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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Ku Klux Klan in Sedro-Woolley

(KKK Wedding)
      We updated this story about the KKK in Sedro-Woolley with a photograph that John G. Kamb Jr. found on the internet. The stories below are from 1924 and 1925. This photo is from 1926, so the KKK was still openly displaying their ritual uniforms a year later. There were no names with the photo and the only clues about the location are the certificate of the Modern Woodmen of America on the wall to the left and the forester's hat on the wall to the right. The photographer's signature is Watney. We know nothing about him and cannot find him in the city directories we have found. We hope a reader can provide more details. Click on the photo for the larger version with more details.

Ku Klux Klan Invades Local
Church, Klansmen Give Money

Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, Sept. 11, 1924
      Unheralded and coming as a complete surprise to all, three hooded knights of the Ku Klux Klan, dressed in their long white robes, quietly and unceremoniously stole down upon the Methodist church Sunday evening just as the services were opening.
      While two of their number stood at attention just inside the auditorium door, a breathless hush fell upon the audience; so perfect was the silence that the sound of the tread of the third member of the party as he walked down the aisle, and the ticking of the clock, were the only sound that could be heard. Slowly and quietly he walked to the front of the room to where the pastor's wife, Mrs. Steele, was seated and dropped a large envelope in her lap, and then just as quietly they retired.
      Upon opening the envelope it was found to contain forty dollars, a gift which Mrs. Steele very greatly appreciates and for which she wishes to thank the donors. Rev. Steele is in the government sanitarium at Whipple Barracks, Whipple, Arizona, which is near the city of Prescott, where he is undergoing treatment for pulmonary trouble, and there is great hope for his complete recovery. Mrs. Steele and the children expect to leave next week for Dedham, Iowa, where they will reside with her sister until such time as Rev. Steele is again able to resume his pastoral work.
      The annual conference of the church is in session this week at Bremerton and the appointment of a new pastor will be made Monday. During the time that the church has been without a regular preacher Rev. Heverling, of Skiyou, has had charge of the Sunday morning services, and L. D. Vaughn, who was recently licensed as a local preacher, has officiated at the Sunday evening and

Ku Klux Klan at Church Dedication
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, March 5, 1925
      The new Christian Church was officially dedicated Sunday afternoon by Rev. Walter Givens of Mt. Vernon. A delegation of robed members of the Ku Klux Klan formed part of the audience and presented the church with a gift of $200. About a dozen Klansmen, hooded and robed, several women in robes and a number of hooded and robed American Krusaders, were present. About half the audience belonged to the Klan. The klaliff of the Mt. Vernon Klan made the presentation speech with the gift.
      The church was filled, and there was also a crowd outside. Mr. Givens spoke in the doorway so all could hear. A program of music was enjoyed. Sam Long of Bow is pastor of the new church, which is located on Township and Talcott streets. Much of the funds for the building was solicited from local business men.
      The Klan leader in his speech said, "We come to you today from Anacortes, Stanwood, Bellingham, Sedro-Woolley and vicinity, as representatives of those powerful native and foreign born organizations of Christian American Klansman, the American Krusaders, standing united in the sacred bond of Klan fidelity, to the Knights and Ladies of the Ku Klux Klan to present this small token of our appreciation of the humble and sacrificing spirit of the toilers who have built this church."
      We hope that a reader will share family memories and copies of photos about the KKK, especially their activities in Skagit and surrounding counties, and statewide.

Skagit River Journal research about the KKK
(KKK parade)
KKK on parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1928

      Several readers have inquired about family stories they heard concerning the Ku Klux Klan being active in Sedro-Woolley churches in the 1920s. We had seen an article referring to this but could not find it again. But then, when Larry and Josef Kunzler shared copies they made of local newspapers, we found the two articles transcribed above. We want to state clearly that we do not imply that the activities reported in 1924 and 1925 represent today's views of the two churches referenced, and we do not know how long the KKK participated in the church activities. The Methodist Church described in story was burned down by an arsonist more than 30 years ago, and the church building was relocated on Polte Road. The Christian Church building still stands on Township, with another denomination worshipping there.
      We will supply here a little background of the KKK in general. The fraternal organization formed after the Civil War when radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress decided to punish the white power structure in the South. The Congress formed what was called the Freeman's Bureau in March 1865, even before the end of the war. That bureau was designed to protect the interests of former slaves and appropriated $17 million to establish more than 4,000 schools and 100 hospitals, in addition to food programs. Congress attempted to extend the bureau but President Andrew Johnson vetoed the Act in February 1866. He also vetoed the Civil Rights Bill in April 1866 that was designed to protect former slaves from a series of laws called the Southern Black Codes. Those codes limited the right for a freed black to testify against white men, forbade them to sit on juries, to vote, to carry weapons in public and to work in certain occupations.
      Even more radical Republicans took office after the 1866 elections and they passed the first Reconstruction Act in 1867. As a result, the South was divided into five military districts, where freed male slaves were allowed to vote. An amendment to the Act also offered Southern states that seceded, the right to readmission if they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed adult male suffrage. Johnson also vetoed that act but Congress voted the same day to override his veto. Soon, the hated carpetbaggers arrived by the trainload to manipulate freed blacks, promise them pie in the sky and displace former white leaders.
      Whites organized and struck back, forming the initial branch of the KKK in Pulaski, Tennessee, in May 1866. Tennessee was the first state readmitted to the Union after following the rules. Similar organizations such as The White Brotherhood, the Knights of the White Camelia, the Constitutional Union Guards and the Men of Justice soon followed that group in other areas. The KKK grew the fastest of the groups and many local Klans met in Nashville, Tennessee, to from a regional organization in April 1867. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the South's Civil War heroes, was selected as the first Grand Wizard and local Klans began wearing white sheets, masks and white cardboard as they terrorized blacks during nighttime raids. Other targets of their wrath included radical Republicans, carpetbaggers, Jews and Catholics. By 1870, the KKK had enough political and social power to restore rule by whites in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. The initial goal of scaring blacks away from voting places was followed by harassment of black protection societies and trade unions that formed to help blacks find employment.
      Benjamin Butler became the leader of the radical Republicans and in 1870 he pressured President Ulysses S. Grant to investigate the "Invisible Empire of the South." That led to Congress passing the Ku Klux Act, which took effect in April 1871. Ironically, the group soon disappeared because the members had achieved white supremacy and had cowed the blacks into subservience. Attorney General Amos Tappan Ackerman suspended habeas corpus in South Carolina and fined and imprisoned KKK members, and he was ultimately so successful that the KKK was effectively destroyed statewide, along with declining regionwide and in Northern States where Klans had formed. The Supreme Court ruled in 1882 in U.S. vs. Harris that the act was partially unconstitutional but the KKK did not rise again for three decades.
      In 1915 the rebirth of the KKK was predicated by the release of D.W. Griffith's silent movie, The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the original Klans and created the myth of the rape and murder of the fictional white teenager, Mary Phagan. A new organization called the Knights of Mary Phagan arose and those leaders revived the Klans in states both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. William J. Simmons, a white preacher, became the leader of the new KKK. This time, however, a significant number of blacks refused to knuckle under, and in 1920, following World War I, they formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
      Following the war, the KKK grew and expanded their hostility to socialists, communists and the foreign born, which included Irish and Italians, and Jews and Roman Catholics. The American Krusaders was an affiliate for foreign-born protestants, thus immigrants were okay if they were neither Jew nor Catholic. In November 1922, Hiram W. Evans took over as the national Imperial Wizard and within three years, the membership totaled 4 million and politicians who openly advocated KKK views took significant statewide offices in Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Maine and especially in Indiana. In that state, Edward Jackson became governor and KKK membership was a required badge for officeholders in many local, county and state elections. That statewide power soon peaked, however, when David Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of Indiana and fourteen more states, was convicted of second-degree murder and rape of Madge Oberholtzer, who he had kidnapped and transported over state lines in a private rail car. The exposure during the scandalous trial of Stephenson's shocking actions exhibited his hypocritical actions at the same time that he and the Klan were considered enforcers of morality.
      Against his national backdrop, Klans arose in Washington state from Issaquah to Bellingham. The Klan promised to "put Issaquah on the map" with a KKK rally in Issaquah on July 26, 1924. According to the Issaquah Press, those who attended were entertained by a 32-piece band, a play by school children and speeches on "Americanism." From

      The Klan organized in Issaquah in April 1924 at a meeting upstairs in the Mercantile Building on Front Street. The rally in July was staged one mile west of Issaquah (near the present [1999] Park and Ride lot) and was designed as a "Konklovation" in which 250 Klansmen were to be initiated. As part of the ceremony a "fiery" electric cross 40 feet high and 27 feet wide was illuminated and the show climaxed with a $1,000 fireworks show. Deputy sheriffs maintained order and hooded Klansmen directed traffic, which clogged roads for two hours following the rally.
      A Catholic store owner in Issaquah was harassed by Klansmen. Klansmen made midnight visits to Catholic families in the area. Catholic dairy farmers experienced difficulties in having their milk picked up, and instead it was allowed to spoil.

That Issaquah rally and another one the following night in Chehalis were also championed by the Seattle Star newspaper. So, considering the statewide movement, we can understand why the Mount Vernon Klan felt confident enough to insert itself into the two Sedro-Woolley churches, as described in the two articles transcribed below.

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted on Dec. 20, 2005, last updated Dec. 15, 2008 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 31 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine, and updated for Issue 45.

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