Klan leaders meet with Portland police chief

The Ku Klux Klan in Oregon, 1921-22

A Source Summary and Analysis of Newspaper Coverage


The Ku Klux Klan elected Oregon’s governor and passed anti-Catholic legislation in 1922. In 1915 Colonel William Simmons, the title of Colonel being an honorary one, of Atlanta, Georgia formally re-founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Less than two weeks later, the iconic film The Birth of a Nation showed for the first time in Atlanta. The film, considered a technical masterpiece, redrew the image of the Klan for millions of Americans. The Klan, in the film, represent saviors against evil Northern carpetbaggers and immoral, ignorant freed slaves. The film completed the revision of Reconstruction history in the American mind. Simmons patterned his Klan on the fraternal organizations he represented professionally in the past. Combining his knowledge of the Klan, born in Mississippi Simmons listened to tales of a heroic Klan growing up, with his knowledge of fraternal orders, Simmons hoped to create a new fraternal order. Simmons lacked the skills to help his Klan grow, the organization floundered with a few thousand members in the deep South until 1920. In 1920 Simmons hired an Atlanta publicity agency to spread Klan membership. The partnership succeeded in creating an explosion in Klan membership reaching a peak of one to two million members in the next three to five years. The propaganda arm of the Klan, as the advertising agency was officially titled, expanded the Klan in many areas that were not traditional Klan breeding grounds.

The state of Oregon became associated with a powerful Ku Klux Klan in the national mind in 1922. The 1922 Gubernatorial election, including a toughly fought Republican primary, and the Oregon School Bill, the anti-Catholic mandatory public education initiative, brought the role of the Klan in Oregon politics to a national stage.

The political nature of Oregon’s Klan is revealed in newspaper coverage of the Klan. Most coverage is political in nature and the remaining coverage consists of donations to churches and acts of charity. The political nature of Oregon’s Klan presumably affected who joined the Klan in Oregon. This paper focuses on the political nature of the Klan in Portland, which represents nearly 50% of Klan members in Oregon. How did that potentially affect who joined the Klan and why they joined? These two questions have been debated by historians since John Moffatt Mecklin published The Ku Klux Klan: A Study of the American Mind in 1924. Mecklin argues that a cultural predisposition combined with the boredom of rural life led Oregonians to join the Klan.1 Mecklin believed, erroneously, that the Klan was predominantly rural. In 1967 Kenneth Jackson argued that the Klan had an urban focus, refuting Mecklin. Jackson argues in The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 that the urban Klan dominated rural Klaverns. Jackson suggests urban Klansmen joined the Klan as a means to stem the tide of change in the urban environment.2 The authors of Invisible Empire in the West, edited by Shawn Lay, argue that Klan recruits represented average citizens and the reasons for joining the Klan generally depended on local conditions instead of a being a battle between the rural and urban mindsets as Mecklin and Jackson argue.3 This paper includes a brief introduction of contextual information relating to the growth of the Klan nationally, in Oregon, and in Portland specifically. The following analysis of the political coverage of the role of the Klan in Oregon politics in The Morning Oregonian hopes to examine the public actions of the Klan to infer the mindset and nature of who might join the Klan in Portland. Newspaper coverage shows the Klan’s ideology to be uncontroversial and politically acceptable. It appears that the generally positive and political nature of Portland’s Klan led the membership to be primarily those interested in fraternal orders and conventional political action.

The Birth of a Movement

The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's began on Stone Mountain, Georgia on Thanksgiving night in 1915. Sixteen men, including Colonel Simmons, drove from nearby Atlanta to Stone Mountain to swear allegiance to the reborn Ku Klux Klan. Arnold Rice describes the ceremony this way, “the small group soon found itself gathered under a burning cross and before a hastily constructed rock altar upon which lay an American flag, an opened Bible, an unsheathed sword, and a canteen of water.”4 Colonel Simmons in his typical grandiose fashion described the ceremony differently, “And thus on the mountain top that night at the midnight hour, while men braved the surging blasts of wild wintry winds and endured a temperature far below freezing, bathed in the sacred glow of the fiery cross, the Invisible Empire was called from its slumber of half a century…”5 The Thanksgiving night ceremony may be the ceremonial rebirth of the Klan, but the legal rebirth of the Klan began in October 1915 when Simmons explained the reborn Klan and convinced thirty-four men to petition the state for an official charter. The charter came a week after the Thanksgiving ceremony of December 4, 1915.6 For the next five years Simmons lead a relatively disorganized, entirely Southern Klan.

