MISSION - The Ku Klux Klan was at home in a lot of places other than just the Deep South in the 1920s. It was a force to be reckoned with in Oregon, according to historian Eckard Toy.
Toy will discuss the roots of the white supremacist organization in Oregon at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 24.
"Organizers enrolled members in Medford in early 1921 and soon found recruits in Portland, Eugene, Astoria, Tillamook, Salem, Hood River, Pendleton and other communities," Toy said. "Thousands of Oregonians joined the Klan and its affiliated organizations, contributing to divisive social conflict as they burned crosses, marched in parades and often dominated local politics."
Pendleton was the scene of a parade from Main Street to the Round-Up Grounds in 1924 in which many of its nearly 300 participants were confident enough to remove their white hoods during the procession. The East Oregonian reported that crosses were burned on the north and south hills during that initiation night.
The KKK was much more dominant in Jackson County, especially in Medford, where night riders are said to have spread fear and pitted neighbor against neighbor. As a graduate student, Toy found records from Tillamook Klavern No. 8 in an old hotel in his hometown on which he based a thesis. He also arranged the sale of those materials to the University of Oregon, where they remain today.
Toy said that another scholar, David Horowitz, later uncovered records from the La Grande Klan, including minutes of meetings. This discovery, one of the few existing examples of KKK minutes, resulted in the publication of "Inside the Klavern," published by Horowitz a few years ago.
Since there were only 2,000 African Americans in Oregon at the time, the Klan's intentions were more in opposition of Catholics, according to Toy, although there were probably anti American Indian as well.
"They were native born and white," Toy said. "They were anti foreigners, anti Catholics, and anti Jewish. Primarily, they were anti Catholic and interested in politics."
The Klan, led by Grand Wizard Fred L. Gifford of Portland, was so political that it managed to help Walter Pierce, a Democrat from La Grande, get elected governor in a predominantly Republican state. While Pierce, once in office, didn't totally please the KKK he did support a successful Klan-backed initiative that would have abolished all private and parochial schools in the state.
The law was passed in 1922 but never went into effect. By 1925 it was declared unconstitutional. With the exception of this support, Pierce disappointed the KKK, appointing Democrats to available positions and ignoring Gifford's suggestions.
The Klan began to discuss launching a recall of the governor. While the East Oregonian hadn't expressed too many editorial opinions about the KKK, it did this time. The editor wrote that the talk of recall was started by men "who are trying to think when not properly equipped for such work."
Toy said that it's estimated there were 20,000 to 40,000 members of the Klan in Oregon from 1921-1925. The organization began to weaken in the late 1920s, with only a few splinter organizations left as the Great Depression dawned in the 1930s.
The affiliated organizations of the KKK are even lesser known in Oregon. He said there was what amounts to a ladies auxiliary that initially called itself the Ladies of the Invisible Empire and then changed its name to the Women of the Klan. A recruitment letter from a woman in The Dalles taught Toy of this group.
Gifford was also said to be quite pleased with an organization he created called the Junior Order of the Klan, which was comprised of teenage males not yet old enough to join the KKK. He said Astoria was the home of a more exotic affiliate group. It was comprised of foreign-born Protestants and was called the Royal Riders of the Red Rope.
Toy has given numerous lectures to university classes, community organizations and the media. Now retired, he taught in more than a dozen colleges and universities in Illinois, Wisconsin, California and the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife live in the Hood River Valley.
Tamastslikt Cultural Institute is located at Wildhorse Resort & Casino, 10 minutes east of Pendleton off exit 216. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. In addition to the lecture series, it is the scene of exhibits telling the history and culture of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. For more information, call 541-966-9748 or visit www.tamastslikt.com.
Roots of KKK
Lecture: Roots of the KKK in Oregon, by historian Eckard Toy.
Where and when: 2 p.m. Saturday at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, 10 minutes east of Pendleton near the Wildhorse Resort & Casino.
Sponsors: TCI and the Oregon Council for the Humanities.
Background: Toy has given numerous lectures on the KKK. Now retired, he taught at more than a dozen colleges and universities in Illinois, Wisconsin, California and the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife live in the Hood River Valley.