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The roots of the KKK in Logan County

The Courier
The Courier
 2022-08-10
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A presentation focusing on the history of the Ku Klux Klan’s activities in Logan County grabbed my attention. I had heard stories about the Klan being in Logan County, but mostly those were hand-me-down tales that were on shaky ground, probably embellished with each telling over the years.

But this particular presentation was given by Atlanta resident Bill Thomas, a local history buff and economic development director, to a meeting of the Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society. I personally know Thomas and trust that his report was based on credible research.

His message: At one time, especially during the Roaring Twenties, the Klan was alive and thriving here in the county. No, there weren’t hangings and burnings, something the KKK on a national basis was known for. And Thomas noted his research failed to turn up any evidence of local attacks against the Black community of Logan County.

That wasn’t the case everywhere in central Illinois. I grew up in Tazewell County, where Pekin, with its sordid past of racism, is the county seat. “Pekin has a long history of racism,” according to The Root, a website that boasts, “The Blacker the Content, the Sweeter the Truth.”

The Root’s small reference to Pekin, Ill., continues: “In the 1920s the town served as the regional headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan and was known as a ‘sundown town,’ a moniker that let Black people know not to be caught in town after sundown, the Pekin Times reports. (Coincidentally, the newspaper was started by a Grand Titan for the Ku Klux Klan and his compadres.)”

Thomas in his presentation said by 1920 the Klan’s focus was peddling a mixture of protestant religion, law and order, The Constitution and Americanism. He called it “a toxic cocktail that America seemed to be buying.”“…in the ’20s the increase in membership could be traced to sweeping changes as it expanded to become anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, and 100 per cent American, (and) anti-immigrant. And they were upholders of the moral way, as long as you were a white protestant.”

America, itself, was undergoing vast changes from 1910 and 1930 that included World War I, an increase in Eastern European immigration, Prohibition which brought about illegal liquor, speakeasies, and flappers, and the automobile. Thomas said the KKK viewed these as “ailments for which the Klan seemed to be offering a cure.”Newspaper reports during that era confirm that the KKK pursued activities in Lincoln, Atlanta, Lawndale and Beason.

He said Logan County Chapter #152 had its own metal seal to mark official documents. The seal was found under the kitchen sink in an Atlanta home and has since been restored and donated to the Atlanta museum. The handmade white robes of a man, woman and child were found in another Atlanta home. The garments are also part of the Atlanta museum’s collection.

Thomas served up some specifics showing the Klan’s presence in the county. For example, he said on Nov. 11, 1921 at the Atlanta School Homecoming the Atlanta Grade School Class of Adelle McClure wore uniform KKK costumes in the parade. A class photo of the costumed children is also at the museum.Others: In 1923 the Ku Klux Klan held a big meeting on the principles and purposes of the KKK at the Atlanta Fairgrounds with 4,000 people in attendance. A national KKK speaker carried a Bible, flag, and a copy of the U. S. Constitution, telling the crowd, “These are my politics.”

In 1924, the KKK held a picnic and barbecue in Lincoln at the end of Wyatt Avenue. National Klan speakers were in attendance. The event also included the initiation of four new Klan members and a large parade.In 1925 the Ku Klux Klan met again at the Atlanta Fairgrounds with French’s Military Band of Lincoln providing music throughout the evening.

Thomas said The Lincoln Women’s Drill Team dressed in white robes and hoods performed at a KKK gathering.He mentioned other Klan meetings were held at Murphy Hall in Atlanta, and at Lawndale and Beason.

Thomas said late in the 1920s the Klan began to weaken as a couple of its national leaders became involved in scandals, one involving underage women.

So, has the KKK completely disappeared from Logan County? Doubtful, Thomas inferred. A few years ago, KKK recruiting flyers were placed in plastic bags with rocks and tossed to the doorsteps of several homes in the Atlanta area, Thomas said.

We rarely hear the KKK getting a mention these days on the national news reports. But we do hear plenty of talk about the rising popularity of white nationalism. If you enjoy being an American and all the freedoms that come with that, white nationalism is a scary movement.

The website, Facing History and Ourselves, does an in-depth exploration of the movement and warns of its rising popularity and how that threatens the American way of life.

“The threat of white nationalism gained new attention after the insurrection on January 6, 2021, where many members of the mob attacking the US Capitol displayed white nationalist symbols and slogans,” according to the website.

Who knows? Perhaps 50 years from now, the local historical society will have a guest speaker talking about how white nationalism spread across the country. And hopefully, how the movement eventually fizzled out.

Dan Tackett is a retired managing editor of The Courier. He can be reached at dtackett@gmail.com.

Comments / 13

CrackDeeZ
08-10

Illinois is definitely a racist state In most places, the hate is definitely there. can't stand them either so it's mutual.

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13
mr. mack
08-10

No attacks against blacks,yeah right I believe that. Central Illinois is as racist as it gets.

Reply
21
Guest
08-10

As a student of Lincoln College I wish I would’ve seen this article before coming to Lincoln College

Reply
8

Comments / 0