Tag Archives: racism

“No Imported Patriots”: James Whitcomb Riley, the Irish, and the Klan

Riley stamp 1940

For most Americans, the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley is no longer a household name.  He’s mostly remembered for “Little Orphant Annie,” an 1885 poem about an Indiana girl who warns children against misbehaving, scaring them with the refrain: “The gobble-uns’ll get you Ef you don’t watch out!”

Riley died a hundred years ago this July.  When President Woodrow Wilson got the news at the White House, he is said to have broken down in tears, then sent an express telegram to the poet’s family in Indianapolis.  As Riley’s body lay in state at the Indiana Capitol in July 1916, thirty-five thousand people filed past.  American children, who adored the old man, were devastated.  The press overflowed with eulogies.  Novelist Booth Tarkington, another once-famous Hoosier name in American letters, eulogized Riley in the Indiana Daily Times, calling him “the first and foremost distinctively American poet, and at the time of his death… the greatest American.”  The New York Sun mourned: “The Hoosier Poet blew heart bubbles… In his verses Indiana spoke to the world.”  And the Philadelphia Inquirer noted: “There is no doubt that he was the most popular poet of this generation in America… If there is a child today that is not regaled with ‘Orphant Annie’ that child is to be pitied.”


Riley and Children

(Riley with children and a puppy, circa 1915.  Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis was named in his honor.)


Though Riley was mostly known for his folksy childhood lyrics, he was also a civic-minded poet, fierce in his defense of the downtrodden.

In 1898, during one of those periodic battles over immigration that heat up American politics and pour scorn on newcomers, the “Poet of Childhood” grappled with anti-Irish prejudice — though it wasn’t personally directed against him. Riley, whose own grandparents came from Ireland to Pennsylvania before moving to the Midwest, defended the valor and patriotism of the “Sons of Erin” who fought in the Civil War and Mexican War.  In so doing, he took aim at the religious and ethnic hostility of nativist groups like the American Protective Association, a cousin of the Ku Klux Klan.

In many ways, the Irish, especially Irish Catholics, were the Syrian refugees of the 1800s, frequently misunderstood and feared as disruptors of society.  Long before the Civil War, American nativists like the Know-Nothings had been actively exploiting fears about the Irish and “Rome,” alien forces ready to undermine American democracy and Anglo-Saxon values.  Though some of those fears may sound downright bizarre today, Irish immigrants were often mired in poverty, violence and alcoholism, facts that scared their neighbors. While the brutal living conditions of many Irish were no myth, catastrophic events like the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s were partly to blame.  With their situation made worse by the greed of landowners and brutal utilitarian social theories, many of Ireland’s sons and daughters were reduced to sub-human conditions. Millions  went overseas or found themselves driven into the arms of death.

The Irish had been targeted by some of the worst 19th-century science and philosophy.  Racialized by other whites during the early days of Darwinism, the “native” Irish in particular were type-cast as little better than apes, doomed by biology itself to crime, degradation and — some theorists hoped — gradual extinction.  One famous drawing compares the “Anglo-Saxon” features of English nurse Florence Nightingale to the ape-like face of “Bridget McBruiser” across the Irish Channel.

That drawing, however, was an American drawing, published in Samuel R. Wells’ New Physiognomy (New York, 1866).  Wells was one of the foremost American phrenologists of his time, studying “character” as he imagined it to be written on the human face and skull.  It took decades for the science of head bumps and nose shapes to be debunked as nonsense, but the fallout proved catastrophic for many immigrants.


Contrasted Faces

(Books like Wells’ New Physiognomy gave rise to even more damaging scientific theories about racial types — strange fantasies that fed the growth of American eugenics, the Second Ku Klux Klan, and even Progressivism.  Wells also authored books about farm animals, gardening and witchcraft.)


Bad science and hyper-patriotic conspiracy theories were the target of one of James Whitcomb Riley’s lesser-known poems, “Brother Jonathan Lectures His Adopted.”  That poem appeared in Songs of Two Peoples, an 1898 collection set partly in New England, partly in Ireland.

Originally written in broad New England dialect, “Brother Jonathan” recounts the anti-Catholic ravings of a recent Northern Irish immigrant voting for “the fust time” at a small-town polling booth in America. Jonathan showed himself an eager campaigner against foreign influence, “tearin’ up an’ deown’ on platforms,” lashing out at Rome’s priests who “eat heretics at feasts” — dark tales from European history carried by folklore and immigrant ships into American election booths well into the 1960s and even beyond. Catholics, Jonathan warns, were gearing up to crush the American public school system and democracy.  He gets a stinging rebuke from the embodiment of Uncle Sam, “His Adopted.”


Brother Jonathan

(Songs of Two Peoples, Boston, 1898.  Like Brother Jonathan, many popular anti-Catholic lecturers who touted Americanism a hundred years ago were recent immigrants or not even citizens.  Several wrote books that were later promoted by the Klan.)


Though Riley’s poem is set just after the Civil War, it spoke to the issues of 1898, when America’s generously open door did bring many problems. Yet the looming figure of “Brother Jonathan” was still fresh decades later when George R. Dale, the brave editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat, reprinted it as part of his long battle against the powerful Hoosier Klan.  Sadly, the fear-mongering of the 1880s and 1920s remains a factor in American politics today — in ways that are, as always, frightening to consider.

In 1924, Dale found Riley’s poem as apt as ever.  Dale was at the start of a practically one-man battle against the KKK in his town, using humor to transform the Muncie Post-Democrat into a rollicking 1920s version of The Onion.  Though Dale faced routine death threats and assaults from Klansmen, the Muncie editor bravely tore into chauvinism at a time when the Klan was as much against new waves of Eastern and Southern European immigration as it was opposed to African Americans coming up from the South.  Dale slightly abbreviated Riley’s poem — missing the fact that Brother Jonathan was an immigrant himself and had brought Old World animosities across the Atlantic, a prelude to the Irish “Troubles.”


James Whitcomb Riley -- April 25, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, April 25, 1924.  The A.P.A. was the American Protective Association, an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic secret society founded in Iowa in 1887.  It had a membership of over two million in the 1890s and was a forerunner of the Second Klan. A.P.A.-affiliated newspapers like The Menace and The Yellow Jacket landed on millions of American doorsteps.)


Though many Irish immigrants were racists themselves, stirring up some of the worst race riots of the 1800s, George Dale found an ally in both history and the Catholic Church.  Virtually every issue of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson’s Klan paper The Fiery Cross contained attacks on the church, sharpest during the Indiana gubernatorial election of 1924, the year Dale reprinted “Brother Jonathan” in Muncie.  It’s not surprising that, since they were long targeted by nativists, Catholics became a major force in undermining the Klan and helped hobble half-baked social and medical theories like eugenics. (The barely-concealed “science” of white supremacy, eugenics had deep roots in Indiana.  That history isn’t over yet:  an alternative band called The IshmaeLites recently made an interesting album about the days of the 1907 Indiana sterilization law, released by Weirdo Records in 2009.)

While Riley was of Irish descent, he wasn’t Catholic himself — in fact he wasn’t much of a church-goer at all.  Yet Riley knew plenty of immigrants: they were his neighbors in Lockerbie, an Indianapolis neighborhood first called “Germantown” and settled partly by refugees from Europe’s 1848 revolutions.

But even Riley’s support had a dark irony in it.  A frequent visitor at his house in Lockerbie was Indiana Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. The son of French immigrants, Debs was a champion of the working class but often hostile to the new wave of immigration, which he thought undermined American labor and played into the hands of big business.  Debs may have been right about the effect of cheap labor on the American workers’ movement, but history repeated itself in a sad way when even the great Socialist leader made disparaging remarks in 1891 about Chinese and “Dagos” (Italians). They “fatten on garbage,” Debs said, live “more like a savage or a wild beast,” and “are able to underbid an American workingman.”  It took years for Debs to temper those views, as even the Socialist Party succumbed to nativism and fear of the “degraded foreigner.”


Riley house

(Riley’s house in Indianapolis around 1960.   During the gloomy days of urban renewal, the Lockerbie neighborhood fell into bad shape, but fortunately its decline was turned around by the 1990s. The green ivy that once covered the poet’s house, though, is long gone.)

Junk, Japanese Students and Dr. Seuss

Dale News, September 11, 1942 (1)

A few weeks ago, we ran a post on how peach stones, chestnuts, and coconut shells got enlisted into World War I.  In 1917, the U.S. government began a campaign to gather fruit pits and other agricultural waste that could be used in manufacturing charcoal filters for army gas masks — a life-saving device partly invented by Hoosier chemical engineer James Bert Garner.

The “war to end all wars,” of course, failed to do so.  Twenty years later, America was on the verge of an even worse conflict. And in 1942, the familiar specter of junk rallies and war-bond drives returned to American newspapers.

Across the U.S., papers advertised the army and navy’s dire need for rubber, scrap iron, and “anything made of metal.”  Most of the ads were nationally syndicated, and no one local newspaper can take credit for these darkly comic illustrations of ordinary domestic items turned into deadly weapons.

Like a scene from Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, old radiators, lawn-mowers and worn-out tires were turned into instruments of fighting and killing, from rifles and shells to grim-looking gas masks and hand grenades.


Dale News, August 28, 1942 (1)

(The Dale News, August 28, 1942.)


The government’s scrap conservation campaign broke down the math.  This ad comes from Dale in Spencer County, Indiana, just down the road from Lincoln’s boyhood home and the small town of Santa Claus.


Dale News, August 21, 1942 (1)

(The Dale News, Spencer County, Indiana, August 21, 1942.)


Drawn by an illustrator for the Conservation Division of the War Production Board, the illustrations were taken out and paid for by the American Industries Salvage Committee.  Business at local scrap yards was booming in 1942.  The ads stated that scrap material would be purchased at government-controlled prices.

In what was actually one of America’s first recycling programs, the call went out for refrigerators, garbage pails, broken garden tools, lengths of pipe, burlap bags, manila bags, copper wires, zinc, lead, tin, and any kind of old rubber.  Rusty scrap metal, the committee reminded Americans, was “actually refined steel, with most impurities removed — and can be quickly melted with new metal in the form of pig iron to produce highest quality steel for our war machines.”  In 1942, the U.S. armed forces — just months after Pearl Harbor — needed an additional six million tons of scrap steel for weapons production.

The government also encouraged “good Americans” to give up something else:  Sunday country drives and “joy-riding.” Unnecessary shopping trips to town and failure to use public transportation sapped gasoline at a time when Nazi submarines were torpedoing hundreds of oil tankers off the Atlantic Coast. Unnecessary driving and fast driving also added to the rubber shortage by wearing down tires.  So did driving with the wrong tire pressure, as a Phillips 66 ad informed the patriotic public.

If only that conservation effort could have carried over into peace time. . . no matter how restless the joy-riding doggies got:


National Road Traveler, September 3, 1942

(National Road Traveler, Cambridge City, Indiana, September 3, 1942.)


Since farmers were likely to have plenty of scrap metal hanging around their property, the salvage committee’s ads tended to target rural areas and small towns.  Dale, Indiana, was one, but the illustrations appeared nationwide.


Dale News, September 11, 1942 (2)

(The Dale News, September 11, 1942.)


Beneath the dark humor of seeing a Japanese soldier knocked on the head with grandma’s laundry iron or her kitchen teapot, some of these cartoons were fairly racist.  Though cartoonists are usually allowed to take liberties to provoke discussion, artists at all times –especially in war time — have sometimes helped destroy innocent lives.

The hysteria that targeted German Americans during World War I — when Indiana and many other states went so far as to criminalize teaching German to children — rarely occurred during World War II, though about 11,000 German nationals were detained.  The same can’t be said of the fate of Japanese Americans, over 100,000 of whom were herded up and imprisoned in detention camps out West.


Nisei Students


Yet as always, some Americans rose above hysteria and fear.  In 1942, Quaker-led Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, became one of the few U.S. schools to allow Japanese Americans to continue their education during the war.  The decision of Earlham’s President William Cullen Dennis, who cooperated with the Japanese American Student Relocation Council to admit six students from the newly-militarized West Coast, was controversial.


Kokomo Tribune, September 30, 1942

(Kokomo Tribune, September 30, 1942.)


In September 1942, the local branch of the Junior Order of American Mechanics, a youth group, sent Earlham’s president  a resolution protesting the students’ presence on campus.  The OAM was originally an anti-Catholic and nativist fraternal group organized in Philadelphia in 1844 to resist the hiring of “cheap foreign labor” (i.e., Irish).  Richmond’s Junior OAM captured a lot of local sentiment and tried to encourage other “patriotic and fraternal orders” in town to follow suit.  Richmond Mayor John Britten was forced to advise the FBI of the “hostile attitude of the community toward the students.”


Rushville Republican, September 30, 1942

(Rushville Republican, September 30, 1942.)


Dennis stood by his decision, citing that the move was in accordance with the school’s Quaker religious principles and “the ideals for which we are fighting.”  Yet he refused to denounce the Federal government’s original decision to move them off the West Coast. The Japanese pupils — along with about 1,900 others now scattered across the Midwest and East — were kept under FBI surveillance.

Earlham wasn’t alone.  A total of eight Indiana schools, all but one of them religious, admitted displaced Japanese Americans.  These were DePauw, Valparaiso, Hanover, Franklin, Manchester, St. Mary’s (Notre Dame), Indiana Technical College, and Earlham.  The Indianapolis-based Disciples of Christ also led a campaign critical of the West Coast interment camps and issued a resolution condemning the incarceration of 100,000 Americans without fair trial, calling it a mockery of American principles.  That church was active in helping resettled families find jobs and housing across the Midwest.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, 1942

(Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command in San Francisco, issued orders forbidding Japanese American students at Oregon State University from using the library after 8:00 p.m.  Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, 1942.)


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 2, 1942

(Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 2, 1942.)


Edward T. Uyesugi was one of the students who came to Earlham in 1942.  Born in 1922 and raised in Portland, Oregon, he was one of the ten students forced to leave Willamette University in Salem after the Federal “evacuation” of April 1942.  In Richmond, Uyesugi studied biology.  He also met Paoli native Ruth Farlow, who was studying Latin, English and journalism.  Ruth, a Quaker, wrote for the Richmond Palladium (currently being digitized by Hoosier State Chronicles.)  The couple went on to get married in Washington State in 1946.

Farlow had gotten her first teaching job in Oregon, but was fired after one semester for her marriage to a Japanese American. (“Interracial marriage” was frowned on in every state and was still illegal in many.)  The Uyesugis eventually came back to Indiana, raising three children in Ruth’s native Orange County, where he worked as an eye doctor and she taught journalism at Paoli High School.  In 1999, Ruth Uyesugi was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.  She’s also the author of a 1977 autobiographical novel, Don’t Cry, Chiisai, Don’t Cry, a war-time love story set in Indiana and Oregon.


Earlham Post, 1944

(Ruth Farlow, seated center, and Edward Uyesugi, right, both served on the editorial staff of the Earlham Post in 1944.  Uyesugi wrote a sports column and also played on the football team.)


Dale News, December 18, 1942

(S.J. Ray, illustrator.  Reprinted in The Dale News, December 18, 1942.)


In 1942, Hoosier readers may have had their first encounter with a rising star in the world of illustration — Theodor Seuss Geisel, a third-generation German American originally from Springfield, Massachusetts.  Geisel studied at Dartmouth and Oxford before joining the staff of the humor magazine Judge in New York City in the 1920s.  His first published cartoon came out in the Saturday Evening Post in July 1927.   Surviving the lean times of the Great Depression by drawing ads and logos for companies like General Electric, Standard Oil, and the Narragansett Brewing Company, Geisel got his first major national exposure during a Standard Oil campaign to market motor boat lubricants.

Nearly expelled from Dartmouth as an undergrad for drinking gin during Prohibition, the quirky illustrator had been banned from publishing cartoons in the college’s writing magazine.  He got around it by signing himself “Dr. Seuss,” his middle name.  (The name is actually pronounced “Soiss,” but the illustrator gave in to the American pronunciation.)

By 1942, Dr. Seuss — a fervent, scathing opponent of isolationists and pacifists who wanted to keep America out of World War II — was busy trying to lubricate public opinion instead of motor boats. Though frequently mistaken as a Jew because of his name and his appearance, Dr. Seuss was a German Lutheran.


Dr. Seuss 1941

(An anti-isolationist cartoon published in 1941, before America went to war against Germany, Italy and Japan.)


In the wake of American entry into the war — and before he was ever at work on The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat — Dr. Seuss drew cartoons for the U.S. Treasury Department as part of a war-bond drive.  Roundly criticized since the 1940s, his caricatures of Japanese with buck teeth, pig noses and insect bodies came out in many American newspapers, including the tiny Dale News.  Though Dr. Seuss deserves credit for apologizing for these cartoons after the war, the dehumanization of Asians may have influenced the U.S. decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945, an event that was less likely to befall a Western European nation.


Dale News, July 31, 1942

(The Dale News, July 31, 1942.)


Dale News, June 12, 1942

(The Dale News, June 12, 1942.)


Dale News, June 5, 1942 (3)

(The Dale News, June 5, 1942.)


While “Dr. Seuss” also depicted Hitler with a pig snout and animal body, Geisel’s 1942 cartoon of Japanese Americans receiving TNT and awaiting orders from Japan put him squarely in the tradition of fearing immigrants as “enemy aliens” — the long list of newcomers accused of undermining American safety and values.  In the century before World War II, American periodicals were full of this material, some of it drawn by reformers like German American immigrant Thomas Nast.  Only the characters changed — from Catholics, Jews, and Chinese to Germans, Japanese and Muslims.


Waiting for the Signal from Home

(“Waiting for the Signal from Home,” Dr. Seuss, 1942.)


The “Tokio Kid” series, commissioned by the Douglass Aircraft Company and subsidized by the War Commissions Board,  joined in on the recycling campaign.  Posters showing the Japanese Emperor thrilled by Americans’ waste of items like scrap metal were little different from equally demonic depictions of the German Kaiser during World War I, but both episodes played off ethnic and racial prejudice.  (Reform politics and bogus science were as guilty as everyday racism here.  During World War I, “progressive” advocates of Prohibition had made identical charges against German American beer-lovers — for unpatriotically wasting grain.  Dr. Seuss’ own father, brew master at the family-owned Highland Brewery in Springfield, Massachusetts, was driven out of his job when Prohibition shut the place down in 1919.)


Tokio Kid


As for social reform, that would have to wait for peacetime.  It’s not clear who exactly cartoonist Nate Collier was satirizing when this illustration came out in the Dale News in February 1942, three months after Pearl Harbor.  But we think we can guess.


Dale News, February 27, 1942

(Nate Collier, illustrator.  The Dale News, February 27, 1942.)


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

Ku Klux U: How the Klan Almost Bought a University

Hagerstown Exponent, October 4, 1923

When the Hagerstown Exponent published this headline in October 1923, the editor had gotten the facts wrong.  The Ku Klux Klan’s powerful “Indiana Realm” had not bought itself a venerable institution of higher learning that summer.  But it had come close. For a few weeks, Valparaiso University — sixty miles from downtown Chicago, and formerly one of the largest private schools in the U.S. — teetered on the brink of becoming a “Ku Klux Kollege.” Once praised as the “Poor Man’s Harvard,” in 1923 many feared the university was about to become a “hooded Harvard.”

“Valpo” is a thriving university today, with some of the best programs in Indiana — and has no connections whatsoever to the KKK.  But a century ago, after its rapid rise to national fame, the highly-respected school was caught up in hard times. Yet its sudden nose-dive after World War I took many alumni and faculty by surprise.

Founded by Methodists in 1859, the original school — Valparaiso Male and Female College — took in students of all levels, from elementary to college age.  The pioneer school was also one of the few co-educational institutions in America before the Civil War. That war wreaked havoc on enrollment, leading the college to close its doors in 1871.  Two years later, it reopened as a teacher’s college. Until 1900, the school went by the name Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute.

Renowned for its economical tuition and low cost of living — as well as for admitting women and students from overseas — by 1905 “Old Valpo” enjoyed one of the highest enrollments of any private university in the U.S.  With over 5,000 students that year, the school ranked just behind Harvard.  Its affordability to working-class Americans led many to praise it as the “Poor Man’s Harvard.” (Harvard itself was sometimes jokingly called “The Rich Man’s Valpo.”)


Valparaiso University circa 1915
(Valparaiso University, circa 1915.)

Students from all over the U.S. and the world trained to be public school teachers here.  Some were busy teaching English to immigrants employed at Gary’s new steel mills.  Valpo’s programs in law, engineering, medicine, and dentistry were well-regarded. Its College of Medicine and Surgery had been brought over from Northwestern University in Chicago.  When the college moved back to the Windy City in 1926, it formed the nucleus of Loyola’s medical program.

Harvard and Yale might have been too good to take out ads in Chicago newspapers.  But this ad from 1905 appeared next to one for another great school on the rise, the University of Notre Dame.


The Inter Ocean, August 1, 1905
(The Inter Ocean, Chicago, August 1, 1905.)

Yet once enrollment peaked in 1907, venerable Valpo plunged into an unexpected, two-decade-long decline.  After accreditation of American colleges and universities began at the turn of the century  — partly driven by a desire to standardize high-school education and thereby “unify” the country — Valparaiso failed to win accreditation. Suddenly unable to transfer their credits, current and prospective students found the school a harder sell, especially as affordable new state universities, teachers’ colleges, and urban night schools entered the competition.  Valpo’s lack of a football team and Greek life were another stumbling block, though it hurriedly scraped together a football program in the early 1920s and even played Harvard.  (It lost 22-0 in its first game.)


VU


World War I issued another blow.  The famously affordable university had always attracted international students.  (One of the more unusual of them was future Soviet Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin, “Stalin’s Man in China,” who would die in a Siberian gulag in 1951.)  But after 1914, many of these students left to fight for their European homelands in WWI.  When America entered the war against Germany in 1917, student military enlistment left Valpo’s academic and residence halls almost empty.  And with plenty of war-related jobs now available to women, female students also tended to skip out on college for the duration of the war.


Journal Gazette (Mattoon, IL), July 17, 1923
(Journal Gazette, Mattoon, IL, July 17, 1923.)

In 1919, Indiana passed a new law requiring private colleges to maintain a half-million dollar endowment.  Cash-strapped Valparaiso University, burdened with a $350,000 debt (almost $5 million in today’s money) faced the real prospect of bankruptcy.  The school’s trustees even tried to sell it to the state that year for use as a public teacher’s college, but the Indiana legislature declined the offer.

Holding on by a thread — and led by controversial president Robert Hodgdon, who turned out to hold fake medical degrees — desperate trustees and the equally-desperate citizens of Valparaiso sought new owners.  That list of potential “saviors” grew to include the Presbyterian Church, the International Order of the Moose, and the owner of Cook Laboratories in Chicago, who wanted to turn the campus into a syringe factory and provide 1,000 jobs to townsfolk. (Their prosperity would have been shattered by the school’s demise.)

Then, in July 1923, a new bidder expressed interest.


Daily Republican (Rushville, IN), August 16, 1923
(Daily Republican, Rushville, Indiana, August 16, 1923.)

For some residents of Valparaiso — which hosted a parade of at least 5,000 Klansmen in May 1923, an event that attracted 30,000 visitors from around the Midwest — the offer to take over the struggling school seemed like a God-send.  Academics, alumni, and many students, especially “undesirable” Catholics and Jews, thought differently. Many teachers and students were ready to pack up and leave.

But incredibly, as far as the trustees were concerned, the question of selling Valparaiso University to the Ku Klux Klan mostly came down to whether that organization itself had the resources to made good on its own offer.

The efforts of the revived Klan proved more “sophisticated” than that which had died out in the 1870s.  Klan rallies and parades occurred all over the North and West, from Chicago to L.A., from Oregon to Maine.  And the flag they waved wasn’t the rebel flag.  KKK membership in those years peaked in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, “ground zero” for some of the biggest Klan activity.  D.C. Stephenson, the “Grand Old Man of the Klan,” operated mostly out of his headquarters in Indianapolis, a city that was almost taken over by Klansmen and Klanswomen; It was also a city that fought a valiant battle in the press, courts, and churches to discredit the “Invisible Empire.”


KKK Members, Valparaiso, 1923
(Klansmen on Franklin Street, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1923.)

The Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923
(The Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923.)

The “Second” Klan defined itself as a hyper-patriotic organization of white Protestant Americans and was more mainstream than at any other point in its history.  During the ’20s, the Klan was less concerned with suppressing African Americans than with stemming the tide of new immigration coming from Southern and Eastern Europe — including to heavily-industrial towns like Gary, just thirty miles from Valparaiso.  The Klan sought to cripple an imaginary conspiracy contending that Catholics wanted to destroy American public schools and hand the U.S. government over to the Pope. It also warned of the activities of “Jewish Communists” and anarchists in the wake of the Russian Revolution and the 1919 Red Scare. (The fear provoked by deadly anarchist bombings wasn’t entirely groundless, however.)  Prohibition of alcohol, another cause taken up by the KKK, was a barely concealed way to crack down on immigrant culture.

These views were shared by thousands of Americans who didn’t belong to the Klan.  The Invisible Empire even found strange bedfellows in Progressivism, including women’s suffrage advocates, who espoused some of the same “reform” ideals promoted by the “kluckers,” albeit with different objectives. Newspapers, big mansions, and church services lent the “hoodlums” in “nighties,” as a Muncie editor quipped, credentials that midnight lynchings in cornfields didn’t.  In Indianapolis, the organization considered establishing a Klan hospital on North Alabama Street for white Protestants only.  (The hospital was never built.) Acquiring a university would help the Klan project a cleaner image. And since Valparaiso was a teacher’s college, the Klan could now propagandize American children from within schools.


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923
(The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923.)

Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (4)
(The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923.)

By July of 1923, the trustees of Valparaiso University and the Klan were talking.  Representing the Klan was Milt Elrod, whom Stephenson had recently made editor of The Fiery Cross, the major KKK newspaper, printed at the Century Building on South Pennsylvania Street in downtown Indianapolis.

Encountering obvious concern from much of the faculty and student body, Elrod assured the press that a Ku Klux takeover of the school would change nothing except the trustee board, which was to be packed with Klan appointees.  The school would remain open to women and would be non-sectarian, Elrod insisted — though Catholic students were already beginning to drop out and enroll elsewhere.  Ludicrously, Elrod initially claimed that the Klan would admit any applicant who met the proper “educational requirements,” including “Negros,” though he later admitted that the school would not have the “proper” facilities for African Americans.  (The sad irony is that Valparaiso University did not admit African Americans even before the Klan tried to buy it.)


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923 (2)
(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923.)

Few people — the trustees excepted, it seems — took Elrod at his word when he said that nothing else would change at the university except skyrocketing enrollment and the return of its once prestigious reputation.  (There were rumors that it would be renamed “National University”).  Yet Elrod’s enemies had already come out.  In The Fiery Cross, he was busy singling out “un-American” and “alien” opponents. Elrod may have been quick to pick up on campus rumors that Catholic priests from Notre Dame had visited town, spurring the Klan to act soon and not be outbid by the “agents of Rome.”


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (3)
(The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923.)

Heavy opposition came from the press.  Even in Indiana, major urban newspapers tended to be anti-Klan, including the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis News and most famously the Indianapolis Times, which won a Pulitzer for its battle against the group.  Some of the sharpest criticism, however, came from George R. Dale, the wildly colorful and energetic editor of the Muncie Post Democrat.  Dale, who endured death threats and assaults on his life and that of his family, ran a paper that could be called The Onion of its day.  His paper, virtually one long, rambunctious op-ed piece, employed a folksy humor to give sucker-punches to the powerful “Indiana Realm.” Dale went on to become mayor of Muncie in 1930.


Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923
(Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923.)

Editors and cartoonists nationwide– including E.H. Pomeroy, an illustrator for the Valparaiso Vidette — tore into Elrod’s proposal once it came out that he might, in fact, get hold of the $350,000 in cash needed to bail the school out of debt.  (Elrod also promised that the Klan would set it up on a million-dollar endowment, twice the amount required by Indiana law.)  As the story spread across the U.S., an illustrator in the New York Call went straight for the jugular, publishing a parody of Dante’s Inferno — “Abandon All Brains Ye Who Enter Here.”  The cartoon depicts book-burning, classes in whipping and tar-and-feathering, a “Klinik” to teach “100% Americanism,” and a commencement day ceremony where students sport an unconventional new style of cap and gown.