Born in 1880, in Hapersfield, Alabama, Simmons saw the Klan as his, “it was MY creation—MY CHILD, if you please, My first born.”7 Simmons was the son of a country physician and heard glory stories of the Klan in his youth. He served in the Spanish-American War, but never advanced beyond the rank of Private. The title Colonel, an honorary one from the Woodmen of the World, did not reflect military achievement. After leaving the Army, Simmons worked for a period as a minister and salesman for fraternal orders.8 Arnold Rice describes Simmons eloquently, “Possessed of a spellbinding rhetoric, he talked like the old-time revivalist preacher he resembled. His pleasures, however, were anything but clerical—horse races, boxing matches, ‘social’ drinking.”9 Simmons may have preached Klan values, including prohibition, but he lived hypocritically. One example of Simmons motives can be seen in Simmons’ copyrighting the secret Klan instruction manual, the Kloran. Simmons told Klan members to keep the Kloran secret, but to avoid losing money on unofficial copies of the Kloran Simmons copyrighted it, forcing him to leave public copies in the Library of Congress. “In the coming years therefore, when candidates for initiation swore themselves to eternal secrecy, the object of their oath was available in the nation’s capital for any who might wish to examine it.”10 Simmons may have held the values he argued for, but he valued the profitability of his book over the secrecy of his secret organization.

The expansion of the Klan beyond a few thousand Southern members began with the partnership of Simmons and the Klan with the Southern Publicity Association. The Southern Publicity Association, headed by Mr. Edward Young Clarke and Mrs. Elizabeth Tyler, had previous success promoting the Anti-Saloon League and a variety of other organizations.11 “Clarke and Tyler completely reorganized the secret society’s finances and membership procurement procedures, floating large new loans and hiring hundreds of full-time recruiters.”12

Kleagles, as the recruiters were called, collected a ten dollar membership fee. The fee was divided among five people; four dollars went to the Kleagle, one dollar went to the State level recruiter (King Kleagle), fifty cents went to the state leader (Grand Goblin), two dollars and fifty cents went to Clarke (Imperial Kleagle), and the remaining two dollars went to the Imperial Wizard (Simmons).13 Between June 1920, when the contract was finalized, and October 1921, during a Congressional investigation of the Klan, the Klan grew from a few thousand members in the South to a 100,000 members spread across the country. Kleagles had a financial incentive to shape their presentation of the Klan’s message specifically to the values of those they sought to recruit.

The Ku Klux Klan came to Oregon in the 1920's the same way it spread to most of the country. A Kleagle, armed with membership forms and an ideology, convinced Oregonians to pay ten dollars to join the Invisible Empire. Oregon in the 1920's lacked a wide racial and cultural diversity; Ninety percent of the population was Protestant, with Catholics accounting for only eight percent, and eighty-five percent of the population was white, native born. There were decreasing numbers of Asians and 2,000 African-Americans.14 “Neither Know-Nothingism nor the A.P.A. (older nativist movements), however, played as important and lasting a role in Oregon history as the Ku Klux Klan. But to them must go much of the credit for laying the groundwork of organized nativism.”15 There seems to be historical consensus that the values of the Ku Klux Klan did not represent a radical view in 1920's Oregon. In the summer of 1921, the Klan sent three Kleagles to Oregon. Luther I. Powell established the Medford Klan, recruiting from local fraternal organizations. Powell convinced some to join the Klan to work to stop bootleggers in the county. C.N. Jones applied Powell’s techniques, with some success, in Eugene and Salem. “In the state’s largest metropolis, Portland, Brad Calloway… distributed patriotic literature to police, firefighters, and fraternal groups…”16 Kleagles in Oregon took advantage of the existing prejudice against Catholics to argue that the moral integrity of the state was in danger and joining the Klan was the most productive counter-measure to moral degradation. “Since many of the causes of this moral degeneration were attributed to Orientals, other aliens, and Roman Catholics, emphasis was placed on “Americanizing” the aliens and stopping Oriental immigration.”17 The Oregon Klan grew relatively quickly, Klan leaders claimed 14,000 members state-wide in the spring of 1922. Of those 14,000 members, 9,000 belonged to the Portland Klan.

