HOUSTON, Minn. – The Ku Klux Klan revival in the 1920s took firm root in Houston County at white-hooded gatherings and with racist bluster but even more so a rabid hatred aimed at Catholics, according to historian Nancy Vaillincourt. In a recent presentation at the Houston library, Vaillincourt showed Klan paraphernalia and historic photographs. The Klan in Houston County was especially strong in the Money Creek area. At least one clergyman — a Protestant, of course — wore a white robe and hood and preached against those Papist Catholic immigrants down in Hokah. Women too wore white hoods and garb. They called themselves the Ladies of the Invisible Empire. There remain gravestones up Money Creek engraved with KKK symbols. Vaillincourt said. Like the Klan elsewhere in the 1920s, the Houston County outpost subscribed to American and Protestant extremism. With few blacks living in Minnesota, the Klan’s most notable hatred, against backs, didn’t gain much foothold. The obsession was more at Jews but no less at Catholics. The Klan saw Catholics as an alien threat because they had a foreign leader — the Pope.

Klan ascents

The white supremacist Ku Klan Klan dates to Civil War veterans from the break-away southern states. Historians say it was the first organized terrorist movement in U.S. history. At first it targeted former slaves who had been freed, but its mantra of hate spread to include Jews, Catholics and new immigrant groups. Although the Klan faded within a decade, it has re-emerged in two later periods:

> 1920s. From a small surviving group in Georgia, the Klan revived in the 1920s, this time also in the Midwest and West. It took on a fraternal structure with mystic rites, closed-off initiation ceremonies, and secret passwords. The organization sold white costumes, complete with hoods, and even had a gold coin currency. Activism came to include cross-burnings and parades. Nationally the membership peaked at an estimated 3 million to 6 million.

> 1960s. Another Klan rebirth developed from a confluence of local white supremacist groups to fight the Civil Rights Movement. Violence and murder were among its tactics. Scholars estimated membership between 3,000 and 6,000.

Contributor: Kelly Beckman

Vaillincourt. An Owatonna librarian shows a Klan hood to a Houston library audience. She has spent years examining newspaper clippings and artifacts to construct a portrait of the Klan in Minnesota in the 1920s. Image: Beth Peterson-Lee

Klan’s undoing

The Klan of the 1920s in Minnesota peaked in 1925 with a state Klanklave at the county fairgrounds in Owatonna. Activities included three weddings against the backdrop of a flaming cross and a parade down Cedar Avenue. Probably 2,400 Klan members attended, although the organization’s well-oiled publicity machine claimed 10,000. The Klan then purchased a tract of land in Owatonna for its 1926 and 1927 state assemblies. “Klan Park,” it was called. But by then two events were already dooming the Klan:

> David Stevenson. He was the Grand Dragon of Indiana and chief Klan recruiter for seven states.  He kidnapped and raped a young social worker. Bites into her breasts were so deep that her lungs became infected. She died. The sordid story was news everywhere. One headline had her “chewed by a cannibal.” Stevenson went to prison for life. Many Klan member, even the most adamant, were so turned off that they chose to disassociate themselves..

> Anti-Masking Law. The 1926 Minnesota Legislature created a law to prevent Klan members from hiding behind their hooded masks: “A person whose identity is concealed by the person in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise, unless based on religious beliefs, or incidental to amusement, entertainment, protection from weather, or medical treatment, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”