The Ku Klux Klan, also known as the KKK was a secret movement in the United States whose activities involved racism and terrorism against the smaller ethnic communities and religious organizations in the United States. The Klan was first established in Georgia as a secret men’s fraternity in 1925. KKK was a combination of three clans or organizations that promoted radical reactionary issues such as white nationalism and supremacy, aspects that had been expressed through terrorism activities. The first clan started in 1860s but collapsed in 1870s. The second clan came into existence in 1920s while the third clan came after the Second World War. The historians described the KKK clan as an association of insignificant nonconformists and traditionists in the rural areas who could not be bale to cope with the coming of the contemporary urban society. However, scholars in the modern society have described the Klan as a group of local protestants mostly women who belong to that urban society (Lester, Wilson, & Fleming, 1999).
Ku Klux Klan in Indiana during the 1920s
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The Indiana Klan was formed in 1920s as a branch of the main KKK Klan. It was started by the Joe Huffington who was authorised to open a chapter in Indiana by Imperial Wizard William Simmons of Atlanta. The first headquarters of the Klan in Indiana were located at Evansville. Huffington then elected D.C Stephenson to become the leaders of the Indiana chapter.
The Indiana Klan became prominent in the years following the First World War where immigrants to eastern and Southern Europe started to increase. The Indiana Klan was led by David Curtis Stephenson, a man from Texas, and a former printer’s trainee in Oklahoma. He had moved to Indiana where he worked as a salesman. In 1922, Stephenson gained authority to control the Indiana Klan and also to organise the Klan in twenty more states in the United States. Stephenson acquired a lot of wealth through recruitment of people into Klan membership. Each person could pay $10 as a membership fee and $4 were kept by the recruiter. It was estimated the Stephenson collected almost five million dollars from this positions in the Klan. Initially, there were some vigilante activities going on among the White Cap associations in Indiana some which has started in the American Civil War. Most of the former members of the White Caps joined the Klan and contributed to its membership.
The Indiana Klan was composed of native white Protestants who belonged to a higher social class and also who had higher income levels. By the time the world was changing in 1920s after the First World War, the Klan was against Catholics, the Black Americans, the Jews, acts such as immorality and drinking habits. In the whole country of the United States, Indiana was known to have the strongest Ku Klux Klan.
In 1922, Stephenson supported a new leader into power and he got rewarded by being made the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan, and also headed the Klan in 22 other states. In 1923, the Indiana Klan continued to get higher in its power under the leadership of Grand Dragon D.C who led the Indiana Klan to separate from the national association and formed a rivalry association. This Klan acquired power over the politics of state and any candidate who got the support of the Indian Klan was guaranteed victory over the elections. This prompted other politicians in the state to join the Klan so that they can enjoy the political support of the Klan. The Klan maintained a high mark in the following years and by 1925, more than half of the members of Indiana General Assembly, the Indiana Governor and other high ranking government officials joined the Klan.
The main rivals of the Klan were the Catholics whom they blamed for plotting secrets activities aimed at overthrowing the government and eradicating the Protestants. Second from the Catholics were those people living in America but were not born there, especially those who were born in the Catholic countries. Third, were those citizens who engaged in immoral behaviours such as adultery, gambling, corruption among the politicians and youths who were involved in indiscipline practices. The Klan wanted to use the government to eliminate all the parochial schools and also to end the influence of the Catholics among the public schools. However, the Klan did not achieve any of these missions but some of the key government officials supported their agenda.
The power and popularity of the Indiana Klan
When the Klan was at its maximum authority, it had more than 250, 000 members and 30 percent of them were men from the white population. Most of the members came from the central parts of Indiana since the Klan was resisted in other areas such as New Albany where it was denounced by the city leaders and discouraged of becoming members of the Klan. But in other cities such as the Indianapolis, almost all the population was under the control of the Indiana Klan. One could not hold a public office of he or she is not supported by the Indian Klan. For example in 1924, politics in Indiana took a different direction. By that time, the Indiana Klan was at its peak and could display signs of becoming more powerful and being able to destabilize that political power. People had a belief that Beveridge, a political candidate in 1922 was defeated because he did not have the support of the Klan that his opponent had. The leaders of the Klan had also announced their intention to support the then secretary of state, Ad Jackson. Therefore, even if the individual republicans could object the Klan, they could not ignore its influence on the Indiana politics.
In 1922, a bill was passed by the members of the Indiana general Assembly who belonged to the Indiana Klan, a bill that created a Klan Day. However, the bill was vetoed by governor McCray and this started a conflict between the governor and the members of the Klan. During the same year, the Secretary of State, Edward Jackson gave the clan a state charter. McCray refused the granting of the charter and ordered that it should be revoked because the leaders of the Klan were not coming forth for the signing of the document. However, Jackson did not revoke the charter. The Klan Leader, Stephenson commanded Jackson to bribe McCray so that he would relax his stance against the Klan but this did not succeed because McCray was wealthy to receive a bribe. After failing to win the support of McCray, the leaders of the Klan decided reveal his corrupt deals so that they can have him removed from the office. They revealed some loans that McCray has borrowed with unclear reasons. Since they sent these claims by mail, they became subjected to the laws of federal mail fraud. This led to trial of McCray, who was then found guilty of committing mail fraud and was imprisoned. He therefore had to resign from office in 1924 (Gray, 1994).
