My Family and the KKK

 

Unfortunately, this week I had to attend the funeral of Elizabeth McKeon, my Aunt Betty. She was in her 90s and was the last child of eleven children: John, James, Gertrude, Walter, Sweet, Bernie, Margret, Dot, Tom, and Billy. I missed one and had to look it up; sorry, Jimmy. It’s sad that she passed but she lived a long life. The world is better for it and it’s time she moved on.

Four of my dad’s sisters would come over after church on Sunday for coffee and talk. Emphasis on talk. Each of my aunts would be carrying on a different conversation at the same time and my dad never really got in on any of them.

What bothered me most is that it’s the end of a generation. My siblings and I are the old people now.

Although there weren’t a lot of people there, it was great to catch up with many of my cousins. We only get together on occasions like this, and oh boy are they getting old. Funny, two said the same about me. I don’t see it.

The McKeons covered south Worcester (MA) when I was young. I was five when my dad bought a farm in the country, but I still remember going to Carl’s for penny candy and climbing the stacks of lumber at the lumber yard, and jumping from pile to pile. Yes, by myself.  And yes, I lived.

Why is it all these family stories come out after everyone dies and you can’t cross-examine anyone? I was speaking with Missy and my other cousins about the old days. One time when I was about twelve, my dad brought me to his parent’s farm in Charlton. All that’s left is a bubbly stone foundation and the Mass pike rest area where the fields used to be. He never went there again and never really spoke about it.

During the great potato famine, my great-grandfather left Ireland with his parents and settled in Quincy for a new life. He grew up in Quincy then married Ellen and bought a farm in Charlton. I can imagine how hard it must have been to raise enough money to not only feed yourself but to also purchase a farm to build a better life. I never made the connection why the farm didn’t amount to anything. No family to inherit it, no relatives in the area. I suppose I never really thought about it because it was never discussed other than that one time.

Missy dropped a bombshell on me that they were driven out of Charlton by the KKK when they burnt every building down on the farm. I said, “oh” (silence). All the pieces fit. It’s like getting hit with a ton of bricks. I guess being Irish Catholic in the 1920s was a double whammy.

Most people think about the KKK’s treatment of black people in the south, myself included. But no, their hate goes far beyond that. They settled in the neighborhood near Holy Cross College. He became a stone mason and life moved on.

The Klan in New England to this day is never talked about. During my entire education, I was never presented with any of these facts, and in my own backyard! I googled it and an introduction to this book came up from Westfield State. It does seem biased against Republicans but hey, it’s promoted from a Massachusetts college in 2019. That’s a prerequisite.  I immediately see a contradiction in the fact that only a small amount of Republicans ever owned slaves in 1860 according to Dinesh D’Souza. I will have to buy the book and come to my own conclusions.

Fewer still would have anticipated the KKK’s astounding rise in New England in the years to follow. According to the Washington Post, from the Klan’s formation in each individual state until it peaked in 1925, it admitted 21,321 members in Rhode Island, 65,590 in Connecticut, 75,000 in New Hampshire, 80,301 in Vermont, 130,780 in Massachusetts, and 150,141 in Maine.2 KKK membership remains difficult to determine with precision, but even if the actual numbers in the New England states were a fraction— say, one-tenth—of the Washington Post’s reported figures, they would nonetheless be phenomenal for the region.

https://www.westfield.ma.edu/historical-journal/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/KKK-in-MA-final.pdf

This news really doesn’t change anything. It’s sad that they went through that. Actually, if that never happened I would never have been born. Why was it such a secret? Shame? Embarrassment? I guess millennials weren’t the first ones to delete history. Reparation$ baby!!

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  1. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    The klan had a big resurgence in the midwest in the 20s and 30s as well.  There’s a good book about it, Notre Dame vs. The Klan. The author, Todd Tucker, gives a great description of how the revived klan was basically a huge multi-level-marketing scheme.  That’s how Robert Byrd got involved with it as a recruiter in West Virginia.

    The ‘new’ klan was not exclusively race-focused, but was more nativist.  The money wasn’t in lynching, but is nice orderly rallies and fellowship of the impressionable.   As Byrd recalled,

    “Sometime later, I received a letter from Mr. Joel L. Baskin,” Byrd remembered years afterwards. “Mr. Baskin’s letterhead, as I recall, bore the title ‘Grand Dragon of the Realm of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.’ This seemed most impressive.