Literary Digest, September 15, 1923
(“Abandon All Brains, Ye Who Enter Here.” Republished in Literary Digest, September 15, 1923.)

Another critical broadside came from Helena, Montana.  The writer in Helena’s Independent Record thought that a bout of education for “kluckers” might at least have a few salutary side-effects.


The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923

The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923 (2)
(The Independent Record, Helena, Montana, August 28, 1923.)

One editorial appeared in Robert W. Bingham’s Louisville Courier-Journal.  Bingham fought a crusade against Southern poverty and criticized Fascism before even Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced it.  “Ku Klux and Kolleges” may have been Bingham’s own editorial.  It asks if there is no provision in the Indiana school’s original charter to prevent the sale to the Klan.  The Courier-Journal also pointed out that many teachers in Kentucky  had been trained at Valparaiso in its better days, and that Kentuckians should be concerned about its ultimate fate.


Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923 (3)
(Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923.)

Though excitement among some Valparaiso citizens allegedly ran high, Milt Elrod was probably too quick to make blustery promises about the Klan’s own financial strength.  His proposal to buy the school wasn’t a “joke,” but Elrod was a notorious booster and propagandist.

Through the sale of thousands of robes, newspaper subscriptions, and membership fees, the “Imperial hierarchy” of the Klan had amassed huge fortunes for itself.  D.C. Stephenson had gone from being a poor coal dealer in Evansville to a wealthy man by age 33, but he squandered Klan money on liquor, women, cars, and a yacht. Even the $350,000 needed to buy the Valparaiso campus — not to mention the $1,000,000 offered as an endowment — was apparently beyond the ability of bumbling Klan leadership to come up with (or hang onto).

The American press and higher education breathed a sigh of relief when, after just a few weeks, Elrod feebly announced that the Klan had changed its mind due to “legal technicalities.”  Some papers reported that — true to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s suggestion — a clause in the school’s original charter had been discovered, preventing control by any “fraternal, benevolent or charitable order” (an inaccurate description of the Klan, at any rate).


Fort Wayne Daily News, September 5, 1923 (2)
(Fort Wayne Daily News, September 5, 1923.)

“Legal technicalities” caused by the school’s charter might be a myth, a clever way for both the university and the Klan to save face after the embarrassing episode.  Most newspapers ran with it, but there seems to be little evidence that university trustees would have called off the sale if enough cash had been put down in front of them.


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923
(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923.)

Fortunately, Valparaiso University never fell into KKK hands. With the corrupt Klan itself in disarray by 1925, and with Stephenson headed to the nearby state prison at Michigan City for rape and murder, any future Klan bids were out of the question.

In the summer of 1925, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod rescued the run-down, almost abandoned school.  Lutherans at that time had several colleges and seminaries around the U.S., but no university.  They announced vague plans to use it as a theology school or teachers’ college.  Securing the deal was assisted by Reverend John C. Baur, a Lutheran minister and noted opponent of the Ku Klux Klan in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


The Republic (Columbus, IN), May 18, 1925
(The Republic, Columbus, Indiana, May 18, 1925.)

Under Lutheran guidance, Valparaiso University’s fortunes gradually turned around, though it barely survived the Great Depression.  By the 1950s, “Old Valpo” once again ranked among Indiana’s and the nation’s best colleges, a reputation it still holds today.


Hoosier State Chronicles provides searchable access to several years of The Fiery Cross on our site.

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

“Koo Koo Side Lights”: George Dale vs. the Klan

Dale obit

If you enjoy today’s “farcical newspaper” The Onion, in 1922 you might have sent in two dollars for a subscription to George R. Dale’s eccentric and fascinating Muncie Post-Democrat.

While The Onion lampoons everything from politicians to microwaves to bad tippers, George Dale — Indiana’s Jazz Age version of a Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart — focused his ridicule on a powerful group famous for wearing nighties and “mother goose caps” around cornfields at night.  That group, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan, whose grip on big cities and small towns alike led to its near-domination of state politics in the 1920s.

Muncie and neighboring towns like Marion, Elwood, Fairmount and New Castle were once a stronghold of the Klan.  Warding off physical assaults and threats on his life, Dale fought in the belly of the beast, bravely using humor to expose a group that lured in tens of thousands of Hoosiers, many from the middle class, under the banner of “100% Americanism.”


November 9, 1923(Muncie Post-Democrat, November 9, 1923.)


December 15, 1922(Dale ridiculed Klan recruitment in the Muncie Post-Democrat, December 15, 1922.  The “ten bucks” was for a Klan robe, which made millions of dollars for the Klan’s hierarchy.)


Hoosier State Chronicles, in cooperation with Ball State University Libraries’ Digital Media Repository, is proud to bring a long run of Dale’s Muncie Post-Democrat online, from 1921 through 1950. Here’s a brief bio of the man whose war on the Klan is still little-known outside Muncie, where he served as mayor from 1930 to 1935.  We’re including some of his best comic barbs here, lobbed at the not-so-Invisible Empire.

In 1930, a writer named W.A.S. Douglas wrote a long piece in The American Mercury, a magazine edited by the acerbic literary critic H.L. Mencken.  (Mencken was a famous enemy of the Klan, though his own views bordered on anti-Semitism.)  Douglas recalled that he first met George Dale during the 1925 trial of D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Klan in Indiana and many other Northern states.  Though Stephenson was indicted for the kidnap, rape and murder of an Indianapolis stenographer, a crime that involved her near-cannibalization while he was raping her, since the trial was held in Klan-dominated Noblesville, the Klansman seemed confident that his political machine could get him off the hook.  Stephenson, still in his thirties, was their “Old Man.”