The Klan in Portland elected Fred. L. Gifford as exalted cyclops, or leader, at its inaugural meeting. “By 1922 Gifford had won Atlanta’s endorsement as Oregon grand dragon(leader of all Oregon) and imperial representative in the Pacific states.”18 Portland soon became the center of the Klan in Oregon and the Pacific Coast. Portland had 258,000 residents in 1921. Kenneth Jackson describes Portland eloquently in The Ku Klux Klan in the City, “Old as west coast cities go, Portland was a conservative and prim scion of the Maine city from which it took its name.”19 Brad Calloway disclosed his recruitment intentions to local newspapers, drawing the ire of Atlanta. Luther Powell quickly replaced Calloway as Kleagle in Portland. Powell quietly recruited support through the late summer and early fall of 1921. Oregon Governor Ben Olcott told the New York World in September 1921 that there was no Klan influence in Oregon. In October 1921 Powell organized the first official Klan meeting in Portland. The Portland Klan elected Fred Gifford as leader. The first public appearance of the Klan in Portland came on 22 December 1921. Six thousand peopled crowded into the municipal auditorium to hear “The Truth About the Ku Klux Klan.”20 The public introduction of the Klan to Portland brought new importance and influence to the Klan. Fred Gifford quickly became a prominent name in local political discussions and news coverage.

The most important man in the Oregon Klan, Fred Gifford, set the course of Portland’s Klan toward political influence, fraternity, and charity instead of violence and vigilantism. Kenneth Jackson describes Fred Gifford as, “of iron-grey hair and average build, Gifford was a native Minnesotan who had spent thirty of his forty years in Portland, mostly as a telegraph operator… and as a business agent… The father of four was working as a field superintendent… when Powell tapped him as first exalted cyclops of Klan No. 1.”21 Gifford planned for the Klan to have extensive influence in Oregon politics. The Portland Klan, like every other, held the regular ideology of the Klan, but unlike some, expressed the ideology in the political sphere instead of as masked vigilantes. This does not mean that the Portland Klan did nothing outside of the political sphere. Gifford directed or oversaw a number of non-political Klan activities. These include the creation of a ‘100% Directory’ so Klan members knew which businesses to support. Gifford approved the antithesis of the directory, a boycott of the Meir and Frank Jewish department store. Klan lectures regularly attracted audiences exceeding 5000 people. The Klan participated in charity work, according to Kenneth Jackson, “fifty thousand dollars was pledged to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s Children’s Farm Home, baskets of food were distributed individually to the needy, and a Klan Kommunity Kit was organized.”22 The Klan also regularly appeared in full regalia to make donations to local churches. David Horowitz describes the most visible sign of the Klan in Portland, “fiery crosses frequently were burned on such nearby hillsides as Mt. Tabor and Mt. Scott.”23 Despite the magnitude of some of these endeavors, none them match the importance to politics in the eyes of Gifford and the Portland Klan.

