A program on the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Wyandotte County last weekend attracted some community interest.
According to Loren Taylor, who has done some research into the topic himself, the presentation by historian Tim Rives was attended by about 60 persons Sunday, Sept. 15, at the George Meyn community center in Bonner Springs.
Taylor said the speaker particularly focused on the reasons many of the people got involved with the Klan in the 1920s here. Thousands of people reportedly joined the group in Wyandotte County.
The organization was attractive to many middle-class residents, and in the 1920s included the involvement of clergy, tradesmen, politicians, attorneys, doctors, with most of its membership coming from occupations such as clerk. Even an editor and publisher were on the list. As an example, the speaker focused on the involvement of one of the 1920s retail business owners in Kansas City, Kan., who was involved in the group.
The Klan apparently rode the Populist wave of the time, and also attracted some support from Prohibitionist factions, according to Taylor. Their anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-immigrant message was appealing to some residents.
The group used some of the existing organizations in town to recruit their members, Taylor said. Several lodges were involved in recruiting. Some mainstream Protestant clergy here were members.
The Klan went into decline here after an incident involving Superintendent Matthew Pearson, who wanted an integrated student pageant, with black and white students in a parade. A nightriding incident against Pearson was planned, but after an attorney who was a Klan member informed them they could be charged with conspiracy, hundreds of members left the organization, according to historians. Then some attempted to form other spinoff groups, according to Taylor. Some decline also was due to grassroots opposition by the Catholic church and from black residents. But Klan members continued to control certain powerful offices in town, including mayor, for decades.
I was interested in the topic, as some of my ancestors here are from immigrant Catholic groups. I wish I could have attended the presentation, but was not able to attend because of a cold.
Those who were also unable to attend may get an opportunity to read more about Rives’ research in upcoming editions of the “Historical Journal of Wyandotte County,” edited by Taylor. Also, Rives plans to write a book on the topic.
Some of his earlier work on the Klan in Wyandotte County is online at https://esirc.emporia.edu/bitstream/handle/123456789/1620/Rives%201995.pdf?sequence=1.
The Kansas State Historical Society also has information on the Klan in Kansas online at http://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/ku-klux-klan-in-kansas/15612.
As I stated in an earlier column, I think the study of this topic is valuable in order to prevent a takeover by an extremist group from happening again. Yet, I would caution against comparing the 1920s information to any institution or anyone with the same last name today, as many of our present-day residents do not share the views of their grandparents.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.