Hate in Indiana (It’s not what you think)

By Jennifer Lewis

What do you think of when you hear a “Religion Mobilized for Violence?”  Were you thinking of a very religious, highly nationalistic, group of men with a charismatic, wealthy leader with devote followers willing to do whatever is asked of them?   Are you visualizing Boko Harm in Nigeria, maybe ISIS in Syria or possibly al-Quaeda in Afghanistan?  I admit that is exactly what I was thinking when I recently heard this phase “Religion Mobilized for Violence.”  I instinctively thought Islamic terrorist.

I wish it were the case that only certain religions were capable of being co-opted for hate. Sadly, Christianity is not immune to hate and violence.  In the 1920’s and 1930’s Indiana had one of the largest concentrations of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members in the US.  The KKK was comprised of native born White, Protestants (Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian and Baptist).  As a United Methodist, I shamefully admit that “The first imperial wizard of this second Klan movement was a former Methodist preacher named William Simmons”

(Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen [1991], 17)
(Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen [1991], 17)

Klan membership documents of Indiana and discovered that 250,000 white men in Indiana (about 30% of the native-born Caucasian men in Indiana) joined the Klan in the early 1920s.

Lutholtz, M. William.  Grand Dragon: D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana.  Purdue University Press: Lafayette, 1991.

Today our vision of the Klan was that of lynching of African Americans, but lest we forget that the hate did not stop there.  The enemies of the KKK include African Americans, Jews, union leaders, