Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Klan Rally in Western Kentucky

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 by veterans of the Confederate Army at Pulaski, Tennessee. Its purpose was to restore white supremacy following the Civil War. The Ku Klux Act of 1871 did away with the Klan, but it came into being once again in 1915. Membership exceeded 4 million in 1920s, when it reached its peak. Today there are a few thousand members in splinter groups, including the Imperial Klans of America, which is based in Hopkins County, Kentucky with chapters in several other states.

Saturday, the 4th of July 1925 was a holiday like no other in western Kentucky. On that day between 30,000 and 35,000 persons attended the Ku Klux Klan celebration in Providence, Webster County. The report in the next day’s issue of the Evansville Courier and Journal read as follows:

“Grand dragons, grand cyclops and many other high-ranking officers of the organization from Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky were present. A parade of several miles in length, which included numerous floats and hundreds of horses, was held. The celebration was staged in Edmondson Park and arrivals for the affair began coming Friday night. Klan leaders say that it was one of the largest gatherings of its kind ever held in the state.

“Very little disturbance was encountered, a report being made that youths attempted some practical pranks, which temporarily caused a little trouble. The all-day celebration opened at 8 o’clock in the morning with a parade and wound up by the burning of a large fiery cross at night.

“Klansmen from several states attended the meet and three bands were in the parade line of march. Over 50 head of sheep were barbecued in the park and the showing of a Klan motion picture film was a feature of the program. Klansmen in white robes were stationed all about the town, directing autoists to the center of activity.”

Apparently, the “very little disturbance” mentioned in the Evansville newspaper consisted of firecrackers thrown by a Providence man from a store roof into the midst of men marching in the parade and one landed in the flowing tresses of a woman on a float. The men stomped out the firecrackers in the street and the fire in the woman’s hair was quickly extinguished. The thrower was arrested.

The Klan continued to be active in Webster County. In the 2 September 1925 issue of the Henderson Morning Gleaner, details of the funeral of a Sebree man were given under the headline of “Klan Funeral Held At Sebree.” It was held at the Missionary Baptist Church and at the conclusion of the funeral sermon, robed Klansmen took charge of the burial. They accompanied the body to the Shady Grove Cemetery at Poole, where the deceased was buried with ceremonial rites. The body was wrapped in the white Klan robe at the request of the dead man. As a finale to the funeral, a fiery cross was burned.

This was not a bright spot in the past of western Kentucky, but it is part of its history.

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