Fred Gifford may have had political ambitions for the Portland Klan from the beginning, but it took Klan violence in Medford for the state and Governor to begin to take the Klan seriously. In May 1922, just before the Republican primary, six Klan members abducted three Medford citizens and drove them out of town. David Horowitz paints the picture beautifully, “Accusing an African American, a Hispanic Indian, and white piano merchant of moral offenses against the community, six Jackson County knights staged three separate abductions, which resulted in ‘necktie hangings,’ terrorist acts that avoided death… by permitting the victim’s feet to skim the ground.”24 A few days later, Republican Governor Ben Olcott issued an anti-Klan statement. The Governor’s statement brought increased political attention to the Klan, who had previously supported candidates, but garnered limited press attention of their political activities. Gifford could now focus his and the Klan’s attention on the political sphere. Gifford identified three primary political ambitions for his Klan in Portland. First, opposition of aliens and Catholics in politics; second, opposition of alien land ownership; third, compulsory public education.25 Fred Gifford and the Portland Klan managed to wield significant political influence in the 1922 election. Passing a compulsory education bill and electing a Klan friendly Democratic governor in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

Analysis of The Morning Oregonian’s Coverage

The goal of this analysis is to answer one major question; which historical theory of why Oregonians joined the Klan is supported by the Morning Oregonian’s coverage of the 1922 election and which are refuted. The 1922 election results serving as empirical evidence of extensive Klan influence. This research reviewed articles published in the Morning Oregonian from September 1921 to December 1922. This time period including the first Portland Klan meeting and main period of growth for the Portland Klan. The Morning Oregonian serves as the singular source of this analysis for a few reasons, the unavailability of other primary documents, the ‘average’ nature of the Oregonian’s coverage, and the idea of a potential reader of a single newspaper. It is worth mentioning the three most important, skipped sources. The first is the Portland Telegram, which unlike the Morning Oregonian was vocally anti-Klan. The second is the Western American, the Klan newspaper published in Portland. The third is the Catholic Sentinel, the Catholic newspaper published in Portland. All of these papers would provide interesting prespectives on the growth of the Klan in Portland, but none of them represent ‘average’ or typical coverage of the Klan in Oregon’s newspapers. Governor Olcott said, “We woke up one morning and found the Klan had about gained political control… they had become so strong that the metropolitan papers of the state said not one word against them.”26 The failure of the Morning Oregonian to criticize the Klan represents typical coverage of the Klan in Oregon. The highly political nature of Oregon’s Klan led most local coverage of the Klan to be political.

The remaining non-political coverage can be broken into three groups; one, unbiased reporting of non-political klan activities in Portland, second, neutral reporting of Klan charity and minimal violence around Oregon, three, generally negative national Klan coverage. Non-political Klan activities in Portland that tended be covered in the Morning Oregonian include donations to churches, Klan lectures, and Klan initiation ceremonies. This coverage creates the image of a positive, community building Klan. Coverage of the Klan in other areas of Oregon is limited in the Morning Oregonian. There is occasionally a piece on the Klan appearing in regalia to make a donation to a church in Tillamook or Medford, but most of the coverage consists of Klan threats in towns around Oregon. This coverage, though never directly critical and regularly including a denunciation of the act by the Klan leaders, tarnishes the image of the Klan in Portland created by the Morning Oregonian. National coverage of the Klan in the Morning Oregonian consists entirely of reprinted criticism of the Klan, reports of Klan violence, including extensive coverage of a California raid that ended in a masked sheriff being shot, and coverage of the Klan’s political influence around the country. This coverage further tarnishes the image of the Klan. Readers of the Morning Oregonian living in Portland might see the negative influence of the Klan around the country, but would not see coverage of Klan violence in Portland. It would be relatively easy to believe Klan leader’s renunciations and maintain a positive image of the Klan. This leaves the Morning Oregonian’s coverage of the Klan’s influence in politics to judge the Portland Klan; beyond, of course, Klan literature and rumors. Therefore, the core of this analysis consists of analyzing the articles of the Morning Oregonian published relating to the Klan’s influence in politics. The analysis is broken down into analysis of two major political events in 1922 Oregon. These are not the only exhibits of Klan influence in Oregon politics, but they are the biggest. The scope of this analysis is restricted to allow for a more in-depth analysis of the coverage of a specific topic. The first, Governor Olcott’s statement on the Klan and the ensuing debate surrounding the Klan in the Republican primary. The second, the Oregon school bill or compulsory public education law. The Morning Oregonian published a number of articles relating to the Klan and both of these topics.