    [Snip]

    “He was well dressed, a man apparently in his late fifties to early sixties, an active churchman,” Byrd recalled. “I was impressed by his demeanor and bearing, and he was impressed by my enthusiasm and by the swiftness with which I had procured the applications and filing fees of 150 men.”

    When the klan decided to stage a rally in South Bend, well, they got more than they bargained for.

    The Depression took the wind out of the sails of the klan.  Few people had an extra $10 for dues and $3 for a robe.

    • #1
  2. Chowderhead Coolidge
    Chowderhead
    @Podunk

    What gets me is the numbers. How can that many people think that’s a good idea. Robert KKK Byrd, D- WV did come to mind too.

    “He was well dressed, a man apparently in his late fifties to early sixties, an active churchman,” Byrd recalled. “I was impressed by his demeanor and bearing, and he was impressed by my enthusiasm and by the swiftness with which I had procured the applications and filing fees of 150 men.”

    Now that’s scary.

     

    • #2
  3. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    The north wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for blacks who migrated up there . . .

    • #3
  4. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The KKK in the 1920’s was a powerful political national movement. The KKK was active in Oregon:

    During the previous three decades the Catholic community had created an impressive network of 46 parochial schools serving over 4000 students. By April of 1922, it became the Klan had co-opted a compulsory education measure originally developed by the Scottish Rite Freemasons, designed to assure that all Oregon elementary school children receive an “American education.” The bill required all Oregon school children from the first to eighth grade to be enrolled in public schools and imposed severe financial penalties and incarceration of parents who failed to observe its petitions. Although the measure applied to a number of institutions, its primary target was the Catholic parochial school system.

    This led to a Supreme Court decision involving the Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary in Oregon:

    In a landmark ruling of June 1, 1925, the US Supreme Court Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (268 U.S. 510), affirmed:

    The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty, to recognize, and prepare him for additional duties.

    The Supreme Court ruling in Pierce vs. the Holy Names Sisters has been cited as a precedent in more than 100 Supreme Court cases, and in more than 70 cases in the courts of appeals. In 1929, Pope Pius XI, cited the text of the Supreme Court case in his encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, a classic document which provided direction to Catholic schools for the next several decades and became a foundations stone of Vatican Council II’s Declaration on Christian Education.

    • #4
  5. neutral observer Thatcher
    neutral observer
    @neutralobserver

    The Klan was big out west also.  My family is from Colorado and I have reasons to suspect my grandfather was a member.  Nowadays it’s had to believe that a Christian Scientist would be anti-catholic but there you are.  As a child I never understood why my father’s side of the family felt so threatened by Catholicism, but then my 2 best friends were Jewish and Catholic respectively.  I think I had a better perspective on things.

    • #5
  6. lowtech redneck Coolidge
    lowtech redneck
    @lowtech redneck

    Chowderhead (View Comment):

    What gets me is the numbers. How can that many people think that’s a good idea. Robert KKK Byrd, D- WV did come to mind too.

    The exact same way so many people think BLM and Wokeness is a good idea, now.  And just like then, people are initially growing disillusioned due to the predictable corruption involved, rather than rejection of the toxic ideology, but it at least opens the door for moral reexamination by casual supporters going forward.

     

    • #6
  7. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty, to recognize, and prepare him for additional duties.

    WOW!

    • #7
  8. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    It could be reassuring that mobs of knuckle heads rioting and burning at night is nothing new.  We have survived it before.

    It is an unpleasant truth that so many people are not interested in history, even related to their own families.  I offered my brother the Gerald letters written during the civil war, but he didn’t want them. 

    If we don’t forget our history, in the future Antifa and their leftist supporters will forever rank with the KKK.

     

    • #8
  9. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Stad (View Comment):

    The north wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for blacks who migrated up there . . .

    Agreed.  I think there’s some truth to the aphorism I once heard–the South rejected blacks as a group, but [tended–my edit] to accept them individually.  The North accepted blacks as a group, but rejected them individually.

