News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Appeals court candidate must deal with history

A candidate for a state appeals court seat would have been a Cullman teenager at the time her parents were reportedly active in Ku Klux Klan activities.

But Terri Willingham Thomas, 41, said she never knew if Joe and Violet Willingham were involved with the Klan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Perhaps, they also concealed her mother's arrest for transporting guns with an expired permit at a Klan march in Montgomery.

As late as 1993 her father also received an award from the right wing Council of Conservative Citizens whose ideology is white supremacy and white separation. That her parents were Klan members, if reports are true, doesn't mean that the sitting district judge has Klan beliefs. Nor does it disqualify her as a candidate for Place 3 on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

But the claim she had no knowledge of her parents' Klan activity needs more explaining. Did the matter never come up around the dinner table, even during the time when her brother, Cullman lawyer Dan Willingham, represented two Klan members in a 1980 civil lawsuit against the group?

Wouldn't family members want to know why the CCC, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group, chose to honor Mr. Willingham?

It is possible she did not know of her parents' activity, but saying she was unaware of their past creates a credibility gap for Judge Thomas that she needs to close if she is to serve as a statewide judge.

The gap isn't about her parents or about her brother representing Klan members, or, as she said, about her sisters, her cousins or her grandparents, too.

"I am me, and I am fair. I am not prejudiced at all," she said.

But the gap is about her possible lack of candor.

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