When Apple CEO Tim Cook was in the sixth or seventh grade, he confronted the KKK while they were burning a cross on a black family’s lawn in Alabama, according to details revealed by the Washington Post’s Todd Frankel.
In the early 1970s, [Cook] was riding his new 10-speed bicycle at night along a rural road just outside Robertsdale when he spotted a burning cross. He pedaled closer.
He saw Klansmen in white hoods and robes. The cross was on the property of a family he knew was black. It was almost more than he could comprehend.
Without thinking, he shouted, “Stop!”
Cook couldn’t have been more than 13 when he saw the hate crime in progress, if the Post’s timeline of events is correct, which he says has become a core part of his own personal story. He even recognised one of the Klansmen as a deacon at a church in town, who warned him to keep moving.
The story underscores that Cook grew up, as he says, a “son of the South,” in a small town of only thousands, with social conventions far different than the Silicon Valley enclave he now lives in.
For example, Cook has publicly supported gay rights by donating to the Human Rights Campaign, and appeared in a gay pride parade in San Francisco. But a former classmate who never left Robertsdale says that those stances were “offensive to a lot of people down here,” according to the Washington Post.
Cook has long spoken about running Apple according to values, whether it’s running data centres on renewable energy, supporting gay rights, or even in its most recent privacy clash with the FBI over the data on a criminal’s locked iPhone.
The New York Times previously reported the anecdote about the cross-burning, and Cook spoke about witnessing a cross-burning in a speech at the United Nations in 2013. Cook said:
“Not far from where I lived, I remember very vividly witnessing a cross burning at such a remarkable family. This image was permanently imprinted in my brain, and it would change my life forever. For me the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred, and a fear of anyone different than the majority. I could never understand it, and I knew then that America’s an Alabama’s history would always be scarred by the hatred that it represented.”
The entire speech is worth watching, but the relevant story starts at 2:20.