I was surprised to find several references to the Ku Klux Klan in Greenwich and Connecticut during some unrelated research I was doing for another blog. I'd heard about the KKK in high school history, but only had a rudimentary knowledge of the group. So I decided to look into it further.
EMBLEM OF THE KU KLUX KLAN
According to our History Reference Database, the KKK was established by a group of ex-Confederate soldiers, who were opposed to Reconstruction and wanted to maintain White Supremacy. After the war, many local governments were weak or practically non-existent. Whites feared a black insurrection, and hated carpetbaggers and scalawags. In Pulaski TN in 1866, a secret group was formed to take control of the situation. The members wore white robes, white masks, and had skulls for saddle horns. The horses, in turn, were covered with white robes and their feet were muffled by white cloth. This was to symbolize the Confederate dead. They developed a mystrerious language and participoated in secret ceremonies. At one time, the KKK members used whippings and lynchings to further their cause. They were early terrorists whose very exsistence caused fear to spread throughout the North and South.
The head of the KKK was the Imperial Grand Wizard. He had 10 Genii across the country report to him, and each state was considered a Realm. One of the main goals was to keep Blacks away from the polls. This way whites could control the government. In the 1870s, Congress passed legislation to prevent this type of behavior.
There was a resurrgence of the (Second) KKK after World War I. It was started by William J. Simmons, an ex-minister. He not only discriminated against Blacks, but also Catholics and Jews. By the 1920s, membership was estimated at 4 to 5 million members. The government started to tighten up laws, however, in the 1920s by forbidding masks and secret operations. A brief resurrgence after World War II failed, followed by a brief resurrgence during the social activism of the 1960s, and the ascension of David Duke in the 1990s.
Surprisingly, I found that the KKK was very active in Connecticut and Greenwich over the years. On June 6, 1924, a cross was burned near the residence of Coulter D. Huyler in the Round Hill section of town. The cross burned for an hour, and since it was placed on the highest point in town, it could be seen for miles. The cross was 25-feet in height. A 20-foot fuse was used to light it. It's not known if the burning was meant to coincide with a community fair that was organized to foster good will. Two figures were seen leaving the scene. the Police were notified, and two motorcycle officers were dispatched; but no one was found. An article I read mentioned three other cross burnings at Hamilton Avenue, Byram Hill and East Port Chester.
Two weeks later on June 20, 1924, an article in the Greenwich News & Graphic
newspaper may give the reader insight into the mindset of community in terms of racial integration. In an article titled "Negroes Coming Thicker", it talks about how Blacks were starting to migrate North to fill factory and domestic jobs on the estates. There seemed to be a drop off in foreign born immigrants. It mentioned how there had been a higher death rate and lower birth rate among the Blacks. People were definitely concerned about the influx of this low economic demographic that worked for low wages and could take jobs away.
Four years later on August 14, 1928, the Connecticut KKK planned a Field Day in Greenwich with a parade of 10,000 people from Greenwich to Port Chester. The Imperial Wizard
Dr. Hiram Wesley Evans
was to attend with out-of-town Klansmen from New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island
and Massachusetts. Approximately 200 people participated. Surprisingly, young women in white regalia were among the crowd. Hooded Klansmen directed traffic near the Railroad Avenue Bridge. Klan "Rangers" were brought in as a security measure. Several plain clothed policemen were distributed in the crowd.
Description: A Ku Klux Klan meeting in Gainesville, Florida, Dec. 31, 1922. Source: http://www.displaysforschools.com/history.html. Portion: Reduced from original size so it is no longer suitable for reproduction. Purpose: To illustrate the article Ku Klux Klan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Board of Selectmen granted a permit to hold the Field Day in Bruce Park, and Parks Warden Joseph P. Crosby gave a permit for the parade. Several tents were erected and there was a refreshment stand. Two Drum Corps bands came up from Freeport NY. Events included a ballgame between members from Rhode Island and Connecticut, a tug-o-war, band concert, and speeches. New Klansmen were initiated and run through a drill. Several young men tried to disrupt the proceedings, but were chased away. The festivities culminated with the burning of a 30-foot cross on a slope of a hill starting at 9 pm and ending at midnight.
During the Fall of 1980, there was another brief flurry of KKK activity in the state. According to the Greenwich Time, David Duke visited the state in January , 1980. He was the Grand Wizard of the Knights of the KKK. Bill Wilkinson was the Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the KKK. They were apparently rival groups. Duke was accused of pursuing his own self interests. At any rate, Wilkinson came to the state to announce a brand, new Klan leader for Connecticut. There was a plan to have a rally in Scotland CT, which is near Willimantic in the eastern part of the state. A cross was to be burned for the first time since the 1920s.
This time the public was definitely opposed to the organization due to their racist philosophy and covert methods. The Klan said its purpose was to establish white people in positions of power, return free enterprise to all and protect women's rights and human rights. Protestors cropped up all over the state. Rep Lawrence DeNardis (R) joined with numerous religious leaders to organize an anti-Klan demonstration in New Haven. A group called the International Committee Against Racism and Coalition Against the Klan planned a demonstration in Scotland on the night of the Klan rally. Buses carrying 4 or 5 dozen protestors from Hartford and New Haven descended on the scene. In response, the KKK planned on bringing armed Klansmen from Alabama and Tennessee to maintain order. Fortunately, a Judge forbade the presence of guns at the rally, and police searched vehicles (and people) for firearms. Law Enforcement felt this was necessary since there had been 5 fatalities at a Greensboro NC rally in 1979.
Open-air Initiation of K.K.K. under the Light of the Fiery Cross. From The Ku Klux Klan In Prophecy 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This time Connecticut law enforcement was ready. Approximately 200 armed State Troopers descended on the scene. Eleven people were arrested and numerous weapons were confiscated from Klansmen and protestors including slingshots, night sticks, billy clubs, buck knives, swords, machetes, .45 caliber handguns, air pellet pistols and a pump-action shotgun. Bill Wilkinson was charged with carrying a gun in a briefcase in his car trunk. He had a permit from his home state, but no permit from the state of Connecticut. Despite all the efforts to stem violence, local police had difficulty controlling the crowds, Surprisingly, the KKK members had the most injuries. A controversy arose since the State Police had extra officers about 2 -miles away, but they were never summoned.
Three days later, there were two subsequent cross burnings. One involved a 20-foot cross on an I-95 median strip in Rocky Hill, and the other was a 5-foot by 3-foot cross on a lawn in Windham.
Currently, there doesn't appear to be any resurgence in Klan activity. Membership seems to be down. There was an article in the September 5, 2013, Hartford Courant that references a meeting between the KKK and NAACP in Montana. The KKK still seems to favor separate, white enclaves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. NAACP officials justified the meeting as an attempt to have a discourse with their enemies. The KKK representative actually joined the NAACP and made a small donation to the organization! In September 2013, the Maryland KKK held an event in the Gettysburg National Military Park, and a protest group - the Adams Valley Coalition - organized a protest, but there was no violence.
There may be future flare ups for various reasons; but I don't think the KKK will gain any kind of political foothold unless it drastically changes its philosophy and policies. Americans still seem opposed to the KKK agenda. People are better educated and more aware of social issues. We have a diverse, and for the most part, an accepting society. This "rainbow" coalition of our society is what gives this country strength and makes our citizens loyal members of society.
Greenwich News & Graphic
The Hartford Courant