Two major presentist biases quickly crumble when reading the Morning Oregonian. One is the place of Klan ideology in the wider cultural landscape. Currently, the Klan is perceived as a violent, prejudiced hate group whose ideology is a pernicious curse opposed inherently to modern Americanism and multiculturalism. In the 1920's the Klan represents a valid, respectable political ideology. White supremacy is a cultural expectation, rather than a radical ideology. The second involves the coverage of political elections. Modern election coverage begins months, sometimes more than a year, before the election.

One of the earliest articles the Morning Oregonian published relating the primary on 19 May appeared in the 7 May newspaper. The article, written by Mark Sullivan, is not an Morning Oregonian original, but instead first appeared in the New York Evening Post. Though the article is critical of the “religious question” being brought into Oregon politics it does not directly criticize the Klan. Opting to describe the extend of Klan influence in Oregon secondarily to the Federation of Patriotic Societies. “In Oregon a number of anti-Catholic and anti-alien elements, occasionally referred to as the Federated Patriotic societies, and including the Ku Klux Klan, are very active.”27 In earlier May, the Klan is presented as one of many anti-Catholic fraternal orders active in Oregon. Similarly, on 10 May 1922 the Morning Oregonian mentions that the Federation of Patriotic Societies and the Klan support Charles Hall in the Republican primary.28 An 11 May article mentions that the Klan will mostly vote in line with Federation of Patriotic Societies’ Orange Ticket.29 The Klan and the Federation of Patriotic Societies appear to a reader of the Morning Oregonian to be respectable, valid political organizations.

The 14 May issue of the Morning Oregonian included a bombshell from Republican governor and candidate Ben Olcott. One article, titled ‘Governor Assails Klan’s Activities,’ includes most of the Governor’s statement.30 Klan leader Fred Gifford and Klan lecturer R.H. Sawyer have published responses included in the same newspaper.31 Only the article that covers Olcott’s statement includes a summary of the arguments on both sides of the debate. The Oregonian’s summary of the debate shows the newspaper considers the Klan and Governor Olcott on relatively equal ground in terms of acceptability. Governor Olcott’s argument summarized, “That dangerous forces are insidiously gaining a foothold in Oregon under the name of K.K.K. That these forces are endeavoring to usurp the reins of Government. That assaults have been committed in various counties by masked outlaws(a reference to the violence in Jackson County).”32 The Klan’s response is similarly summarized, “That the governor’s charges that the Ku Klux Klan is endeavoring to usurp the reins of government and to stir up fanaticism and race hatred are untrue… That the governor’s proclamation is a matter of politics by which he hopes to win the support of interests opposed to the klan.”33 The Klan argues the Governor’s statement is entirely political. The Klan’s position does not lack merit, previous news reports show that the Republican primary to be three man race. It seems entirely plausible, when reading the Klan’s response, that the Governor is hoping to attract votes from the anti-Klan segments of the Republican party. The 15 May issue includes an article reiterating the Governor’s argument, but includes details of the Jackson county outrages.34 The Governor’s statement, regardless of intent, and the ensuing newspaper coverage probably constitute the final introduction of the Klan to Oregon. The coverage, though apparently attempting to remain unbiased, paints the Klan to Oregonians as literate and politically respectable.

