At a Glance
The plaintiffs won $535,000 in damages and the Klan was served with an injunction prohibiting the group from engaging in violence and from entering the Black community. This was a key early case in which Klan victims were awarded damages from the Klan.
Crumsey v. Justice Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is a lawsuit seeking an injunction and monetary and punitive damages from the Ku Klux Klan on behalf of five Chattanooga women injured during a shooting spree. The claims were brought under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
The Ku Klux Klan was born in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1868. One hundred years later, William Church formed an independent chapter, the Justice Knights, in the small Tennessee town of Chattanooga with the aim of moving against "the damn n-----s."
In April 1981, Lyndon Church and a member of the Justice Knights burned two eight-foot wooden crosses in the heart of Chattanooga's Black community. Another Klansmen proceeded to empty his double-barreled shotgun out of the car window into five elderly Black women. He then reloaded and opened fire on a parked car, shooting Fannie Crumsey in the neck.
The Klansmen were arrested and held under criminal charges. At the criminal trials, the Klansmen were charged with assault with intent to commit murder. Their defense was that they had no intention to commit murder and were just drunk. The prosecutor was unable to prove intent and neglected to include the charges of cross burning, assault with a deadly weapon, going armed, and firing weapons. Church and another participant were acquitted in the cross burning and shooting spree, and the shooter faced just a minor assault conviction. They were fined $50 and served six months out of a nine month sentence.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) then brought a damages action against the Ku Klux Klan. The plaintiffs won $535,000 in damages and the Klan was served with an injunction prohibiting the group from engaging in violence and from entering the Black community. This was a key early case in which Klan victims were awarded damages from the Klan. Equally important, CCR secured an injunction against the Justice Knights and associated individuals to prohibit their campaign of assault, intimidation, and harassment.