By Cathy Ingalls, Albany Regional Museum board member
A reconstituted Ku Klux Klan was founded in Georgia in 1915 and spread nationwide, attracting into its fold numerous white, native-born, American Protestants living in Albany.
The KKK members in the second generation of the organization in Oregon did not, as a rule, terrorize, flog, torture, and murder former slaves but rather directed animosity toward Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and African Americans.
The group also worked to dismantle parochial schools and get fellow Klansmen and other like thinkers into political office.
The Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866, mostly as a social group for Civil War veterans, but then many members started vigilante activity against former slaves.
The name Ku Klux comes from the Greek word kyklos, which means circle.
Historians contend that the second Klan in Oregon boasted about 25,000 members, and the state’s group was more a fraternal organization. It had a more terrorizing focus in the southern part of the state, particularly Medford.
A page 1 story in the May 16, 1923, Corvallis Gazette-Times details the Klan’s “grand fandango” gathering held near Albany, which was touted as the “largest gathering of Klansmen ever held outdoors in the state of Oregon.”
According to the Rev. Lawrence J. Saalfeld in his 1984 book Forces of Prejudice: The Ku Klux Klan in Oregon 1920 – 1925, the religious bigotry of the Klan was challenged in Albany by the Knights of Columbus when a member of the Klan purportedly was to lecture at the Globe Theater on April 20 and 21, 1922, on “The Truth about the Ku Klux Klan.” Instead, the speaker leveled a series of charges at the Catholic Church. He said that anyone wishing to ask questions or debate any points he made would have to hire his own hall to do so.
Two of the speaker’s charges were that the pope sought to control American politics, and Catholics were forbidden to read the Bible. The Knights of Columbus posted a $500 reward to be given to the Red Cross if any of the Klansman’s charges could be proven, which they couldn’t.
On January 7, 1923, Saalfeld writes that a woman named Dorothy Nichols spoke in Albany’s Grace Presbyterian Church saying girls staying at the Catholic Home of the Good Shepherd in Portland were forced to work in “sweat-shop fashion,” they lived in squalor and immorality, and the premises were closed to inspectors and the courts. The Knights of Columbus after Nichols’ talk offered to pay $250 to the Red Cross if any impartial jury of three non-Catholic judges could find the charges to be true. Nichols declined the challenge.
On a positive note, Saalfeld writes that the Klan donated $50,000 to help build the Children’s Farm Home on Highway 20 between Albany and Corvallis.
On a day in May 1923, Ed Loy in his book Gem of the Willamette Valley: A History of Albany, Oregon and available at the Albany Regional Museum, states that about 2,000 Klansmen assembled at what is now the airport to, among other things, present official Klan charters to the cities of Albany, Lebanon, Corvallis, and Mill City. Later, about half of those who had gathered at the airfield participated in a parade through downtown Albany. Loy has a photo of the parade in his book.
On file at the museum is a copy of an “Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” form that lists beliefs of the group. Those sharing those ideals were to “immediately” call Room 204 at the St. Francis Hotel. The last paragraph of the form states: “Be prudent, be wise, be discreet, and discuss this matter with no one whatsoever and destroy this notice after reading.”
One final, personal note: Saalfeld states that, in the entire state of Oregon, only three daily newspapers fought against the KKK and told the truth about the organization: They were The Portland Telegram, the Capital Journal in Salem, and the Corvallis Gazette-Times.
My grandfather, C.E. Ingalls, was the G-T’s editor and publisher at that time. For his stand against the Klan, he is reported to have lost advertising, received late-night phone calls, had his family threatened, and his character was slandered. There was a rumor that a cross was burned on the family’s front lawn, but I can’t confirm that. But my grandfather did not back down and continued to expose the Klan for what it was.
Klan activity petered out in Oregon in the 1930s while succeeding attempts to revive it failed.