    I’ve basically lived in two places my entire life–Pennsylvania and Virginia.  Segregation (de facto–I’m not old enough to have lived during any “legal” segregation) was much more a reality in PA than it was in VA.  To be fair, we lived in an area of VA filled with military and military-adjacent people, so that may have made an integrated society more achievable.  But in PA to this day, the vast majority of blacks live in cities with very few whites, and the vast majority of whites live in the suburbs or rural areas with very few blacks.  It is changing, but ever so slowly.  I would not want to be black and have to find a good home in small town PA.  I suspect it would be very difficult to feel at home.  Not impossible, but very difficult.

    • #9
  10. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    This led to a Supreme Court decision involving the Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary in Oregon:

    In a landmark ruling of June 1, 1925, the US Supreme Court Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (268 U.S. 510), affirmed:

    The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty, to recognize, and prepare him for additional duties.

    The Supreme Court ruling in Pierce vs. the Holy Names Sisters has been cited as a precedent in more than 100 Supreme Court cases, and in more than 70 cases in the courts of appeals. In 1929, Pope Pius XI, cited the text of the Supreme Court case in his encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, a classic document which provided direction to Catholic schools for the next several decades and became a foundations stone of Vatican Council II’s Declaration on Christian Education.

    I don’t want to derail this thread, but I’ll just briefly note that, although the Oregon law was wicked and should never have been enacted, Pierce was one of the early “liberty interest” cases that helped pave the way to RoePierce‘s reasoning was weak, and, in my opinion, is an example of “hard cases make bad law”.

    • #10
  11. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    The legacy of the KKK as a Democratic terrorist organization dedicated to preventing people exercising their right to vote Republican lives on…

    • #11
  12. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    neutral observer (View Comment):

    The Klan was big out west also. My family is from Colorado and I have reasons to suspect my grandfather was a member. Nowadays it’s had to believe that a Christian Scientist would be anti-catholic but there you are. As a child I never understood why my father’s side of the family felt so threatened by Catholicism, but then my 2 best friends were Jewish and Catholic respectively. I think I had a better perspective on things.

    My great-grandfather was a member, and I feel zero guilt or remorse about it.  My great-great (or was it great3?) grandfather owned slaves.  Ditto with no regrets or remorse.  It’s just the way things were in the past.  I’m more concerned with the future, especially for my children and grandson.  Will they live in a world were institutionized bigotry – CRT, 1619, “white privilege,” and DEI – are thrust upon them?  I pray not . . .

    • #12
  13. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    neutral observer (View Comment):

    The Klan was big out west also. My family is from Colorado and I have reasons to suspect my grandfather was a member. Nowadays it’s had to believe that a Christian Scientist would be anti-catholic but there you are. As a child I never understood why my father’s side of the family felt so threatened by Catholicism, but then my 2 best friends were Jewish and Catholic respectively. I think I had a better perspective on things.

    Can you point me to any info about the Klan in Colorado?  I have long standing family ties to the area but I’ve never heard of Klan activity there.

    • #13
  14. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    The Depression took the wind out of the sails of the klan.  Few people had an extra $10 for dues and $3 for a robe.

    According to Freakonomics, it was Superman that took down the clan by exposing their secrets on the radio show. 

    • #14
  15. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    The Depression took the wind out of the sails of the klan. Few people had an extra $10 for dues and $3 for a robe.

    According to Freakonomics, it was Superman that took down the clan by exposing their secrets on the radio show.

    What secrets?  How they got their sheets so white?

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    The ‘new’ klan was not exclusively race-focused, but was more nativist.  The money wasn’t in lynching, but is nice orderly rallies and fellowship of the impressionable.   As Byrd recalled,

    Does this book go into any connections (or lack of them) between the klan and Woodrow Wilson’s progressism-nativism during WWI? 

    • #16
  17. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    The ‘new’ klan was not exclusively race-focused, but was more nativist. The money wasn’t in lynching, but is nice orderly rallies and fellowship of the impressionable. As Byrd recalled,

    Does this book go into any connections (or lack of them) between the klan and Woodrow Wilson’s progressism-nativism during WWI?

    Title card from D. W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation, the original title of which was The Clansman.

    • #17
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