Five men are sitting in a jail cell in Terre Haute, Indiana. The leader of the group—a middle-aged, mustached, and unassuming figure—had been arrested on charges of “vagrancy and ‘for investigation’,” according to the local police chief. But it wasn’t a drunk or an unlucky drifter sitting in the cell. It was the leader of an American political party and its nominee for President of the United States. He had tried to give a speech in Terre Haute when arrested by the local authorities. His case became a statewide and even national discussion on the importance and limits of free speech. Now, who could’ve caused all of this ruckus? It was Earl Browder, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United States.
Music: “And Then She Left” by Kinoton, “Echo Sclavi” by the Mini Vandals, “Namaste” by Audionautix, “Myositis” by the United States Marine Band, “Finding the Balance” by Kevin MacLeod, and “Dana” by Vibe Tracks
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.”
Hoosier State Chronicles, in cooperation with Ball State University Libraries’ Digital Media Repository, is proud to bring a long run ofDale’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.”
“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 “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. . .”
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.
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 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.
The Klan didn’t invent nativism. Waves 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.
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.
When Dale took jabs at the shady goings-on in Newark, Ohio 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.
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.
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 was not 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.
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 illustrates. In theory, Klan rhetoric supported “womanly purity” and the banning of booze 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.”
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.
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.
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 fearing for 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 President Franklin Delano 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.
Hoosier State Chronicles has just uploaded over 3,500 issues of The Jewish Post, a historic weekly (now biweekly) published Indianapolis since 1933. Here’s a bit of the paper’s history — and of Jewish journalism in the Midwest.
While the center of American Jewish culture has always been identified as New York, the Ohio Valley saw the birth of one of the first Jewish-run periodicals in the U.S. This was Cincinnati’s The Israelite.
Founded in July 1854, and today printed under the title The American Israelite, this paper is the oldest surviving Jewish news organ in the country. After the London Jewish Chronicle, begun in 1841, it is the second oldest in the world. Cincinnati’s The Israelite was the brain child of pioneer Austrian rabbi Dr. Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900), who was also one of the founders of Hebrew Union College, the oldest Jewish seminary in the Americas. During World War II, HUC attracted one of the great Jewish theologians and Civil Rights leaders, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who called the Midwest home for a few years while serving on the school’s faculty.
Before 1900, small towns in the Midwest and South were often home to much larger Jewish communities than today. Even seemingly far-flung rural places like Woodville, Mississippi; Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Harlan, Kentucky, had sizable Jewish populations. With the plantation economy of the South closely tied to the shipment of products up and down the rivers between New Orleans and the Midwest, Jewish merchants settled all over the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. Though most Jews later left for opportunities in cities, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life has documented the fascinating history of Jews in small-town America.
Some settled in Indiana. One of the first European Jews to come here was Louis (Ludwig) Dembitz, an immigrant from Prussian Poland who practiced law in the thriving river town of Madison, Indiana, around 1850. When the great Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth visited Madison in 1852, Dembitz translated his speech (given in German). He later edited a German-language newspaper in Louisville, the Beobachter am Ohio. Louis Dembitz was also the uncle of Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jew to serve on the Supreme Court. Brandeis, who died in 1941, changed his middle name from David to Dembitz to honor him. In 1855, the judge’s parents were married at a now-defunct synagogue in Madison, Indiana.
Even tiny towns like Ligonier in Noble County occasionally had small Jewish populations early on in their history. One of the first Jews in the Wabash Valley was the Vincennes trader Samuel Judah (1798-1869). Descended from a family of Spanish Jews who moved to Canada and New York, Judah bought land in Terre Haute in the 1820s and went into politics. In 1840-41, he served as Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives.
Before Chicago grew into a huge metropolis after the Civil War and before trains eclipsed river traffic, life in the Midwest was largely focused on the Ohio Valley. Indianapolis’ Jewish Post, in fact, began in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1930.
Expanded and printed in several different state editions, this paper was created by long-time owner and editor Gabriel Murrel Cohen (1908-2007). Born in Louisville, Cohen earned a Bachelor’s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1930 — the same year he went home to Kentucky to start The Jewish Post at age 22. Though Cohen moved his editorial offices moved to Indianapolis in 1935, he kept a printing office in Louisville into the 1940s and often carried ads for businesses in “Falls City.”
Advertised as “A Journal for Indiana Jewry,” in fact for years this was really a bi-state paper.
The year 1933 was a momentous one for beginning a Jewish newspaper in the Midwest. The state had only recently been freed up from the grip of the powerful Ku Klux Klan, which dominated Hoosier politics until about 1927. In a battle spearheaded by newspapers like the Indianapolis Times — which urged Hoosiers to remember that “Indiana is not Russia” — the Klan had just fallen from power when the first issue of The Jewish Post came out. A decade earlier, the KKK’s mouthpiece, The Fiery Cross, was printed in the Century Building, under the editorship of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson — a professional anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, racist, and one of the most powerful men in America. A mainstream organization in the Twenties, the KKK touted “100% Americanism,” Protestantism, anti-immigrant attitudes, and female purity, as well as the federal prohibition of alcohol.
Franklin Roosevelt repealed Prohibition in 1933, the year The Jewish Post was first printed under the editorship of Leonard Rothschild. In late 1935, Gabriel Cohen’s Spokesman Company bought Rothschild out. Originally based at 505 West Washington Street, the editorial offices briefly moved to the East Side by 1936, when Cohen was based at 2101 East Washington Street in a building that later housed the dingy California Nite Club. Cohen and his staff were back downtown in 1937, operating in the Majestic Building and Meridian Life Building.
While the new 4-page paper carried local news of Jewish interest from Indiana, Kentucky and the U.S., during the 1930s and 1940s its front pages focused on the rise of Nazism in Germany and the plight of European Jews.
Yet The Jewish Post didn’t only announce the perils of anti-Semitism overseas and at home. The paper also affirmed Jewish identity in Indianapolis and helped Hoosiers get to know themselves and their neighbors better.
A regular feature in early issues of The Jewish Post was a series of biographies of prominent — and promising — Indiana Jews. The paper typically ran these profiles ran every week. One focused on Ed Rose, a 20-year-old staff writer on the Indiana Daily Student at IU-Bloomington, in July 1937.
In 1937, Gabriel Cohen also serialized “A History of the Jews of Indianapolis” by Harry Dale, a story that begins in 1856, when fourteen men began looking for a site for a Jewish cemetery. Split between several local congregations, these officially separate burial grounds are known colloquially as “Kelly Street” and located just off South Meridian in a part of the Old Southside that was once heavily German, with some Hungarian, Polish, Russian and Greek households among them.
Gabriel Cohen’s Jewish Post also gave attention to the development of Zionism, the effort to set up a homeland for Jews. After World War II, that place turned out to be Israel, but Zionists once considered spots as far away as Saskatchewan and South America, as well.
Over the years, The Jewish Post took up the cause of interfaith unity. In its early days, it also covered the concern loss of Jewish identity in the face not just of the Holocaust, but of Americanization. Cohen’s paper ran occasional articles that document both the evolution of American Jewish identity and the struggle of Jews to stay true to their historic roots.
One interesting example came with the extremely rare production of a Yiddish play in Indianapolis. In March 1934, Maurice Schwartz, father of the “Golden Age of Yiddish Theater,” performed on stage at English’s on Monument Circle downtown. Schwartz was a Ukrainian-born actor raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 1918, he founded the Yiddish Art Theatre At English’s Theater, Schwartz played a lead role in the Yoshe Kalb, which told the story of a Hasidic mystic. Before Schwartz’s death in 1960, he went on to work with a struggling young Jewish actor named Leonard Nimoy, who came from a Ukrainian Jewish family in Boston spoke Yiddish fluently. The man who played Star Trek’s Mr. Spock remembered Schwartz as his “theatrical father.”
Indianapolis didn’t have the only Jewish newspaper in the Midwest in those years. An even earlier paper, Chicago’s The Sentinel, dated back to 1911. In 1921, Milwaukee saw the birth of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (digitized on Newspapers.com). The Ohio Jewish Chronicle began in Columbus in 1922, followed by the Detroit Jewish News in 1942 and the St. Louis Jewish Light in 1947.
In 1948, Gabriel Cohen expanded his paper nationally. In addition to the original Indiana edition, he ran a special Missouri edition from 1948 until 1992. Along with its Indiana edition, the National Jewish Post & Opinion is still in print today.
Based on West 86th Street in Indianapolis, the newspaper is now a biweekly. In addition to its longstanding commitment to interfaith dialogue, The Jewish Post & Opinion defines its mission as “To support Israel and to fight anti-Semitism. To heal and repair the world (tikkun olam). To protect, promote, and preserve time-honored Jewish values such as ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”