In the 1920s, hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members marched down Minnesota Avenue in Kansas City, Kan.
They held a parade, with effigies of presidential candidate Al Smith, who was a Catholic, and the pope, according to local historians. The Klan targeted Catholics, Jews and blacks, and was strongly anti-immigrant.
More insight into this sad chapter of Kansas City, Kan., history will be unveiled shortly, when the Wyandotte County Historical Society holds a program, “The Ku Klux Klan in Wyandotte County,” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15. The program will be held at the George Meyn Community Center at Wyandotte County Park, Bonner Springs, which is across from the Wyandotte County Museum.
The guest speaker for the program will be Tim Rives, deputy director and supervisory archivist of the Eisenhower President Library, Abilene, Kan., who has done extensive research into Klan activities in Kansas.
The program should be able to fill in some missing blanks in Wyandotte County history.
Loren Taylor, local historian, who has published articles about the Klan’s history in Wyandotte County, said while he was doing his research, he discovered there were many missing or redacted documents concerning the Klan in Kansas City, Kan.
Taylor said in the 1920s, there were perhaps as many as 2,000 Ku Klux Klan members in Wyandotte County. A roster of more than 900 Klan members here during the 1920s is still in existence at a location outside of Wyandotte County, according to Taylor.
Taylor said the Klan started its activities in Wyandotte County with meetings at local halls and lodges, then moved into other spheres. Clergymen, doctors and lawyers were among the members of the Klan in Kansas City, Kan., he said. The Klan was especially popular among small business owners, craftsmen and clerks, according to Taylor. Some members of the clergy were able to bring many people into the group from their congregations. Some of the most prominent leaders of the Klan in Wyandotte County in the 1920s may be named at the Sept. 15 meeting, and a few of them have already been named by Taylor in historical articles.
From the civic organizations and churches, the Klan took over City Hall in Kansas City, Kan. Members of the Klan here included Mayor Don C. McCombs, who served as mayor from 1927 to 1947, according to Taylor.
Mayor H.B. Burton, who was mayor from 1921 to 1923, fought against the Klan, along with Police Chief Henry P. Zimmer and a municipal judge. But after publicly opposing the Klan, they were voted out of office in 1923. Burton lost the election in 1923 to Mayor William W. Gordon.
Taylor said the Klan used organizations such as the Sunflower Club or the American Protective Association in their recruiting. The Sunflower Club was used as a cover group for taking over other organizations, he believes.
Many Klan members probably also were Populist Party members or Prohibition supporters, Taylor believes. He said that after the parade effigy incident on Minnesota Avenue, and also after another incident where art students were not allowed to participate in a parade because the group included minority students, popular opinion started to turn against the Klan in Wyandotte County.
What was behind the rise and fall of the Klan in the 1920s in Kansas? Author Leonard Zeskind stated in an article in February 2013 for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights that the U.S. Congress passed a very restrictive immigration law in 1924 that was supported by the Klan and other white supremacists. Zeskind stated it was his belief that the passage of this law led to the decline of the Klan’s membership, since it achieved its purpose.
The Klan, however, mobilized against the election of Al Smith, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1928. Smith, a progressive, was against Prohibition.
While I have a background as a member of one of the groups that the Klan attacked, I also have a strong belief against revenge and retaliation. It would be my hope that many descendants of Klan members and members of churches that participated in these marches and activities have changed over the years and evolved to become more tolerant of others. It would not be correct to assume that people in the present day hold the same beliefs as their grandfathers.
But when I listen to discussions today about immigration, sometimes I hear racist sentiments coming from participants on talk shows. It would be good for us to study how a group with these sorts of beliefs could move in and take over a community’s organizations and leadership, to prevent hate-mongerers from doing it again.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email email@example.com.