Fact check: Photo of KKK billboard from 1970s, not taken recently in North Carolina

Fact check: Photo of KKK billboard from 1970s, not taken recently in North Carolina

USA News


The claim: A photo shows a KKK billboard in a North Carolina county where a recent Donald Trump rally took place

An outdated photo circulating on social media has led some to believe former President Donald Trump recently held a rally in a North Carolina county that has a billboard promoting the Ku Klux Klan.

The image, shared thousands of times on Twitter, shows a red billboard that reads, “Help fight communism and intergration (sic). Join & support United Klans of America Inc.” A banner along the bottom of the sign announces that “the KKKK welcomes you to Smithfield.”

Numerous social media users posting the morning after Trump’s April 9 rally in Selma, North Carolina, said the photo was from the same county. Trump hosted the event in support of congressional candidates running in the midterm elections.

“This is Johnston County NC where trump held his rally last night,” one Facebook post reads. “Explain how the gop is not a safe haven for white supremests (sic)?”

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The post borrows language from a popular tweet including the same image, which accrued more than 4,700 retweets and 8,600 likes within four days.

But the claim is misleading, as independent fact-checking organizations have reported. Though the billboard in the photo once stood in Johnston County, it was taken down almost 50 years before Trump’s Selma rally, according to The Raleigh News & Observer.

USA TODAY reached out to several users who shared the post for comment.

Billboard photo from 1970s, no relation to Trump rally

The history of the sign in the image begins in 1967, when the Johnson County chapter of the United Klans of America first erected a billboard with the same messaging. The Raleigh News & Observer reported in 2019 that it was put on private property in Smithfield, North Carolina, which borders Selma.

After the original billboard was defaced, the group mounted a new version and added lighting in 1972. Aaccording to the News & Observer, a reporter for the Smithfield Herald noted this sign spelled “integration” as “intergration” – the same misspelling present in the photo featured in the social media posts.

The photo in the social media posts is a still from the 1976 film “Brotherhood of Death,” in which a fictional group of Black Vietnam War veterans attempts to free their hometown from KKK terrorists. The film ends with the characters leaving town to avoid retribution from the KKK, and the Smithfield billboard serves as the last shot. 

More: Freedom Riders traveled deep into the South in 1961. Klansmen beat them, then set their bus on fire.

The billboard was taken down for good in 1977, the News & Observer wrote, “because the owner of the land, Jimmy Rogers Flowers of Clayton, wanted to build a real estate office on the site.” Flowers’ brother had been president of the county KKK group. 

While some who replied to the tweet of the billboard wrongly assumed it was still standing, several others noted the billboard was removed decades before the rally.

Fact check: Photo of all-Black ER staff treating Klan member is an ad

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that a photo shows a KKK billboard in a North Carolina county where a recent Trump rally took place, because without further context it could be misleading. The billboard shown in the photo was located in Johnston County, but it was taken down in 1977. It has no relation to the April 9 Trump rally in Selma.

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