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Skagit River Journal

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The Ku Klux Klan in Bellingham 1900-35
Parades of 1926 and 1929

By Gabriel Mayer, Journal of the Whatcom County Historical Society, October 2001, and Journal research
(Second in a Journal series of three on the Ku Klux Klan)
(KKK Parade 1)
Caption from original story: Ku Klux Klan parade, Belllngham, Washington, May 15, 1926. Courtesy Whatcom Museum of History & Art, Sandison Collection. [Return to story]

      Estimates of nationwide Ku Klux Klan membership in the mid-1920s range between three and six million. During this tumultuous period, the KKK was seen by some as the answer to the social, religious, and moral chaos in which the country was embedded. The Klan entered politics and tried to bring order to this chaos by electing its members to state and federal posts all over the country. In addition, the second Klan (1915-1929) was more of an urban phenomena compared to the first Klan.
      Its members were mainly from the lower middle class or the middle class and came from towns and cities as opposed to farms and villages. The noble agrarian myth still presided, however, among Klan members who longed for innocence and order that once existed in small, Christian towns. The Ku Klux Klan was prominent in Bellingham in the mid-twenties among fraternal organizations. It was organized after the creation of the second Klan in Georgia by William Joseph Simmons in 1915. There is no doubt that many people in Bellingham did not support the Klan, but offered little resistance.
      In 1905, Thomas Dixon published a novel titled, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. This novel was an immediate national success. This romantic view glorified the actions of the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed its deeds as chivalrous and significant for the sake of white supremacy and white womanhood. On March 1, 1907, Frank Dixon, the younger brother of Thomas Dixon, visited Bellingham to promote his brother's novel with a series of public lectures at the Normal School (now Western Washington University). According to the Bellingham Herald, he addressed the students on the "negro problem."
      Thomas Dixon's novel was soon made into a play, which toured the country with unprecedented publicity and sensationalism. The Clansman was performed at Beck's Theater, which was located in downtown Bellingham on Dock Street (now Cornwall). This play was so popular that the actors, according to the September 26, 1908 edition of the Herald, had to "travel about 25,000 miles every season." In September 1908, The Clansman featured the participation of fully robed Klansmen. The Herald reported that Klansmen were mounted on their horses on the stage which added tremendous realism. With an audience for racist drama in 1908, Bellingham had the elements and environment essential for the formation of a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Dixon's novel was soon made into a 1915 attendance-record setting movie called Birth of a Nation. It played the American Theater in Bellingham on Sunday, June 4, 1916.

The Klan In Bellingham, 1921-1935
      Joseph M. St. Hilaire writes in his Centennial History Church of the Assumption that the revival of the national Klan had an impact on Bellingham. "Crosses were burned atop Sehome Hill and KKK members marched with their white-hooded costumes on a few occasions, threatening blacks and other racial minorities, Jews, and Catholics."
      Arthur Hicks in his book, Western at 75, writes about a committee that protested the leadership of Dr. Fisher, who was the President of Western Washington University in the mid1930's. This committee was comprised of well-known community members, among them Blanton Luther. Luther was the "Grand Dragon of the local Ku Klux Klan." Hicks further writes in parentheses, "The fiery cross on Sehome Hill was a nocturnal spectacle in Bellingham at this time." The local KKK was active well into the mid-thirties, much after the
      St. Hilaire argues that Catholics were the focus of the KKK hate in the mid-twenties. At this time, Klan supporters in the Pacific Northwest were petitioning the legislatures of Oregon and Washington to pass laws that would require all children to attend public schools, in effect closing all private schools (including Bellingham's Assumption Catholic School). Local members of the Klan vigorously supported Initiative 49, dubbed the Klan Bill by the media.
      According to St. Hilaire, Catholics helped defeat the measure on October 14, 1924, by mounting church voter registration drives. Forty three percent of Whatcom County voters were included in the 131,000 favorable votes. Similar legislation passed in Oregon, the first state to abolish parochial education. The Oregon law was later ruled unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court. Father Barrett was the priest at the Church of the Assumption at this time. St. Hilaire writes that Father Barrett campaigned for Catholic schools and against the KKK in sermons and in a 1924 yearbook.

