The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920’s began on Stone Mountain, Georgia on Thanksgiving night in 1915. Sixteen men, including Colonel Simmons, drove from nearby Atlanta to Stone Mountain to swear allegiance to the reborn Ku Klux Klan. Arnold Rice describes the ceremony this way, “the small group soon found itself gathered under a burning cross and before a hastily constructed rock altar upon which lay an American flag, an opened Bible, an unsheathed sword, and a canteen of water.”1 Colonel Simmons in his typical grandiose fashion described the ceremony differently, “And thus on the mountain top that night at the midnight hour, while men braved the surging blasts of wild wintry winds and endured a temperature far below freezing, bathed in the sacred glow of the fiery cross, the Invisible Empire was called from its slumber of half a century…”2 The Thanksgiving night ceremony may be the ceremonial rebirth of the Klan, but the legal rebirth of the Klan began in October 1915 when Simmons explained the reborn Klan and convinced thirty-four men to petition the state for an official charter. The charter came a week after the Thanksgiving ceremony of December 4, 1915.3 For the next five years Simmons lead a relatively disorganized, entirely Southern Klan.
Born in 1880, in Hapersfield, Alabama, Simmons saw the Klan as his, “it was MY creation—MY CHILD, if you please, My first born.”4 Simmons was the son of a country physician and heard glory stories of the Klan in his youth. He served in the Spanish-American War, but never advanced beyond the rank of Private. The title Colonel, an honorary one from the Woodmen of the World, did not reflect military achievement. After leaving the Army, Simmons worked for a period as a minister and salesman for fraternal orders.5 Arnold Rice describes Simmons eloquently, “Possessed of a spellbinding rhetoric, he talked like the old-time revivalist preacher he resembled. His pleasures, however, were anything but clerical—horse races, boxing matches, ‘social’ drinking.”6 Simmons may have preached Klan values, including prohibition, but he lived hypocritically. One example of Simmons motives can be seen in Simmons’ copyrighting the secret Klan instruction manual, the Kloran. Simmons told Klan members to keep the Kloran secret, but to avoid losing money on unofficial copies of the Kloran Simmons copyrighted it, forcing him to leave public copies in the Library of Congress. “In the coming years therefore, when candidates for initiation swore themselves to eternal secrecy, the object of their oath was available in the nation’s capital for any who might wish to examine it.”7 Simmons may have held the values he argued for, but he valued the profitability of his book over the secrecy of his secret organization.
The expansion of the Klan beyond a few thousand Southern members began with the partnership of Simmons and the Klan with the Southern Publicity Association. The Southern Publicity Association, headed by Mr. Edward Young Clarke and Mrs. Elizabeth Tyler, had previous success promoting the Anti-Saloon League and a variety of other organizations.8 “Clarke and Tyler completely reorganized the secret society’s finances and membership procurement procedures, floating large new loans and hiring hundreds of full-time recruiters.”9
Kleagles, as the recruiters were called, collected a ten dollar membership fee. The fee was divided among five people; four dollars went to the Kleagle, one dollar went to the State level recruiter (King Kleagle), fifty cents went to the state leader (Grand Goblin), two dollars and fifty cents went to Clarke (Imperial Kleagle), and the remaining two dollars went to the Imperial Wizard (Simmons).10 Between June 1920, when the contract was finalized, and October 1921, during a Congressional investigation of the Klan, the Klan grew from a few thousand members in the South to a 100,000 members spread across the country. Kleagles had a financial incentive to shape their presentation of the Klan’s message specifically to the values of those they sought to recruit.
The Ku Klux Klan came to Oregon in the 1920’s the same way it spread to most of the country. A Kleagle, armed with membership forms and an ideology, convinced Oregonians to pay ten dollars to join the Invisible Empire. Oregon in the 1920’s lacked a wide racial and cultural diversity; Ninety percent of the population was Protestant, with Catholics accounting for only eight percent, and eighty-five percent of the population was white, native born. There were decreasing numbers of Asians and 2,000 African-Americans.11 “Neither Know-Nothingism nor the A.P.A. (older nativist movements), however, played as important and lasting a role in Oregon history as the Ku Klux Klan. But to them must go much of the credit for laying the groundwork of organized nativism.”12 There seems to be historical consensus that the values of the Ku Klux Klan did not represent a radical view in 1920’s Oregon. In the summer of 1921, the Klan sent three Kleagles to Oregon. Luther I. Powell established the Medford Klan, recruiting from local fraternal organizations. Powell convinced some to join the Klan to work to stop bootleggers in the county. C.N. Jones applied Powell’s techniques, with some success, in Eugene and Salem. “In the state’s largest metropolis, Portland, Brad Calloway… distributed patriotic literature to police, firefighters, and fraternal groups…”13 Kleagles in Oregon took advantage of the existing prejudice against Catholics to argue that the moral integrity of the state was in danger and joining the Klan was the most productive counter-measure to moral degradation. “Since many of the causes of this moral degeneration were attributed to Orientals, other aliens, and Roman Catholics, emphasis was placed on “Americanizing” the aliens and stopping Oriental immigration.”14 The Oregon Klan grew relatively quickly, Klan leaders claimed 14,000 members state-wide in the spring of 1922. Of those 14,000 members, 9,000 belonged to the Portland Klan.