The Morning Oregonian sent a questionnaire about the role of the Klan in Oregon politics to every Republican and Democratic primary candidate. If the Klan had been a minor issue before the Governor’s proclamation and an important issue after, this pushed the Klan into major issue territory. Olcott’s goal, according the Klan, succeeded and soon he and Hall were the only viable Republican candidates. The candidates responses offer an insight into how the Klan was viewed by political elites before the Klan’s endorsement of the Oregon school bill and Democrat Walter Pierce. Charles Hall, the Klan candidate, is the first response published. Hall states that he does not view the Klan as dangerous. He continues, saying he is unaware of any Klan endorsement and has seen no sign of the Klan in Oregon Politics. I.L. Patterson, the last candidate to been considered ‘in the race’ with Olcott and Hall, denies the Klan should be an issue, spending most of his response criticizing the Governor. Louis Bean succinctly describes the purpose of the Governor’s proclamation, it “would seem to be for the purpose of forcing as an issue in this election the religious question, at least as between himself and Mr. Hall and the factions of groups backing each.”35 J.D. Lee, a Republican candidate, tell the paper, “Early in the campaign I was solicited to join the Ku Klux Klan. I did not join. Many good men yielded to the solicitation.”36 Webster Holmes, a Democratic candidate, is confident the Klan is a menace to public safety. The menacing nature of the Klan justifies the Klan being an issue, according to Holmes.37 Republican George White skillfully rejects the Klan, “Protestant, Catholic, and Jew fell together in the common cause of America on the battlefields of France, united in the common creed of the constitution of the United States, and banded together in one inseparable bond under the Stars and Stripes. You ask if I belong to the Ku Klux Klan. I do not, I have not and will not.”38 Democrats Harvey Starkweather, Walter Pierce, and Will Purdy all suggest the Klan is mostly harmless and definitely should not be an important issue in the election.39 The candidates represent a wide variety of opinions on the Klan, from ignorant, indifference to concerned disapproval to tacit support. This variety probably is relatively fair picture of the variety of opinions of the Klan in Portland. Genuine criticism of the Klan is limited to two of ten candidates, assuming Olcott’s statement is political, and three of ten if Olcott is genuine. It’s seems plausible, though mathematically invalid, to infer a wider consensus of the Klan from these candidates. This would mean the Klan maintained a positive image in the eyes of seven in ten Oregonians. Not all of these people would join, of course, but seven in ten leaves room for white, native, Protestant critics of the Klan and all those ineligible to join, except women. Regardless of the specific numbers, the candidates responses clearly shows the Klan to be an acceptable political and fraternal organization.

The Oregon Compulsory Education Act, created by the Federation of Patriotic Societies and supported by the Klan, was intended to close Catholic schools and indoctrinate children in ‘100% Americanism.’ The debate around the Oregon School Bill reveals the culturally inbred anti-Catholic bias of many Oregonians and shows the understanding 1920's Oregonians had of personal freedom. The Oregon School Bill debates offers the Morning Oregonian’s best window into the minds of average Oregonians, accruing the largest number of letters to the editor on a single Klan relevant topic. The Morning Oregonian published a letter to the editor on 17 July, written by L.J. Smith of Salem, the letter argues the school bill is an attack on the religious liberties mandated in the Constitution. “How any organization can sincerely advocate religious liberty ‘irrespective of race, creed or color,’ and at the same time deny one the right exercise religious liberty is a question which perhaps only the loyal members of the K.K.K. and L.L.E. can answer.”40 Smith continues by arguing religious instruction is more important that any other instruction. Smith claims the state would be an incompetent religious instructor and without proper religion children become immoral. An October First article covered anti-bill speakers appearing before the Civic league. Interestingly, one speaker claimed the Klan to be the source of the bill. Suggesting stronger anti-Klan than anti-Mason sentiment existed among the opponents. The 5 November Morning Oregonian included more than ten letters to the editor regarding the school bill. J.H. Wright of Portland argued the Constitution mandates parents have the right to choose their child’s education. Wright continued by arguing schools should not teach religion, due to the inability of the state to determine doctrine. W.A. Goodwin argued that religious education violates the spirit of the Constitution because the framers intended mature minds to choose their own religion and religious education indoctrinates immature minds. A Catholic mother from Portland argued that the bill was unnecessarily, because private schools are already regulated. Private schools, according to the Catholic mother, often produce superior educational results when compared to public schools. W.H. Gordon of Portland explained, “Our schools are supported in order to teach children the tenets of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ — how to become self-supporting, to become civilized by discipline, to become Americans in reality and to support America’s ideals and traditions.”41 An editorial signed non-Catholic argued that non-Catholics should not concern themselves with what Catholics do, especially regarding education. John Schmudla of Portland argued, “’All men being created equal,’ what reason is there then for subordination in schools?… we have no need for an exclusive aristocracy in mental cultivation.”42 Another letter writer, D. Travis, argued for a softer Christianity, patriotism, and Americanism. A.G. Fries railed against sectarian schools, “I believe that any sectarian school is a menace to our nation’s progress, in that it has a tendency to shape the plastic mind of the child into a molded path from which there is small chance to escape at maturity.”43 Another editorial, signed independent voter, informed the Morning Oregonian, “I am a Baptist and during the last 30 days I have talked with many Baptist ministers and laymen in Portland and in my travels on business up and down the state, and I have yet to find one Baptist who is not for the bill.”44 November 6, the day before the election, the Morning Oregonian covered pro and anti bill speeches given at the municipal auditorium. University of Washington Professor Charles Bissett spoke against the bill, saying, “Let us throw off the mask. This is purely an attack on the Roman Catholic Church.”45 Rev. Mr. MacDougall spoke in support of the bill, arguing the bill advocated Americanism and was not anti-Catholic. On 8 November the Morning Oregonian reported the the school bill passed, with 14,704 voting for the bill in Multnomah County and 11,877 against the bill.46 The coverage of the debate surrounding the Oregon Compulsory Education Act in the Morning Oregonian tends to acknowledge the Klan’s role in supporting the bill, but treats this support as secondary to the debate surrounding the bill. Letter writers rarely worry about the Klan’s position on the bill or the Klan’s activities in support of the bill. Letters to the editor clearly show the Klan’s ideology to be relatively conventional in 1920's Portland. The election of Walter Pierce as governor and passage of the school bill provide mathematical evidence. The Klan’s anti-Catholic ideology matched the anti-Catholic ideology of a majority of voters in Oregon.