The Tulip Festival Parade Controversy and the First Ku Klux Klan Parade, 1926-1928
      The Ku Klux Klan first paraded through Bellingham on Saturday, May 15, 1926. This evening event down Cornwall Avenue was the result of being barred from the Tulip Festival parade that was held on May 7, 1926, according to the April 16, 1999, edition of the Herald.
      The Klan's request to be included in the Tulip Festival parade spurred heated debate among that festival's organizers, including threats of resignation from three members of the festival cabinet. The Klan sought participation as a way to show that they were part of mainstream society, just like other fraternal organizations.
      The Klan at this time was at its height nationally. In the mid1920s, Klan membership, according to some sources, was as high as six million nationwide. The Klan's parade in Washington, D.C. on August 8, 1925 had approximately 40,000-50,000 participants.
      It was not easy, however, to convince the Klan to remove itself from the parade once its entry had been accepted by a subcommittee of the Tulip cabinet. In the Reveille dated April 30, 1926, an editorial appeared against the inclusion of the Klan in the Tulip Festival parade. The Klan was seen as "the fly in the ointment" and its intrusion was considered unfortunate in this "friendship-forming community event." It said that this (controversy) could have been avoided had the Klan not been given permission to participate in the first place. It further stated that Klan leaders should have "the decency to withdraw rather than to go along in a devil-may-care way and carry its strife-making program into this affair."
      The Klan, upon finding out that the Tulip cabinet was deadlocked, withdrew itself from the parade to the relief of all concerned. The Bellingham Herald commended the Klan for withdrawing from the parade on May 1, 1926. Their withdrawal "restored the harmonious relations in the Tulip cabinet and removed the danger that the celebration would be marred by an unfortunate controversy." On the same day, the Reveille declared the "Annoying Situation Happily Met," even though "the preparations had proceeded so far that it would be an injustice to those who had prepared the float. . . ."
      The Klan quickly organized large numbers of participants for the march, which started at Forest and East Holly streets shortly before 9 p.m. to the sound of fireworks. Five horsemen, all officers of the local Klan, led the parade. G.W. McKibbin, secretary and field man of the local Klan bragged that "there were 762 persons in line, exclusive of five state and imperial officials . . . few visitors were in the line of march, practically all being Whatcom County Klansmen." In contrast, the Herald reported that "spectators, however, recognized few Bellingham men and women in the parade." Local marchers would have easily been recognized, because, as stated in the Reveille, "No organization and no individual may appear on a public highway in a mask. The purpose of this law is to disclose to the police authorities the identity of persons or organizations that may depart from the ordinary customs of the free use of the traffic ways."
      The photograph on page 37 shows Klanswomen marching down (notice footwear) brick-paved Cornwall Avenue followed by a delegation of men holding the Union Jack. These men were delegates from British Columbia. (A delegation from British Columbia was also present at a later Klan parade in Bellingham.) There is a Klan rider on horseback on the far right. The horse has also been appropriately costumed for the occasion. Thousands of curious spectators lined both sides of the street to watch the spectacle.
      The photograph on page 38 shows the float initially prepared for the Tulip Festival parade but put to use in the Klan parade on May 15, 1926. This photograph was taken at the corner of Holly and Garden streets. The afternoon before the parade, the float had been parked at Cornwall Park where the first annual picnic of the Mount Baker Klan No. 19 was held. American flags feature prominently. Signs reading "Knights of the Ku Klux Klan" are placed on both sides of the float. In the front, there is an arch with a cross in the middle with an inscription stating, "The Gateway to America." Standing atop is a Lynden Klanswoman holding a torch in her hand, posing as Liberty.
      The Herald called the float "a striking feature." During the actual parade, "three members of the original Klan, former residents of Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas" rode on top. It is probable that they were honored as members of the first Klan which was disbanded in 1879.
      The march down Cornwall Avenue passed Assumption (Catholic) School, built in 1913, and the Church of the Assumption, which was dedicated in October 1921. The rectory was finished in 1922. The Bellingham Reveille's coverage was flattering: "700 White Robed Figures Follow Beautiful Float" and "Along, spectacular procession in white robes, symbolic of the Ku Klux Klan, wound its way through the city streets under a canopy of lights shortly before 9 o'clock last night for the edification of a curiosity-seeking crowd of citizens and visitors who jammed the thoroughfares to g1imse the unusual spectacle." The float was "a picture of beauty" and "came in
      According to the testimony of O.H. Carpenter, grand dragon of the KKK in Washington State from December 25, 1923 to July 1, 1925, Klan membership doubled from less than 5,000 to almost 10,000. Members were open about their affiliation. The August 19, 1926, Bellingham Herald even covered a Klan wedding performed by the Rev. B.V Bradshaw, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church at LaConner, at Tulip Hall in Bellingham. The Nooksack couple, "Elder I.L. Massey and Mrs. Louise Green" were married "in the presence of klansmen and invited guests . . . all having part in the ceremony wore the klan regalia." [EN4]

