May 2014 Archives

Historical Happenings

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Two Gilded Ages: Is History Repeating Itself?
Tuesday - June 10 - 7 PM
Bush Holley Historical Site

Dr. Jackson Lear compares our recent history with the Gilded Age of
the 1920s and 1930s.  Reservations and fee required.  Call 869-6899 for
more information.


History on Wheels
Sunday - June 21 - 1:30 PM
Greenwich Point

Bicycle tour of Greenwich Point.  No reservations required.  Beach card needed
to access park.  Must have own bicycle and safety gear.  Assembly at first parking lot to right.  Includes scavenger hunt for children.


Pasture to Pond: Connecticut Expressionism
Ongoing Until June 22
Bruce Museum

This exhibit highlights Connecticut landscapes painted by American
Impressionists such as Childe Hassan.  Call 869-0376 for more details.

The KKK in Greenwich

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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


                                    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.

The Ku Klux Klan on parade down Pennsylvania A...

The Ku Klux Klan on parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, 1928 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)














 

 

 

 

 

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 Gainesv...

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 ...

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.




SOURCES

     Greenwich News & Graphic

          Greenwich Time

               The Hartford Courant

    





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Historical Happenings

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Genealogy for Beginners
Sunday - May 18 - 2 PM
Greenwich Library

Stephen Shaw, President of the Connecticut Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, will speak on genealogy, and give one-on-one help to people reasearching their ancestors. This free program is open to the public.

 

The Embrace of Unreason
Thursday - May 18 - 5 PM
Byram Shubert Library

Author Frederick Brown talks about the political, social and religious aspects in France during the war years from 1914 to 1945.  Free and open to all.

Roy Cohn

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When I was growing up, I remember hearing about someone named Roy Cohn.  I didn't really know anything about him. Then when I moved to Connecticut, I read something about him living in Greenwich.  Over time, I found out he was a lawyer who represented several celebrities.  This week, I decided to do some more research and write a blog on him.

Roy Marcus Cohn was born in New York City on February 2, 1927,  to Dora Marcus and Albert Cohn. Roy was an only child.  His father was a State Supreme Court Judge , and his family lived on Park Avenue.  He attended Horace Mann  and Fieldston Schools.  Cohn was a prodigy, who graduated from high school and college early, and finished Columbia University Law School at the age of 20.  He had to wait a year to be admitted to the bar at age 21!  As you can see, he was extraordinary, brilliant and articulate.  His family was able to help him pull some strings, and he was able to land a job in the United States Attorney's Office in Manhattan, specializing in subversive activities. 

Cohn645.jpg

Cohn prosecuted 11 members of the American Communist Party for preaching the overthrow of the United States government.  He received much noteriety as a prosecutor in the infamous Rosenberg case. 

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were accused of being Soviet spies and receiving classified documents on the Manhattan Project, the initiative that resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb.  Cohn managed to get the death penalty for the pair in 1951, despite being accused of improper interaction with the judge. (An informant later cleared Ethel of any wrong doing.)  At age 27, Cohn was recommended to Senator Joseph McCarthy by J. Edgar Hoover to serve as General Counsel during the "Red Scare" Congressional hearings.   Robert Kennedy, who remained Cohn's greatest rival throughout his career, was passed over.  Roy Cohn was a registered Democrat, but supported mostly Republican Presidents.   He traveled around the country and the world to uncover Communists. Roy was a member of the anti-Communist John Birch Society, and offered informal advice to Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan.  By this time, Cohn had established his reputation, and become a power broker in politics.

Following the McCarthy hearings in 1954, he returned to private practice.  This resulted in a successful, if not somewhat trying (pardon the pun), thirty year career.  He became a "lawyer to the stars" with the likes of Donald Trump; gangsters Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante and John Gotti; and the Catholic Diocese.  As a defensive maneuver, Cohn took a very low salary ($100,000) from his firm.  He arranged to have the corporation pay for his apartment in Manhattan, and part of his rent in Greenwich.  The business also provided a chauffeur and paid his bills at LeCirque, the 21 Club and Studio 54.  He had no bank accounts, stocks or assets.  As he was fond of stating, he wanted to die without owing anything to the IRS! 

After his mother's death in 1967, Roy Cohn moved around and lived in New York City, Washington DC and Greenwich (1982).  He lived at 8 Witherell Drive in Rock Ridge, and could be often seen water skiing on Long Island Sound.  He gave lavish parties at his estate, and was friends to the likes of Cardinal Spellman, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Bianca Jaggar, Andy Warhol, George Steinbrenner, Geraldine Ferraro and Governor Tom Kean of New Jersey.  He was known for holding bashes at Studio 54, and often traveled to Acapulco for long weekends.  His summer home in Provincetown was next to Norman Mailer.  Esquire magazine featured his picture on one of their covers, and "60 Minutes" presented a story on his life and times. 

Cohn made many enemies along the way.  As a result, he became the chief target of numerous government agencies.  The FBI went through his mail, the IRS audited his taxes for 20 years in a row, and he was accused of professional misconduct, perjury and witness tampering by the American Bar Association.  He was indicted 3 times, but acquitted 3 times.    Stories swirled about his stealing money from an escrow account, refusal to pay back a bank loan, and illegally making himself an executor of an estate to swindle a dying man.  The SEC investigated him and charged him with making false reports.  Whether it was his connection to McCarthyism or his defense of controversial figures, Cohn had become the target of the establishment. 

Roy Cohn was a lifelong bachelor.  Rumors surfaced about his sexual orientation.  In 1984, Cohn announced he had been diagnosed with cancer, but a Doctor stated he had been diagnosed with HIV.  At 58 years of age in 1986, Cohn succombed to AIDS.  The powerful, intense, energetic man with the quick wit had met his match. 

In many ways, Roy Cohn was bigger than life.  His circle of friends had included Mayor Abraham Beame, Calvin Klein, Marvin Mitchelson, Rupert Murdoch, William F. Buckley and Estee Lauder.  He managed to raise $4-million for Israel.   He refused to apologize for his role in McCarthyism because he believed in a strong America.  Cohn claimed to hold the record for having been audited by the IRS so many times (20).

He will no doubt be best remembered for his zeal in trying to uncover Communists during the McCarthy hearings.  It would bring the debate about personal freedoms to the forefront.  He will also be remembered for the controversial cases he handled.  Like him or loathe him, he is still an important figure in the history of this country.

 



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