Source: NMHS Newsletter August 1991
Ku Klux Klan Activities In North Manchester
By Orpha Book
In response to a request for material on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, and especially in North Manchester during the 1920s, I, as reference librarian at Manchester College, sent to the Indiana State Library for material to assist a student in writing a term paper.
Several books which discussed the Klan and its activities were loaned to us. One small, well-worn volume described the gathering of a huge mob in North Manchester at the train depot awaiting the arrival of the Pope. The paragraph concluded with the statement that the single passenger who alighted from the train was a small, frightened wizard of a man who was forced to prove he was not the Pope but who turned out to be a corset salesman.
I was a local teenager at the time, living in the country, and was unaware of Klan activities in the town. Did such an event actually occur in North Manchester? I have often wondered and have asked Dr. L.Z. Bunker and Dr. Eldon Burke who was a Manchester College student in the 1920s, but neither one could recall any such happening and doubted the truth of the account.
If any such a throng did ever descend upon North Manchester, I thought that surely W.E. Billings, editor of the News-Journal, would have recorded it. Since my retirement I have spent many hours perusing the 1920 microfilms of the News-Journal when the Klan was active in Indiana. Following are excerpts from the paper and descriptions of some of the activities.
February 15, 1923: Burned Cross Tuesday. “A burning cross in the Oak Park addition west of the Vandalia track and north of Fourth Street was the occasion for a fire alarm Tuesday night at 10 o’clock. The alarm was given by Paul Stone whose attention was called to the fire by some people who were at a Sunday School class party a couple of houses south of his home, they calling to him as there was no telephone where the party was. No one seems to know who erected the cross or set it on fire. Some say it was the Ku Klux Klan, and others say it may have been imitators. Anyway, the general hope is expressed that future celebrations of this kind will not be staged on quite as windy a time as Tuesday, for sparks from the burning burlap were carried a long distance and might have started serious fires. No one seems to care how many crosses are burned, if other property is not endangered. The cross itself was probably 20 feet high with a cross arm of eight or ten feet long. It was made of 2x4 timber padded with burlap that was wired in place and that was saturated with oil of some kind. The cross was set in the ground and held upright by guy wires.”
March 15, 1923: Rev. Blair Talks for Klansmen. “A large audience gathered at the Grand Army Hall Monday evening to hear the principles of the Ku Klux Klan explained by Rev. Blair, a Christian minister from Atlanta, Georgia. The meeting opened without any introduction. Mr. Blair simply stepped to the platform and commenced to talk. He told of the early history of the Klan in the South during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War when the negroes, controlled by unscrupulous white men, were creating such terrorism. After that emergency ceased to exist the Klan was inactive until seven years ago when it was reorganized in Atlanta to combat existing evils in the U.S. today. He claimed that the Klan was composed of American-born Protestant citizens and that the Klan never took the law in its own hands, but that it obtained the evidence and then turned the information to the proper authorities. To do that the Klan today had the largest force of detectives employed of any organization in the United States. He denied that the Klan was responsible for any mob outrages or terrorism, claiming that when such acts occurred it was either enemies of the Klan or unscrupulous individuals seeking to remain unknown by using the Klan’s hooded regalia. It was the first public meeting that had been held in North Manchester, although similar meetings have been held in Wabash. Mr. Blair is a good speaker, is a minister of the Gospel, and is said to be a graduate of one of the large eastern colleges.”
In another publication, the Manchester Herald, March 14, 1923, the crowd for the meeting described above was estimated to be 1500 who came “to hear the unknown speaker who in a flow of the most brilliant speech held the vast audience spellbound for two hours and 40 minutes.”
May 21, 1923: Klansmen Parade Streets Tuesday. “One of the biggest crowds ever assembled in North Manchester came to town Tuesday night to see the first parade of the Klansmen ever held in this city. All roads leading to North Manchester were crowded with automobiles, and parking space was at a premium…The parade was headed by three masked horsemen. Following those came an automobile with a cross lighted by electricity, in which were three hooded men. A large flag was carried by eight of the Klansmen, and this was followed by a band, all members wearing the regalia of the organization. Then there were four horsemen, and following them came 126 masked members making a total of 144 beside the band. Street crossings were patrolled during and some time before the parade by hooded figures. It seems to be the belief that few if any local members of the organization took part in the parade, the plan seeming to be to leave that to the visiting organization.