The Washington State Convention of The KKK in Bellingham, July 27, 1929
(KKK Parade 2)
Caption from original story: Another view of Ku Klux Klan parade, Belllngham, Washington, May 15, 1926. Courtesy Whatcom Museum of History & Art, Sandison Collection. [Return to story]

      The biggest event in the history of the Bellingham Klan took place in 1929. The Klan held its state weekend convention at the Bellingham Eagle's Hall on July 27 and 28. Mount Baker Klan No. 10, headed by J. Frank Adams, was host. The Herald reported that more than 300 delegates representing about 60 Klans of the Washington Realm of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan attended this convention. About half the delegates were women, who later held a meeting in another part of the hall. While most of the women were costumed, very few of the men were. Only the grand dragon, E.B Quackenbush, and the secretary, A. M. Heindselman of Spokane, were in robes. The Jay Curtis Band entertained the guests with one verse of "America." The "Lord's Prayer" followed the song.
      Prominent members of the Bellingham community also participated in the activities of the Klan and at the convention. City Attorney Charles Sarnpley was a Klan member. Sampley had previously served as the city attorney of Lynden. The July 27, 1929, Herald describes Mayor John A. Kellogg enthusiastically welcoming the conventioneers. Mayor Kellogg extolled the virtues of the fair city of Bellingham in his welcoming speech. Kellogg, who was determined to make Bellingham a city of conventions, introduced the city attorney with the following quip: "And we have one of the state's largest city attorneys." He was referring to Charles B. Sampley, who weighed about 200 pounds and was described as "growing like a green bay tree." Sampley smiled and waved to the delegates. In the History of Whatcom County, Volume II, Charles Sampley is described as "a man of broad and liberal views, in hearty sympathy with every movement for public betterment, and stands deservedly high in the esteem of his fellow citizens." [EN5]
      The next speaker was C.A. Drinkard of Wenatchee. He spoke about how the Klan was more "misunderstood than any other organization ever formed." He held that it was patriotic and existed for the good and freedom of mankind. Although the name "Drinkard" can be misleading, he proclaimed to applause that the KKK was "a dry organization." Prominent members of the region attended this convention including Rev. J.D. McClure of Kent, Judge John J. Jeffries, an attorney in Portland, and Jean L. Garland, the imperial representative of the Ladies of the Ku Klux Klan. After his speech, full of humor and comradeship, Kellogg presented the key to the city to the Klan's grand dragon, E.B. Quackenbush, an attorney practicing in Spokane.
      Conventioneers paraded through downtown Bellingham with three floats the first evening of the convention. Klansmen marched in gowns, but could not wear masks or hoods. A delegation of Knights of the Ku Klux Klan came from British Columbia. After the parade, a banquet was held at Eagles' Hall that reportedly "was attended by 500 persons, was participated in by about 400 knights and Klanswomen." No opposition of any kind to the Klan is found in the newspapers of this time, besides one letter that was written to the editors of the Herald by J.J. Donovan.
      On Monday, July 29, 1929, the day after the close of the convention, the Herald printed an article with the headline, "Less secrecy in K.K.K. is urged; Convention ends." After its warm welcome to the fair city of Bellingham, Klan leaders decided to be "a little more open" and not secretive as in the past. This decision was passed at the Sunday July 28 convention meeting. The Klan on a national level was in shreds in the late twenties, due to its own legal, financial, and political excesses. The Klan in Bellingham, however, was energized from its well-attended convention and took steps to be more open as an organization in the future.
      The July30 edition of the Herald posts a letter from the prominent Catholic businessman in town, John Joseph Donovan. He was a highly respected lay spokesperson and the impetus behind every major project of the Catholic community. In his letter to the Herald, he charges the Klan as being "the most unpatriotic and un-American organization in America." He further writes,

      Here in Washington there being few negroes and Jews the attack has centered on the Catholics . . . Here in Bellingham it points to a few officers who owe their election to its influences, to a police department entirely free from the three objectionable elements, to a fire department practically so, and with high hopes that other city departments will be "one hundred percent American."
      Donovan's letter makes some important points about the racial unity present in the local police and fire departments. If, as he states, only "one hundred percent Americans" were employed at the police department, it is doubtful that any violence committed by the Klan can be found in the police records of Bellingham. Donovan further writes that "a whispering campaign" has been going on for years against priests, sisters, and leading Catholics.

