Blog post by Randi Richardson
Not much has been written about the Ku Klux Klan in Monroe County. So one must wonder if it was ever here at all. A review of the Fiery Cross, a Klan newspaper published in Indianapolis, Indiana, sheds some light on the subject. Copies are available online through NewspaperArchive, a subscription website.
On August 17, 1921, the Bloomington Evening World noted that the Ku Klux Klan, described as a “fraternal and beneficial” organization, incorporated in Indiana on August 15. In response, the Indiana Colored Masonic Convention adopted resolutions opposing the Klan and sent them to Gov. McCray with a request that he promote legislation in the next session of the general assembly that would curb the society in Indiana.
A year or so later, on February 23, 1923, The Fiery Cross published news of the first open meeting of the Ku Klux Klan in Bloomington on February 20. Two masked horsemen in full regalia went up and down the streets around the square early in the day promoting the meeting. That night 300 people or more, of various classes, assembled at the Carpenters and Joiners Union Hall to hear a speech given by Rev. V. C. Blair.
Blair read from the Klan constitution which stated that members that must be white, male, gentile, above 18, native born, good Christian gentlemen and must owe allegiance to no foreign prince or potentate. He then went on to defend the various sections of the constitution declaring that “the Klan is not against the negro but against social equality, against the Jews only who are trying to gain control of the world; also the Klan is against the idea that the Jews are chosen people. The Klan is not against Catholics but opposed to their system which is against our idea of American ideals…It is time for the scum to be thrown from the melting pot and the Klan is here to stay, and the Invisible Empire will do the skimming.”
On May 11, 1923, the Fiery Cross reported that 2,000 people gathered on the courthouse square on May 7 to hear an “eloquent appeal” for the Klan that was received with much enthusiasm. Apparently the Klan’s recruitment efforts met with some degree of success for a few months later, on October 15, an all-day gala in downtown Bloomington attracted a crowd of 10,000.
The Fiery Cross was not in the business of outing members. Unless they were dead. When George Sellars, a U. S. Marine and Bloomington native, was accidentally killed at Paris Island, South Carolina, in August 1923, his body was returned to Bloomington for burial. After the funeral service, his body was carried under military escort to Rose Hill Cemetery where 74 Klansmen in full regalia carried a floral cross to the grave of their departed brother. With head bared, the leader of the Klansmen led others in singing “Nearer My God to Thee” after which the procession filed silently by the grave and departed.
Joseph Stine of Ellettsville was another individual for whom the Klan provided last rites. They accompanied his body to the Chambersville Cemetery in September 1923 and provided a floral tribute of red roses in the form of a fiery cross.
Indiana’s Klan organization reached its peak of power in the early 1920s with an estimated membership of 250,000, about 30 percent of the native-born, Indiana male population. It was all but dismantled, however, in 1925 with the conviction of Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson of Evansville for the rape and murder of a young school teacher.
By the end of the 1920s, the Indiana Klan was all but dismantled following the conviction of Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson for the rape and murder of a young school teacher.