According to Moore, (1991), the Indiana Klan was the largest among the Ku Klux Klan and the most significant nationally. He argues that the Indiana Klan was an extraordinary large group of Protestants organization. It was larger than any veteran organization that existed in Indiana by that time. The popularity gained by the Klan was facilitated by its response to the discontent changes that were taking place in the society. These involved people’s relations to some values, issues of enforcement of prohibition, and the increasing domination of the community by the social and political elites. The society viewed the Klan as an organization that could support teh values of the traditional society through promoting social, political and civic activities.
Within the Klan, one could not easily identify a distinctive Klan chapter since the association was composed of many distinct geographical region representations and communities. The members were farm owners, coal miners, small business people, democrats and republicans, lawyers, doctors, and Lutherans among others. However, the members could ne dividend into two distinct groups, members of the medium sized commercial and manufacturing area at the Indian town centre, and the members in the rural communities who dealt with farm activities. The two groups showed strong support for the Klan and actively participated in Klan activities that contribute to social, political and economic wellbeing of Indian in 1920s.
Role played by D.C Stephenson in the rise of Indiana Klan
Stephenson, being born in Texas became a very powerful and influential person in Indiana. In 1921, he was involved in recruitment of members of the KK Klan so that they can establish a chapter in Indiana. There were so many vocabularies that were used to describe some secret Klan words that Stephenson had to learn. For example, the word Klonvocations was used to refer to the Klan’s secret meetings while the membership fee was known as Klecktoken. Like other leaders of the Klan, Stephenson had to take the oath of allegiance to the Klan, and also a vow of secrecy. However, the seriousness of Stephenson regarding the oath was under question because his speeches did not contain racism as those of other leaders of the Klan. He left the other leaders to issues hate speeches. However, he was talented in recruitment of new members and he worked hard towards this.
The membership of the Indiana Klan started to increase with each new speech that Stephenson made. The group started to enlarge as it spread to areas in the western states. Stephenson continued to gain power as a political figure in Indiana. His quick rise to power was facilitated by his charismatic leadership character. He accumulated an absurd amount of power within a very short duration because he was able to meet the needs of the politicians which were the votes. Basically, his power came from the hand of votes he had for the politicians. He acted as their tool but the politicians later left him when he fell into trouble. However, Stephenson’s power did not last for long (Lutholtz, 1991).
The scandal that led to the fall of the Indiana Klan
The fall of the Indiana Klan was facilitated by Stephenson in 1925 when he met a statehouse secretary, Madge Oberholtzer during the inauguration of Governor Jackson. Days after, the secretary was abducted from her home that was in the neighbourhood of Indianapolis. She was then taken to a train station by Stephenson and some of his men where they set on a trip to Hammond. On their way, Stephenson raped her repeatedly in a compartment of his railcar. While in Hammond, the secretary took poison so that he could frighten Stephenson to let her free. Stephenson then immediately rushed her back to Indianapolis and after a month, she was found dead. The death was caused either by the poison she had taken or by severe injuries she had incurred when Stephenson raped her. Stephenson was then arrested and found guilty of second-degree murder. Stephenson was tried in Noblesville Indiana and after conviction; he was sentenced at Indiana state prison at Michigan City. His imprisonment was to last for 31 years and was the longest imprisonments in Indiana for such a crime. He served his jail term until 1956. One year before he was imprisoned, some of the Klan leaders together with the Imperial Wizard, Hiram Evans, led to dismissal of Stephenson from his home in Evansville after spreading information concerning his immoral behaviour in his neighbourhood (Tucker, 1991).
During his imprisonment, Stephenson though that governor Jackson would negotiate for his pardon since he had supported him in his politics and winning the elections. However, by 1926, it could be clearly seen that he was not going to be pardoned. Due to failure of Jackson to pardon him, Stephenson started to expose to the reporters of Indianapolis Times information about some of the high ranking government officials who were members of the Indiana Klan. Since it would not have been easy to place major crimes on the members of the Klan, Stephenson revealed to the reporters some of the government officials that they have given bribes and they accepted. Some of them included the mayor of Indianapolis who was accused of bribery and was jailed for thirty days. Some of the government commissioners and some local leaders all over Indiana were forced to resign from their offices due to charges of bribery that they accepted to win the support of the Klan in their elections.
The governor was accused of bribery charges that he accepted which were related to taking part in the secret plans against McCray. The court found the claims to be true but judged the governor not guilty because the decree of limitations was not valid on his crimes. Governor Jackson served till the end of his term but did not seek to be re-elected for another term.
Following these scandals, it was realised that more than half of the members of the Indiana General Assembly belonged to the Klan. However, these end results of the Klan tarnished the Klan’s image as an association that defended justice. The actions of Stephenson greatly contributed to the fall of the Klan since originally; the stance of the Klan was to protect the white women and to preserve the protestant values of the family. Stephenson’s actions were therefore against the Klan’s platform. This was the reason as to why most families left the Klan due to loss of faith in their leader. However, a big number of the members of Klan supported Stephenson but the Klan leaders were also against his actions. The Klan experienced shakeups that left it powerless and most of its members left. Attempts to revive the clan were made in 1960s and 1970s but their influence did not attract many people as it had happened in 1920s (Chalmers, 1997).
The Indiana Klan gained much popularity due to its concentration on issues that most members of the society were feeling frustrated with. These were issues such as community domination of political and social elites, some rules of enforcement of prohibition, and some values that were against the values of the traditional society. The members of the society accepted the group since it supported their traditional values. Through its leader, the Klan also gained political popularity in Indiana due to its support by various politicians who wanted to win their votes. However, immoral acts of its leader, Stephenson, led to the fall of the group since he did acts that were against the Klan’s platform.
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