The first episode of CNN’s United Shades of America took black comedian W. Kamau Bell to two Arkansas cities where messages of white supremacy remain in the public eye.
“If you search the Internet for [Ku Klux Klan], some of the top stories you’ll find are about a small town you’ve probably never heard of,” Bell told viewers, referring to Harrison, a town of more than 13,000 residents — 96 percent of whom are white, he said.
Bell interviews locals — including members of a task force fighting racial divides in the city — who denounce a man whose role as national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has become burdensome to Harrison's image in recent years.
The prominent Klansman, pastor Thomas Robb, later sits down for lunch with Bell. The two exchange views on their respective races, and by the end of that conversation, Bell takes Robb up on an offer to visit his compound.
"The Klan to me is just a tool to reach people," Robb told Bell. "I feel that it's the biggest bang for the buck. ... My personal belief is that black people cannot maintain law and order on their own."
At one point during the episode, Bell stands in front of a billboard visible as visitors entered Harrison that read in part: “Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White.”
That billboard, which went up in October 2013 along the U.S. 62/65 bypass, came down in November 2014 after receiving national media attention, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously reported.
On a road darkened by nightfall in Wynne, Bell also met with another KKK figure whose voice was masked to protect his identity.
The full first episode, which aired Sunday, is available on demand at CNN's website. It will also re-air at 10:11 p.m. Friday, according to the network's programming schedule.
New episodes of United Shades of America, a hybrid of stand-up comedy and storytelling, air at 9 p.m. Sundays on CNN.