Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ku Klux Klan: Loose Ends

This photo from the Library of Congress collection, location and precise date unknown, does date from the 1920s and illustrates the uniform Klan costume marketed by the national organization across the United States, including Lucas County. The subject here reportedly is the christening of the "youngest" Klan member. Keep in mind that the Klan self-identified as a Christian organization and by some estimates two-thirds of its most active promoters were ordained protestant clergy. We have no idea how Lucas County's clergy contingent as a whole reacted to the Klan, but in nearby Centerville, reportedly only the Presbyterian pastor was willing to stand publicly against it.

I went back to the newspaper files Monday to see if I could tie up a few loose ends regarding the Ku Klux Klan's record in Lucas County, confirming only that that here isn't much more substantive information to be found there.

But I did find the following previously overlooked article in the Herald-Patriot of May 24, 1923, describing a cross-burning on the shores of Crystal Lake --- the reservoir on the west side of Chariton that now is the site of the Chariton Golf and Country Club as well as lakeshore housing.

This followed a public promotional meeting for the Klan on the square during late April, reported upon here; and perhaps was among the first promotional efforts of Wayne Blankenship, newly arrived Klan recruiter, and friends.

They Burned the Cross and Marched Around the Symbol

The Invisible Empire became spectacular here on Monday. During the day the organizer asked permission of James Bennett to parade on the gun club grounds but Mr. Bennett said it might not meet the approval of the club. This was the night of the big club opening for the season and many would be at Crystal Lake that evening. But at about 10 o'clock that night a burning cross was erected on the west side of the lake and a band of white robed Kluxers paraded around and encircled the cross as it was being consumed. It looked somewhat ghostly and grotesque, but was quite an interesting spectacle. Who constitutes the Empire here is not known, but it is known that an organization has been made, and it is claimed it will have a large membership. It is announced that N.C. Carpenter, D.D., pastor of the Capitol Hill Church of Christ, Des Moines, will tell why he is a member of the Ku Klux Klan here on next Friday evening.

The Rev. Mr. Carpenter was one of several Des Moines preachers who were organizing the Klan there, and had recently gained broad attention for his sermon, "Why I Am a Member of the Ku Klux Klan." He had been elected president of the Des Moines Klan. The Chariton newspapers did not report upon his appearance in Lucas County.

Anti-Klan crusaders also appeared in Chariton, including John Wilkinson of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who "addressed a large audience" in the courthouse square during late August of 1924, following the Klan's big konclave at Chariton. This was a meeting that the Herald-Patriot did cover. According to the Herald-Patriot, "for many weeks he has been in Appanoose county delivering lectures and rallying the opposing forces."

Although opposed to the Klan, Wilkinson apparently was not adverse to using racism to fight it. "He closed," the Herald-Patriot reported, "by taking up the race question and the results of amalgamation and the possibilities, leaving this as his culminating conclusion, if white supermacy is to endure there should not be divisions among this similar people."

Although Klan presence in Lucas County may have peaked with the konclave of 1924, meetings still were being held and brief reports of these continue to appear here and there in newspaper issues during 1925, including the following from the Herald-Patriot of June 30, 1925:

There was a big Klan meeting held at the Ira Noble farm, in Whitebreast township, yesterday evening. This was an open meeting for everybody, and large crowds attended. The cars lined the roads for a long distance. There was a speaker from abroad present, who delineated the aims and objects of the Klan, as a matter for prospective members. The Klan has made full provision for a big celebration at Indianola, July 4.

It would appear that the Lucas County Klan, although a considerable presence, never quite managed to become a political power, as it did in Centerville, our neighbor to the southeast. In Appanoose County, the Klan took over the Republican party and threatened to take over city and county government as well. That galvanized into action the Beck family and their Daily Iowegian, as well as other community leaders, who managed to break it's back.

The late Robert K. Beck was the last of his family to edit and publish The Iowegian, and he had hoped to find time in a busy life to write about that aspect of Appanoose County history, but didn't. During early 2010, his friend Bill Heusinkveld, a meticulous local historian now also deceased, fulfilled a request from Beck to carry on his work and summarized Klan history there in a four-part series still available in the Iowegian's digital archives. It's well worth a read for anyone interested in the Klan and Iowa. You may find Part 1 of that series here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; and, finally, Part 4.


Charles M. Wright said...

Frank -

Your blog entries about the Ku Klux Klan in Lucas County reminded me of an exchange of correspondence with a friend who has deep roots in Lucas County but has been a resident of Washington state for several decades. I'm speaking of Isabelle Van Nice Winship who was valedictorian of the Russell High School class of 1933. Now one of the oldest living graduates, Isabelle will be 97 in December. From time to time she shares with me stories about her family's early days in the county. In a letter dated May 2006, she wrote this about the Klu Klux Klan in Lucas County:

"In the early 1920s there was a short intense attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to get started in the area. They must have learned it was a WASP region of productive farms where they might easily raise money. I never heard of them actually getting anyone [in my neighborhood -- eastern Lucas County] to join but they held at least two recruiting meetings nearby, and I wonder now how they persuaded people to hold the meetings in their homes. Maybe they said it had become a social organization. I just do not know. I remember just two things about it. A woman I did not know talked persuasively to my mother about the membership dues, two free meetings before you had to pay, what would be worn at the meetings and you could buy [the outfit] or save by making it yourself out of sheets, and naming all of the neighbors who would be there. I woke up in the night after my mother had gone to a meeting while my father stayed with us kids. I listened quietly behind the bedroom door as my parents talked in the dining room. I heard mother say 'They said John (the only Catholic farmer within miles) said that he would wade in Protestant blood to get the Pope over here to run the country.' My father exclaimed 'They are a bunch of crooks! They are out to stir up prejudice and try to scare people into giving them money. I've known John all my life and he could never have said anything like that. Nobody in their right mind would believe anything like that or have anything to do with them' Probaby the organizers were too extreme for the other people who had gone to the meeting for I never heard anything more about the Ku Klux Klan in our neighborhood."

Frank D. Myers said...

I've not found any indication of Klan activity in the Russell area, so Isabelle's impression probably is right. The Klan's success in Chariton, in the Belinda area and in the general Lacona neighborhood, which includes parts of Lucas County seems to have been greater. My great-aunt and great-uncle lived near the Wayne County line south of Chariton and I know of others in that general neighborhood who were involved, so there must have been success there, too. There are stories, too, of a burned cross in front of Sacred Heart church in Chariton, but nothing I've been able to confirm. My dad, who was only 10 or so when all of this was going on, always said the Klan's targets were Catholics, especially the many "foreign" mining families who were immigrants from eastern Europe, Italy and France.