Analysis of coverage of these two major political questions in the 1922 election provided two important pieces of information about the image of the Klan in Portland. The primary coverage and Klan questionnaire revealed the generally positive image the Klan maintained in Portland. The debate surrounding the Oregon school bill allowed letter writers to explain their ideology regarding anti-Catholicism, religious freedom, and the value of Americanism. These letters held a variety of positions, but one of the most common positions held was against sectarian schools in favor of public schools; Often this is a reflection of culturally inherent anti-Catholicism. Combining these revelations about the Portland Klan, considering their impact on who would join the Klan and why, offers a wealth of information about potential Klan recruits in Portland. Klan recruits in Portland would probably see the Klan as a highly political, charitable fraternal order. The limited nature of negative Klan coverage in newspapers, combined with Klan leaders regular dissociation from vigilantism and violence would probably assuage the concerns of many potential recruits. The minimal number of occurrences of vigilantism in Portland implies the local Klan did not tolerate it. The ideology of the Klan, often seen as radical, overlapped with the ideology of many average Oregonians in 1922. A Klan recruit in Portland, therefore, probably held essentially average political opinions, were no more prone to vigilantism than any other citizen, and held an almost entirely positive conception of the Klan. The Klan, to these recruits, offered political influence, fraternity, ideological education, and opportunities to provide charity.

John Moffatt Mecklin argues in The Ku Klux Klan: A Study of the American Mind that the modern Klan, Mecklin published in 1924, tended to be rural, cultural ghosts of their Mississippi valley ancestors. Mecklin argues that the bored and ignorant rural middle-class provided the bulk of Klan recruits.47 Mecklin’s assumption that Klan tended to rural proves to be incorrect. Kenneth Jackson argues that the urban Klan represented more members and exerted more influence on the Klan than did rural Klan members. Analysis of the Morning Oregonian confirms Jackson’s position is anecdotally correct for Portland and Oregon, beyond the membership numbers Jackson provides in his book. Mecklin and Jackson both agree that the Klan’s ideology was present in Oregon before the Klan appeared, though Mecklin tends to falsely assume urban citizens were exempt from this predisposition. Jackson describes urban Klan recruits as low and middle-class, these low paid workers were unable to afford to move and began to feel threatened by immigrants.48 Analysis of newspaper articles fails to provide socio-economic data, but it does reveal motivations for joining the Klan. It impossible to say if someone joined the Klan from a fear of immigrants or a desire to participate in a fraternal order, but the rarity of anti-immigrant arguments surrounding the Klan in Portland, beyond the West Coast norm, suggests that fear of immigrants was not a primary motivator in recruitment to the Portland Klan. Since 1979, revisionists have argued that the Klan grew because it was conventional or populist. “Rather than seeing the Klan as a radical organization dedicated almost exclusively to the persecution of perceived enemies, these works made it seem that the Klan may have been a relatively conventional social movement appealing to a wide cross section of America’s white Protestant society.”49 The evidence garnered from analysis the Morning Oregonian’s coverage of the Portland Klan in politics points to the revisionists being correct. The Klan’s conventional ideology and activities in Portland generated many recruits in respectable professions, fraternal orders, and in the political sphere. Portland’s Klan is best understood as the center of a conventional, populist social and political movement across Oregon in the early 1920's.