Klan Office In Downtown Bellingham
      The Klan's desire to be less secret was given official national sanction in 1929, but the Bellingham Klan was already open to the view of the public. The Klan opened an office in 1926 (the year of the first parade) in Room 209 of the Long Building in downtown Bellingham (above today's Stuart's Coffee House). The secretary at this time was G.W. McKibbin, who organized the 1926 parade. In 1927, a new secretary took McKibbin's place.
      The new secretary or Gliargrapp [actually Kligrapp] was J. Frank Adams. In The Fairhaven Hotel Journal, Frank Adams is named as the Grand Titan of Province No.1 and the Kligrapp or secretary of Mount Baker Klan No. 19 of Bellingham. Adams was responsible for staging the state convention of the Klan in 1929. The Klan's offices had also expanded. They now occupied Rooms 212-213 of the Long Building, according to Polk's Bellingham City and Whatcom County Directories, 1926 1932. Adams was Klan secretary until 1932. It is not known whether the office was moved to another location, but the Klan office ceases to appear in the 1933 issue of the Polk's directory. The 1930 Directory listed meetings every Tuesday night at Tulip Hall, 1419 Cornwall Avenue.
      During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Klan regalia and pamphlets of all kinds started to appear in Bellingham. Some items were bought at yard sales and some were exhibited for sale in downtown bookstores. These items originated at 2030 King Street in Bellingham, owned, according to the 1932 Polk Directory, by J. Frank Adams, local leader of the Klan until 1932 and manager of the KKK office in downtown Bellingham. Some of these artifacts are housed at the Whatcom Museum of History & Art archives.

      Bellingham's Klan chapter was active and open. Its membership included prominent members of the city, including the city attorney. It hosted the 1929 state convention of the Ku Klux Klan. Similar to the fate of the second national Klan, the Bellingham chapter disappeared in the mid-1930s.
      Even before the Bellingham Klan was formed, this town had the necessary environment and background for the formation of a Klan chapter. Bellingham's early history is filled with incidents of racial strife, fertile soil for such an organization. As elsewhere in this country, during the turbulent mid-twenties quest for identity and security, many stood idly by and witnessed this chapter of the Ku Klux Klan march into United States history.

Bibliography Newspapers and Primary Records


Unpublished Research Paper

      Gabriel Mayer, of Bellingham, gave permission to publish this paper, which he wrote while attending Western Washington University. He is especially grateful to Jeff Jewell and Tim Baker for their assistance in researching this paper. He notes that the text was edited for original publication in the Journal of the Whatcom County Historical Society to highlight local historical content.

Endnotes (from the Skagit River Journal research)

1. Horses onstage
      In 1972, the late Leroy Kastner, the longtime manager of the Mount Baker Theater, told this editor about how Kastner's father shoed the horses that performed onstage at the Beck Theater during The Clansman play run in September 1908 on Cornwall Avenue. Researcher Donna Sand discovered from Leroy's obituary that he died at age 92 on Jan. 18, 1999, and was born on Jan. 18, 1907. to John and Lily (May) Spencer Kastner in the living quarters of the family's blacksmith shop on Railroad Avenue. [Return]

4. KKK wedding in a church
      See the accompanying story in Issue 45 that features an archival photo of a wedding celebrated in a Sedro-Woolley church during this same period. The wedding party was outfitted in hooded KKK uniforms. [Return]

5. Charles B. Sampley
      See the accompanying KKK in Anacortes story in Issue 45 that includes a biography of Mr. Sampley. [Return]

6. John J. Donovan
      Donovan was one of the pioneers who came to Whatcom County for the 1890s boom and wound up staying as a successful businessman. He first arrived in 1888 as the siting engineer for Nelson Bennett and the Fairhaven & Southern Railroad and then became a principal of a Lake Whatcom coal company and a partner in the dominant timber company, Bloedel & Donovan. [Return]

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