“The headquarters were at the fairground, and after the parade there were initiating ceremonies in the center field, while a large crowd of spectators stood outside the racetrack. A big search light operated from the judges stand made it possible for guards to see that none but those giving the password or whatever sign was used went into the center field. The crowd dispersed quickly after the parade, and for all the jam of machines there seemed to have been no accident reported either in town or on the roads.”
September 10, 1923: Big Crowd at Klan Picnic. “There were about 2500 people gathered for the Klan picnic at the fairground Sunday. A considerable number of those were there for the picnic dinner, and a great many more came in the afternoon for the speaking. There were addresses by Rev. Blair, who has been speaking on Klan subjects in many parts of the state and who is an able and capable speaker. There were also a talk by Rev. Ira Dawes of Wabash and music by a Wabash band.
“The speakers talked from a stand erected in the racetrack in front of the amphitheater. The crowd filled the amphitheater, and it was estimated that there were fully as many more on the grounds as in the amphitheater, which will seat about 1200. No displays or parades were made, it being just a quiet meeting that seemed to be enjoyed by all present whether they were Klansmen or not…”
October 11, 1923: Klan Parade Tuesday Night. “There was a big crowd of people in town Tuesday night to witness the Klan parade. Before the parade there was an address by a speaker said to be Rev. Parr from Wabash, though no introduction was made. Following the address the parade of hooded men came from the west, while at the east end of the street a cross was burned. ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ was played by a band as the march went on. There were between 140 and 150 hooded men in the parade. Following the parade the band gave a number of good selections on the street.”
November 1, 1923. The following appeared on a one-page political advertisement “published and paid for a citizens committee responsible for the citizen ticket in the Town election. It was a protest against the Klan movement because it is fundamentally wrong and detrimental to the peace, prosperity and happiness of the Town.”
These are extracts from an article on the Ku Klux Klan, entitled “The Patriotism of Hatred” by Rev. Lloyd C. Douglas, former pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church in North Manchester.
“Almost overnight in many sections of our country, the movement has achieved huge dimensions and, evolving from a mere handful of men who for the most part were having their first experience as organizers, has become at once a power.
“The printed statement of its faith reveals a handful of principles to which practically every loyal American would agree, but the actual motivation of the thing is Hate…
“Without doubt the chief hate of the Klan is directed against the Catholics. Ever since I was a little boy, I have heard persistent rumors, in every community I have lived in, to the effect that the Catholics are getting ready to rise up and do something – nobody was quite sure what. The cellar of the Catholic Church was stocked with rifles to be used when the right time came, and the Knights of Columbus were secretly drilling in preparation for the fateful day…
“The Klan is opposed to the Jew. This is no new experience to the Jew. He has been the favorite target for the hate of every nation on earth. That hate may easily be explained on the ground of jealousy. The Jew is prosperous. The Jew starts with nothing and becomes a capitalist. No matter how badly the Jew may feel over all the new hatred hurled against him, he will not retaliate. It will simply set him to wondering what good Christianity is, in the work, if this is where it all ends up. Whatever he may have thought about Christ before, he may now doubt whether there is much salvation to be had for anybody in a cross that burns with flames of hate!
“The Klan is against the foreigner in our midst. In his printed creed, he tempers his attitude by the mere statement of his belief that America is first for Americans – and others second… But if the Klansman thinks he can teach the foreigner a larger respect for our American institutions by pulling a pillow over his head and assembling, by night, with thousands of others of his sort, to lay plans for the extra-legal pursuit of the foreigner’s goat, it seems clear that the process provides its own defeat.
“Could there be a more serious problem than the predicament into which the Klan has plunged us? It matters little whether the Catholic has any ground for his bigotry, the Jew for his prejudice, the Italian for his ignorance. The whole problem resides in the everlasting fact that no ills can be cured by hate! That is good gospel. This is the message of the cross. And when a lot of people, regardless of intent, collect around a wooden cross to stampede one another into bitterness against persons who happened to have been born of another race or in another country, it is the very last word of sacrilege…”
On August 24, 1924, there was a brief announcement of a Klan meeting at the fairground at which a national speaker was to be present. That was the last account found in the News-Journal of any significant activity of the Ku Klux Klan in North Manchester.
Nowhere did I find reference to the huge crowd at the railroad station waiting for the Pope. Perhaps the author of that story embellished the account of the big Klan parade which occurred on May 21, 1923, and drew a large crowd to the town.
Unfortunately the file folder containing all the references we had gathered on the Klan to assist students with their term papers “disappeared” from the college library so none of the stories or book titles can be verified. But some day I just may take a trip to the Indiana State Library to read again about that little old corset salesman, and not the Pope, who arrived by train in North Manchester.