Klan Played Role in 1920s Gem City
 
 
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on October 18, 1997
 
KLAN PLAYED ROLE IN 1920s GEM CITY
Group staged parades, rallies, cross-burnings
By Roz Young
 
            Bits of Dayton history keep turning up. Some years ago the Dayton Power and Light Co. sponsored a series of radio broadcasts written by Phil McKee called Great Days in Dayton. All Dayton teachers received copies of the broadcasts. In my classes on Friday afternoons I assigned parts to my students, and we conducted our own broadcasts in the classroom.
            I believed using the scripts in class accomplished several educational purposes. It gave students practice in expressive reading aloud and in character analysis. By that I mean, for instance, that a young girl who was reading the part of an old woman was expected to sound like an old woman. The students also absorbed some amounts of Dayton history through the broadcasts and, what's more, had a chance to shine for a few brief moments.
            Not long ago, somebody found some of the old scripts in the archives of the Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library and thought it might be a good idea to rebroadcast the old scripts over public television. Committees were formed. Money has been raised. Work has begun. One problem is that the world has changed since McKee wrote his scripts, and they just won't do. New scripts must be written.
            I'm on a committee to suggest 40 episodes of Dayton history as subjects for dramatization.
            Some time ago the Rev. James L. Heft, S.M., University of Faith and Culture and Chancellor at the University of Dayton, sent a letter about an event in Dayton history that will surprise many readers. As a member of the executive committee of the National Conference, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, he recommended a study of the historic activity of the Ku Klux Klan in Dayton and its role in causing the founding of the National Conference. History professor William Vance Trollinger Jr. and four UD history students produced the study, which was produced in 1996. Trollinger is continuing on his own to research this chapter in Dayton history.
            The Ku Klux Klan, which nearly died out in the late 19th century, was reorganized in Georgia in 1915. In the age after World War I, Klan membership grew in large numbers across the United States. In the South it militated against black Americans, but in the North the targets were Jews, Catholics and immigrants in general as well as blacks.
            Ohio had in the early 1920s more members than any other state, 400,000. I can recall in those days that my father, who was on the board of the trustees of his church, was greatly disturbed when many members of the church joined the Klan and even went so far as to request a Sunday evening service that members would attend in full regalia - white robes, hoods and masks. Over his objections, the board agreed to allow the meeting. The night of the meeting, we children shivered with anticipation as the white-robed Klan members filed in and sat in a body, and we tried to recognize the members by their hands or their shoes.
            The Klan held a parade in downtown Dayton on Sept. 21, 1923, marching `in columns four abreast, with arms folded across their chests,' according to the story in the Dayton Daily News the next day. County, state and national officers rode on horseback. The official Klan band played, floats accompanied the marchers and overhead flew an airplane with a cross lit by electric lights on the bottom of the fuselage.
            The parade took 45 minutes to pass a given point. Hundreds of spectators followed the parade to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. After prayer and a Bible reading, a bomb exploded and a huge cross, attached to a telephone pole, was set afire. Men wishing to join the Klan gathered, according to the newspaper story, in front of the platform behind which was `a cross in red electric lights and an electric sign bearing the inscription `KKK 100 Per Cent, Dayton O.'
            After the new recruits were sworn in, more crosses burned. Fireworks were set off, the band played and signs were set alight. One said `Without Fear,' and another, `Without Reproach.'
            During 1923 and 1924, according to the Trollinger report, cross-burnings occurred in Riverdale, South Park, West Dayton and East Dayton. The UD campus had its share of cross-burnings, and in December 1923, the Klan set off 12 bombs on the campus.
            Many religious leaders spoke out against Klan activities, and membership experienced a precipitous decline in a few years.
            The National Conference of Christians and Jews was founded in 1927 to eliminate group prejudice in the country and has developed into a strong national organization. Now called the National Conference, the organization has been expanded to include Muslims and Hindus.
            Periodically, remnants of the Klan are heard from. On March 19, 1994, 11 Klan members held a rally in Courthouse Square, attracting some 600 citizens and 450 police to keep the peace. The rally lasted about an hour.
            The following day a group of civic and religious leaders held an alternative rally in Courthouse Square with eight choirs and about 500 citizens. A purification of the square, developed by Father Heft, cleansed the spot where the Klan had rallied. Children of various faiths and nationalities poured pitchers of water into a tub, and citizens filled cups of water from the tub and emptied them in the square to cleanse it of the KKK.
            Whether the story of the rise and demise of the KKK in Dayton will be included in the new dramatization of Great Days in Dayton, I don't know. At least, I'm putting it on my list.