Stephenson and Jackson

(D.C. Stephenson and Indiana’s Klansman governor, Ed Jackson.)


“There were Klansmen all around [Stephenson],” Douglas wrote about the courtroom in Hamilton County, “at the counsel-table, in the jury box, in the audience, and guarding the doors of the courtroom.  All were brothers in the secret bond.”  Then Stephenson looked over and saw a “shabby little old man,” scribbling with a pencil while casting a look that seemed to bore its “right into his brain.”

This was George Dale, “a white-haired little man, well into his sixties and with the seat worn out of his pants — a man who had become a joke all over the state because alone, broke, and kicked from pillar to post, he dared to fight. . .”


George R. Dale and Family

(George R. Dale and family, circa 1925.)


Born in 1867 in Monticello, Indiana, Dale — son of a Civil War veteran — was orphaned by age 18.  He moved to Hartford City around 1885, where he worked for an uncle who owned the town’s first electric power plant.  In his twenties, Dale founded the Hartford City Times, then the Montpelier Call.  He married Lena Mohler in 1900 and the couple had seven children.  Around 1920, the Dales came to Muncie on the eve of the Klan’s takeover there.

In a study conducted by Hoosier-born sociologist Robert Staughton Lynd and his wife Helen, Muncie became the first American town to ever be systematically dissected on a sociologist’s “operating table.”  The Lynds chose Muncie mostly for its averageness.  Their 1929 book Middletown wasn’t flattering.  Nor was the description that W.A.S. Douglas left:  “I well remember this Indiana city when it weltered in starkness; when it tucked its tail between its legs and ran from the sound and the smell of cowshed-perfumed klansmen…”

Douglas’ stereotype wasn’t totally accurate.  Muncie wasn’t all Klan.  And the most influential Klansmen weren’t farmers.  Klan influence was strong in big cities, too, with large membership in Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis, where D.C. Stephenson turned out his own newspaper, The Fiery Cross.  And in the ’20s, the Klan had more support in the Midwest than in the Deep South.


Klansman at Union Station(“Klansman at Union Station,” Indiana, circa 1930.  Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.)


Klan ideology in the ’20s also differed from its focus during the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s. While never friendly to African Americans, the “second wave” of the Klan was mostly interested in halting immigration, undermining perceived Catholic and Jewish influence in American politics and schools, enforcing Prohibition, and in protecting the “purity of American womanhood.”  A new religious movement, Protestant fundamentalism, also fueled the Klan’s rise, with ideologues hijacking religion to stir up nativism.  It’s no coincidence that 1925 was the year both of Stephenson’s trial in Indiana and the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.

George Dale and others went to work documenting the hypocrisy of the Klan’s basic principles — from “100% Americanism” to a ludicrous KKK resolution passed in Muncie proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a white Protestant native-born American and not a Jew.


March 28, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924.)


The Klan didn’t invent nativism.  Wave of immigrants like the Germans, Irish, Italians and Eastern European Jews all suffered the slander of earlier settlers. Anti-Semitism came into the mix whenever Jews joined labor unions, the Socialist Party, and supported the Russian Revolution.  (D.C. Stephenson himself, however, had briefly been a Socialist in Oklahoma.)

When Dale turned the spotlight on anti-Catholicism, he had to deal with fears going back decades, all the way back to the Reformation and the roots of the war in Northern Ireland.  As late as the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, many Americans feared that Catholics would take over American politics and schools, then hand the country over to the Pope.  For decades, Catholics occupied a position similar to that of American Muslims today.

Dale thought the Northern Irish roots of bigotry worth pointing out, especially when it turned out that a busy anti-Catholic editor had taken a long time to get American citizenship, something prized by the Klan.


April 11, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, April 11, 1924.  Dale noticed that many professional anti-Catholics, like the editor of the The American Citizen, had serious moral failings.)


Anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant fears sometimes stepped into the realm of folk belief, with Jewish revolutionaries and crocodile-shaped “Papist” boogeymen joining the ranks of the Chinese, the Irish, and the Mexicans, all conspiring to undermine American values.

These beliefs had a huge impact on daily life.  Some of Dale’s stories from Newark, Ohio, a Klan stronghold and a sort of “sister city” to Muncie, bear this out.  When Dale took jabs at the shady goings-on in Newark, he was criticizing his own town on the sly.  It’s hard to say how truthful Dale’s “reportage” was, but his satire cut to the bone.


May 16, 1924 (2)(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924.)


(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 4, 1923.)


 Helen Jackson -- January 4, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, January 4, 1924.  Anti-Catholicism was probably stronger in parts of the Midwest than in the Deep South. At the height of Klan influence in 1928, Al Smith, the first Catholic and Italian-American to run for president on a major party ticket, carried six states in the Deep South.  He won just two in the North and none in the West, losing to Herbert Hoover.)


Dale was no “respecter of persons,” not even women.  When it came to mocking the thousands of women who got involved with the KKK, conventions regarding the treatment of “ladies” didn’t hold him back.  Dale even used two prominent “Camelias” — as the Women of the Ku Klux Klan were known — as journalistic target practice.

One was the infamous Helen Jackson (mentioned above), a bogus “escaped nun” who helped spread Klan propaganda around the Midwest.  Jackson, daughter of Polish immigrants, had actually been a teenage prostitute who was sent to a Catholic reform school for “wayward” girls in Detroit.  In fairness, her experience there was probably harsh, but her stories of escaping from a convent — stories she told in a book called Convent Cruelties — drew on generations of anti-Catholic fiction and folklore.


Fiery Cross 12-08-1922-3

(The Fiery Cross, December 8, 1922.)


