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KKK in ND

9/7/2004:

In 1923, posters advertised a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Larimore to take place on this date. The posters read, “The American Club which is Klan No. 2, of the realm of North Dakota will receive its charter. One of the grandest and most picturesque meetings ever held in the history of the Klan in this state will take place. You are one of a thousand Klansmen we hope to see.”

In his 1932 book, An Informal History of the 1920s , Social historian Frederick Lewis Allen wrote that Colonel William Simmons of Georgia revived the Klan in 1915. He had only a few hundred members five years later, when he asked a charismatic man, Edward Clarke, to reorganize the group. Clarke had a gift for salesmanship, and he knew that conditions were ripe for the KKK.

“Not only,” Allen wrote, “could it be represented to potential members as the defender of the white against the black, of Gentile against Jew, and of Protestant against Catholic, and thus trade on all the newly inflamed fears of the credulous smalltowner (sic), but its white robe and hood, its flaming cross, its secrecy, and the preposterous vocabulary of its ritual could be made the vehicle for all that infantile love of hocus-pocus and mummery, that lust for secret adventure, which survives in the adult whose lot is cast in drab places.”

The height of Klan activity in the state was from 1922-28, mostly in the Red River Valley, where the Klan published two newspapers. Crowds were large: the Larimore rally drew a thousand people; a 1925 Fargo rally drew almost 8,000; and 5,000 gathered to hear the Imperial Wizard speak at the Grand Forks Fairgrounds in 1926. Discrimination here wasn’t aimed at ethnic groups – it was against Catholics, who became targets for about 45 cross burnings. For some Protestants, intimidating Catholics from behind anonymous hoods was very enticing.

“Here was a chance,” Allen wrote, “to dress up the village bigot and let him be a Knight of the Invisible Empire. The formula was perfect.”

The Order consisted of Realms headed by King Kleagles, and Realms were divided into Domains led by Grand Goblins. Clarke – the chief organizer – labeled himself the Imperial Kleagle, and he gave Colonel Simmons the audacious title of Imperial Wizard. Members who peddled memberships were called Kleagles; memberships cost $10, of which four went to the Kleagle.

Clifford Taylor became the Kleagle for Benson, Pierce, and Ramsey counties in late 1924. He also represented a branch known as the American Krusaders, who recruited foreign-born Protestants. Taylor also advanced the possibility of forming a women’s branch. As a Kleagle, he had to make weekly reports to the Imperial Kleagle explaining the strategies, numbers and locations of his recruitment activities.

The posters advertising the 1923 Larimore meeting came from the, “Office of the King Kleagle of North Dakota.” That person was F. Halsey Ambrose, who appeared before the state legislature the previous winter to oppose a bill that would make the wearing of masks outdoors a misdemeanor. At the time, King Kleagle Ambrose was a Presbyterian pastor in Grand Forks.

Historian Mark Halvorson says North Dakota members were mainly Anglo-Canadian immigrants; Norwegians and Germans-from-Russia were largely opposed to the Klan. By the late 1920s, North Dakota members gained a better understanding of the philosophies and actions of the group, and the popularity and presence of the KKK soon faded.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm