as FBI agents were "more typical than we would like to believe," said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
"The whole relationship between the Klan and FBI was very close," Potok says, and "at times seems to have gone far beyond the bounds" of good law enforcement.
Today, in his broken-down trailer near Asheboro, Dorsett holds onto his core beliefs about race. "I don't believe in integration," he said.
From time to time, Dargan Frierson will slip him $100. "He was a good friend, and he helped me," Frierson said. "He caused this area not to have violence."