In the 1920s, Helen Jackson and a sidekick “ex-priest” — a French-Canadian Holiness preacher, L.J. King — gave lectures in American auditoriums and churches, where they mocked Catholic religious practices, spread fear about priestly tortures and Vatican takeover of the U.S., and incited riots, some of them deadly.  Jackson and King were busy stirring up religious hatred in Indiana just before the crucial 1924 election, when Hoosiers put a Klansman, Ed Jackson — no relation to Helen — in the governor’s seat.

Dale lampooned her as just another fraudulent “Koo Koo klucker” interested in profiting off the sale of hate.  He was eager to announce her arrival in Muncie in November 1922, when he could debunk her.  The “ex-nun” Helen Jackson actually visited Muncie several times, causing so much trouble there that she eventually got kicked even by Muncie’s Klan-friendly police.  Her companion, L.J. King, was also well-known to cops.  When he started charging extra admission rates for “men’s only” lectures — where he made lurid allegations about sex in confessionals — a few towns, like Phoenix, drove him out for insulting women and for spreading “verbal filth.” George Dale, who wasn’t even Catholic, relished the rumor that King had once had links to  an “Indian medicine show” and that his mother in Canada thought “he had always been a bad boy.”  Jackson and King were on the road throughout the 1920s, critical operatives of the Klan.


Helen Jackson -- November 10, 1922

(Muncie Post-Democrat, November 10, 1922.)


May 16, 1924(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924.)


A favorite target for Dale, however, was the influential Hoosier Quaker minister Daisy Douglass Barr, who headed the women’s auxiliary of the KKK.  Barr had once been a well-known reformer in central Indiana, espousing Prohibition, shutting down red-light districts, and reforming prostitutes.  Well-meaning reformers like her often had their dark side, however, as the history of the Indiana Women’s Prison shows.  In theory, Klan rhetoric supported the banning of booze and “womanly purity,” though a plethora of sex abusers, bootleggers, and rapists joined the rank and file of the Klan, including Stephenson, its leader.  (W.S.A. Douglass referred to Indiana’s Grand Dragon as a “booze-soaked printer.”)

George Dale despised Daisy Barr, who lived in Indianapolis for years but was influential in Muncie politics and in her native Grant County next door.  Dale put some of his best comic language to work to help take down Barr.  Mocking the Klan’s absurd titles, he called her the “Quakeress Fakeress,” “Daisy Doodle Barr,” “champion Kluxerino of Indiana,” and “prize gold digger of the Klan.”


December 7, 1923

(Muncie Post-Democrat, December 7, 1923.)


(Women of the KKK — known as “Camelias” or “Kamelias” — attend a funeral in Muncie, circa 1923.  They flew the Stars & Stripes, not the Confederate flag.  Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.)


Investigations eventually exposed the Reverend Barr’s greed.  The influential Quaker minister had pocketed a fortune from the sale of Klan robes to women.  George Dale was quick to argue that the business of the KKK’s leadership, in fact, was just that — a business, one that fleeced “suckers” out of their “boob money.”  Members got “nighties” in return.


June 6, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, June 6, 1924. “Hi” was Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans of Atlanta.)


March 28, 1924 (5)(Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924.)


The editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat wasn’t making millions from his poetry.  Nor did exposing the “Ku Klux Quaker” or anybody else help ensure his personal safety.   Yet in spite of death threats made against him and his family — with Klansmen shooting at him and attacking his home — Dale had the courage to continue publishing the names of Klansfolk in Ohio and Indiana as soon as he got his hands on membership lists.  For all their parading through the streets, many members still wanted their involvement with the Invisible Empire kept secret — including gubernatorial candidate Ed Jackson himself.  When the extent of Daisy Barr’s business with the Klan came out, she was forced to step down as chaplain of the Indiana War Mothers.


May 2, 1924(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 2, 1924.)


Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924.)


May 9, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, May 29, 1924.)


June 13, 1924

(Muncie Post-Democrat, June 13, 1924.)


George Dale’s campaign against the KKK was part of a national movement to discredit it.  Newspapers and religious leaders led the campaign.  While religion had played a disturbing role in fueling the Klan’s growth, it also played a major role in debunking it.  Over the next few decades, the opposition of Protestant ministers like Reinhold Niebuhr — not to mention Martin Luther King — helped erode support for the Klan, though the organization survives.

In 1923, Catholic members of the Indianapolis police force did their own part, breaking into a Klan office on College Avenue, stealing a membership list, and publishing it in Tolerance, an anti-KKK paper in Chicago.  (In light of the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015, the activist group Anonymous is doing something similar, hacking websites and publishing the personal details, addresses and Twitter handles of suspected ISIS extremists.)   Other Hoosier newspapers, including the Indiana Jewish Chronicle, the Indianapolis Freeman, the Indiana Catholic & Record, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Times all attacked the misinformation and bigotry spouted by the Klan.  D.C. Stephenson’s murder trial, which exposed the organization’s hypocrisy at its worst, also helped debunk the Klan credo.

Even in Muncie, the tide had begun to turn.  Embattled and in fear of his life in the mid-1920s, George R. Dale won the 1929 mayor’s race. His first action was to fire the forty-two members of the Muncie police force.

An indictment for violating Prohibition laws in 1932 overshadowed Dale’s mayoral career.  When Franklin Roosevelt repealed Prohibition soon after coming into office, he issued Dale a presidential pardon on Christmas Eve 1933.

The editor’s journalistic battle for civil decency had taken a toll on his health and finances.  He had also gone blind in one eye.  Yet Dale was at work at a typewriter right up to the moment of his death.  Surrounded by his family, and having just typed out one last editorial, George Dale died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 27, 1936, at his home in Muncie.


Dale obit 2

(Muncie Post-Democrat, March 27, 1936.)


 

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com