1John Moffatt Mecklin, The Ku Klux Klan: A Study of the American Mind 2nd Ed. (New York: Russel and Russel, 1924 & 63), 43-45.

2Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 246.

3Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 33-4.

4Arnold S. Rice, The Ku Klux Klan In American Politics (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1962), 1.

5Mecklin, 4-5.

6Lay, 5.

7Jackson, 7.

8Jackson, 5-7.

9Rice, 2.

10Jackson, 6.

11Mecklin, 7.

12Lay, 7.

13Rice, 7.

14Eckard Vance Toy, Jr., “The Ku Klux Klan in Oregon; Its Character and Program” (Master diss., University of Oregon, 1959), 33. & David A. Horowitz, ed., Inside the Klavern: The Secret History of a Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999), 4.

15Toy, 19.

16Horowitz, 5.

17Toy, 36.

18Horowitz, 5.

19Jackson, 196.

20Jackson, 196-198.

21Jackson, 198.

22Jackson, 199.

23Horowitz, 6.

24Horowitz, 6.

25Jackson, 200.

26Rev. Lawerence J. Saalfeld, Forces of Prejudice in Oregon: 1920-1925 (Portland: Archdiocesan Hisotrical Commission, 1984), 50.

27“Big Fight Coming in Quaker State,” Morning Oregonian, May 7, 1922, Provider: NewsBank/Readex, Database: America’s Historical Newspapers (Accessed December 8, 2011). Note: Provider and Database true for all Morning Oregonian articles.

28“3 Republicans Lead Race for Governor,” Morning Oregonian, May 10, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

29“Election Tickets Are Circulated,” Morning Oregonian, May 11, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

30“Governor Assails Klan’s Activities,” Morning Oregonian, May 14, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

31“Klan Head Denies Charges of Olcott,” Morning Oregonian, May 14, 1922 and “Sawyer Makes Statement,” Morning Oregonian, May 14, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

32“Governor Assails Klan’s Activities.”

33“Governor Assails Klan’s Activities.”

34“Olcott Justifies Course by Letters,” Morning Oregonian, May 15, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

35“Views of Five Gubernatorial Candidates on Ku Klux Klan and Governor Olcott’s Denunciation,” Morning Oregonian, May 16, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

36“Views of Five Gubernatorial Candidates on Ku Klux Klan and Governor Olcott’s Denunciation.”

37“Views of Five Gubernatorial Candidates on Ku Klux Klan and Governor Olcott’s Denunciation.”

38“Four Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss the Ku Klux Klan Issue Raised by Governor Olcott,” Morning Oregonian, May 17, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

39“Four Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss the Ku Klux Klan Issue Raised by Governor Olcott.”

40“Parent Has Definite Rights,” Morning Oregonian, July 17, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

41“Correspondents Write Views on Many Current Subjects,” Morning Oregonian, November 5, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

42“Correspondents Write Views on Many Current Subjects.”

43“Correspondents Write Views on Many Current Subjects.”

44“Correspondents Write Views on Many Current Subjects.”

45“School Bill Fight Drawing To Close,” Morning Oregonian, November 6, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

46“Lead of Pierce 2542 In County,” Morning Oregonian, November 8, 1922 (Accessed December 8, 2011).

47Mecklin, 43-49.

48Jackson, 244-6.

49Lay, 29-30.