NOTE: This story appeared in the Nov. 3 edition of The Free Press, but was mistakenly not posted online.
The words Ku Klux Klan are synonymous with Civil War-era and Civil Rights-era racial hatred, violence and terrorism, especially in the South.
But those were the first and third waves, set 100 years apart in American history. The second wave was a nationwide movement, which took on the same white hooded costumes and lingo as the first, and there wasn’t a single county in Minnesota that didn’t have a presence.
In fact, St. James and Fairmont had two of the largest factions in the state, and both cities have KKK robes and numerous newspaper articles in their historical society collections to prove it.
Besides the sheer presence of the group this far north, author and historian Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle said the mission and purpose of the 1920s KKK also aren’t widely understood today. She herself learned a great deal while researching her recently released book, “The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota,” published by The History Press.
“The second wave was more of a political movement,” said Hatle, a history teacher in Minneapolis. “In Minnesota, we just didn’t have many black people.”
Who was the KKK?
The politically conservative Klan was opposed to unions, Catholics, immigrants and alcohol. They were pro-white and in favor of protesting the groundswell of change that the “roaring ‘20s” was bringing about.
The second wave is responsible for introducing cross burning as a symbol of intimidation and a representation of its pro-Christian message. Lighting one was often accompanied with prayers and hymns.
The Klan was also fairly successful during that era, she said. They had large membership numbers and were able to get members into political offices, such as on school boards and commissions.