The Klan in Portland elected Fred. L. Gifford as exalted cyclops, or leader, at its inaugural meeting. “By 1922 Gifford had won Atlanta’s endorsement as Oregon grand dragon(leader of all Oregon) and imperial representative in the Pacific states.”15 Portland soon became the center of the Klan in Oregon and the Pacific Coast. Portland had 258,000 residents in 1921. Kenneth Jackson describes Portland eloquently in The Ku Klux Klan in the City, “Old as west coast cities go, Portland was a conservative and prim scion of the Maine city from which it took its name.”16 Brad Calloway disclosed his recruitment intentions to local newspapers, drawing the ire of Atlanta. Luther Powell quickly replaced Calloway as Kleagle in Portland. Powell quietly recruited support through the late summer and early fall of 1921. Oregon Governor Ben Olcott told the New York World in September 1921 that there was no Klan influence in Oregon. In October 1921 Powell organized the first official Klan meeting in Portland. The Portland Klan elected Fred Gifford as leader. The first public appearance of the Klan in Portland came on 22 December 1921. Six thousand peopled crowded into the municipal auditorium to hear “The Truth About the Ku Klux Klan.”17 The public introduction of the Klan to Portland brought new importance and influence to the Klan. Fred Gifford quickly became a prominent name in local political discussions and news coverage.
The most important man in the Oregon Klan, Fred Gifford, set the course of Portland’s Klan toward political influence, fraternity, and charity instead of violence and vigilantism. Kenneth Jackson describes Fred Gifford as, “of iron-grey hair and average build, Gifford was a native Minnesotan who had spent thirty of his forty years in Portland, mostly as a telegraph operator… and as a business agent… The father of four was working as a field superintendent… when Powell tapped him as first exalted cyclops of Klan No. 1.”18 Gifford planned for the Klan to have extensive influence in Oregon politics. The Portland Klan, like every other, held the regular ideology of the Klan, but unlike some, expressed the ideology in the political sphere instead of as masked vigilantes. This does not mean that the Portland Klan did nothing outside of the political sphere. Gifford directed or oversaw a number of non-political Klan activities. These include the creation of a ‘100% Directory’ so Klan members knew which businesses to support. Gifford approved the antithesis of the directory, a boycott of the Meir and Frank Jewish department store. Klan lectures regularly attracted audiences exceeding 5000 people. The Klan participated in charity work, according to Kenneth Jackson, “fifty thousand dollars was pledged to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s Children’s Farm Home, baskets of food were distributed individually to the needy, and a Klan Kommunity Kit was organized.”19 The Klan also regularly appeared in full regalia to make donations to local churches. David Horowitz describes the most visible sign of the Klan in Portland, “fiery crosses frequently were burned on such nearby hillsides as Mt. Tabor and Mt. Scott.”20 Despite the magnitude of some of these endeavors, none them match the importance to politics in the eyes of Gifford and the Portland Klan.
Fred Gifford may have had political ambitions for the Portland Klan from the beginning, but it took Klan violence in Medford for the state and Governor to begin to take the Klan seriously. In May 1922, just before the Republican primary, six Klan members abducted three Medford citizens and drove them out-of-town. David Horowitz paints the picture beautifully, “Accusing an African-American, a Hispanic Indian, and white piano merchant of moral offenses against the community, six Jackson County knights staged three separate abductions, which resulted in ‘necktie hangings,’ terrorist acts that avoided death… by permitting the victim’s feet to skim the ground.”21 A few days later, Republican Governor Ben Olcott issued an anti-Klan statement. The Governor’s statement brought increased political attention to the Klan, who had previously supported candidates, but garnered limited press attention of their political activities. Gifford could now focus his and the Klan’s attention on the political sphere. Gifford identified three primary political ambitions for his Klan in Portland. First, opposition of aliens and Catholics in politics; second, opposition of alien land ownership; third, compulsory public education.22 Fred Gifford and the Portland Klan managed to wield significant political influence in the 1922 election. Passing a compulsory education bill and electing a Klan friendly Democratic governor in an overwhelmingly Republican state.