The local Ku Klux Klan flourished in the 1920s | History
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) first formed in the former Confederate States of America after the end of the Civil War in 1865. This underground group espoused white racial supremacy and opposed reconstruction. by violently terrorizing – and sometimes killing – emancipated slaves and preventing their newly acquired legal and political rights. Federal law enforcement and the work of the “carpet cleats” who traveled from the northern states to help unify the country largely suppressed these self-defense tactics by 1871.
The second wave of the KKK appeared in 1915 and this time targeted Roman Catholics, Jews and immigrants. As the United States grew tired of World War I and the flood of immigrants that followed, mostly Catholics from southern Europe, the Klan found new enemies to bind its members. Although occasional physical violence has occurred, the KKK has now widely used political ploys and psychological terror.
Organized in Stone Mountain, Georgia, by William Joseph Simmons, the Klan grew rapidly thanks to skillful marketing and the spectacular success of the movie “Birth of a Nation”. This film directed by DW Griffith glorified the KKK as the savior of Reconstruction’s “invasion of the North” and protector of the purity of white women against the threat of freed black slaves.
“Birth of a Nation” lasted for several weeks in Quincy in front of a sold-out audience. Although the Union Veterans of Soldiers and Sailors Home and the local Censor Board condemned the film, the city’s mayor, William K. Abbott, found no objection to its patently false portrayal of American history. In 1921, a KKK lodge was formed in Quincy “with an emphasis on pure Americanism as Simon as its main focal point”.
The local “Klavern,” as the KKK called its branches, met at Bowles Pasture on North 12th Street near Spring Lake and at Grace Methodist Church on Fourth Street and Lind Street. Meetings and cross fires also took place in an open field a mile south of 36th and State Street. A year after the start of Quincy Klavern, around 2,700 men had been “naturalized,” as the KKK called its initiation, with the King James Bible open to Romans 12 and the initiate’s hand on the “Kuran,” the ” Bible ”of the Klan.
The Klaverns have appeared in most other towns in Adams County, and huge relative to the population in Hannibal, Palmyra and Bowling Green, Missouri. Quincy formed a female Ku Klux Klan and Hannibal Klavern started a junior group designed for children to pass on Klan traditions and practices to the next generation. The KKK was called the Invisible Empire and never publicly revealed the names of its members, but on each Remembrance Day hooded Klan men raised a flaming cross and performed a secret ritual for their fallen comrades in the Quincy’s Woodland and Greenmount cemeteries.
Protestant ministers were the strongest supporters and most vocal spokespersons of the KKK. Reverend Robert Van Meigs, pastor of the central Quincy Baptist Church, who claimed to be a Klan adviser, delivered a series of reprinted sermons in Quincy newspapers on the Klan’s position on social issues. In the Quincy Daily Journal of November 19, 1923, Meigs stated that the Ku Klux Klan “hates certain obvious characteristics of certain elements of Catholics, Jews, Negroes and foreigners, and that they seek the elimination of the element. dangerous for the salvation of the good, thus contributing to the preservation of true Americanism. Meigs urged the Klan, with what he called his God-given mission, to change its name to Protestant Princes and to stop wearing masks and hooded robes because Catholics or Jews might wear similar clothing and commit atrocities and blame them on the KKK.
In 1924, New York Governor Al Smith became the first Catholic to make a serious bid for the presidency. The local KKK rallied around Sherman Park in West Quincy and brandished a fiery cross while denouncing Smith as anti-American and Catholic as unworthy of public office and full citizenship.
As reported in the Quincy Daily Journal for March 13, 1923, members of the Quincy Klan circulated documents among businesses in the city indicating the “sublime lineage” and “divine origin” of their group and declaring that a victory de Smith would leave “Jesuits, jugs and Jews” in control of the country. They also participated in a regional competition in Robel d’Hannibal Park tracing the history of the KKK and attended a mass meeting in Bowling Green on August 5, 1924, estimated to number 8,000 people.
Trying to ignite more contempt for Catholics, the Klan also circulated a false Knights of Columbus Oath of Initiation. He said in part, “I will wage a merciless war against all Protestants and Masons … tear the bellies and bellies of women, and crush the heads of their children against the walls, in order to annihilate their loathsome race.”
The Knights of Columbus Council of Quincy # 583 public relations committee, chaired by Dr. Henry P. Beirne, vehemently denied that any members took this oath or intended to overthrow the United States government. He further dismissed as a blatant lie that the Catholics had conspired to assassinate Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Reverend John J. Driscoll of St. Peter’s Church in Quincy said Catholics pledged spiritual and non-political allegiance to Rome and Catholics were the first and last Americans to die in WWI – a clear sign of patriotism.
The 1920s resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan collapsed – but not completely dissolved – across the country and in Quincy, by the end of the decade. Indiana Grand Dragon David Curtiss Stephenson, who spoke at local meetings, shattered the Klan’s image of law and order and traditional American values. In 1925, a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison for kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering a white woman, Madge Oberholtzer. This scandal, along with growing opposition from Catholic churches, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the B’nai Shalom Temple hastened the demise of the Klan.
In his final days, a speech in Quincy by Springfield, Illinois Klan leader WW Moore reminded his supporters of their successful efforts to get the Johnson-Reed Act passed in Congress earlier. This 1924 bill severely restricted immigration from Italy, Greece and Eastern Europe, and banned all immigrants from Asia. Johnson-Reed lasted 41 years as national law before it was repealed and remains one of the most controversial Ku Klux Klan legacies of the 1920s.
Coyne, Kevin. “The Knights Against the Klan.” Columbia Magazine, November 1, 2017. Accessed May 7, 2021. www.kofc.org
Gordon, Linda. The second coming of the KKK: the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American political tradition. New York City:
Liveright editions, 2017.
“The Klan organizer who visited Quincy had planned the City Lodge.” Quincy Daily Journal, September 19, 1921, 3.
“Klan speaker delivers remarks north of town.” Quincy Herald-Whig, July 28, 1927, 14.
McGee, Brian Dr. “History of Anti-Catholicism in the United States. »Presentation to the community of men of the Church of St. Rose in Lima,
“The minister would like the men of the Klan to abandon the masks.” Quincy Daily Journal, November 19, 1923, 3.
“Priest defends Catholicism and marks Klan in sermon on ‘intolerance’ on Sunday.” Quincy Daily Journal, December 3, 1923, 7.
“The Knights of Columbus in Quincy respond to Evans’ article on the Klan. Quincy Daily Herald, October 26, 1923, 7.
“Pastor Quincy thinks the ‘hood’ weakens the purpose of the Ku Klux. Quincy Daily Herald, November 19, 1923, 4.
Joseph Newkirk is a local writer and photographer whose work has been published widely as a contributor to literary magazines, as a correspondent for the Catholic Times, and for 23 years as a writer for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. He is a member of the reorganized Quincy Bicycle Club and has cycled over 10,000 miles in his life.
The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County preserves the Governor John Wood Mansion, the History Museum on the Square, the 1835 Log Cabin, the livery, the Lincoln Gallery exhibits, and a collection of artifacts and documents that recount the history of who we are. This award-winning column is written by members of the Society. For more information visit hsqac.org or email [email protected].