KKK in Minnesota 1by Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle and Nancy M. Vaillancourt

 

To grow, the Klan had to be visible, and so its picnics and rallies were advertised and open to all. Public speakers– sometimes hired, sometimes volunteer–openly proclaimed the Klan gospel at these events. Sympathetic clergy preached it from pulpits. The opening of a Klan recruiting drive typically included a public rally and a parade. Kleagles (recruiters) offered Protestant ministers free membership and subscriptions to Klan periodicals and sent membership invitations to patriotic societies and fraternal orders. People who loved their family and could be generous to their neighbors and friends were the backbone of the 1920s Klan. As historian Kathleen M. Blee found, “The true story of the 1920s Klan movement and the political lesson of Klan history is the ease with which racism and intolerance appealed to ordinary people in ordinary places.”

Historian David Chalmers has observed that in Minnesota the Klan drew heavily from fraternal orders, including Masons and Shriners. In St. Paul, the weekly Midway News closely monitored the Klan and its members, taking particular note of American Legion activities. From 1924 to 1927, the paper published a Klan directory in each issue, listing members’ names, addresses, and jobs. Editor James H. Burns noted in one entry, for example, “Stafford King, Klansman No. 1233. State Adjutant of the American Legion: THINK OF IT!”

Newspaper accounts describe Ku Klux Klan recruitment drives, initiation ceremonies, and social activities throughout the state. Chapters vied with one another to host the most creative event. An outsider could mistake a Klan gathering for a political rally, county fair, or Fourth of July festival. For example, the August 24, 1923, Call of the Northencouraged all Klan members to attend a district rally and the first Klan parade in Minnesota, to be held in Albert Lea on August 31: “Of course, it will be a real frolic and a humdinger.” Soon thereafter, the paper invited: “Klansmen, pack your robes and meet at Austin, Minnesota” for an open-air gathering and public naturalization ceremony at the fairgrounds. (”Naturalization” meant the recruit was accepted from an “alien”–racially integrated–world into “citizenship in an empire” that believed in the purity of the white race.) On September 15, approximately 20,000 onlookers witnessed the initiation of 400 new members in a field outside of Austin.

In 1924 Minnesota chapters of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan began to be organized. The Minnesota Fiery Cross, successor newspaper to the Call of the North,reported that national headquarters had sent an official to direct organization work. “We are at liberty to state that the Queen Kleagle for the Realm of Minnesota is a minister’s wife. She brings with her to assist in the great work ahead, her talented and charming daughter.” Klanswomen, Klan teens, and Klan babies strengthened the group’s claim that it was a family-oriented organization that promoted sociability. The Women of the Klan drew on community ties, church suppers, and kin reunions to circulate the KKK message of racial and religious hatred. The Klan’s power was devastating precisely because it was so well integrated into family life.

 

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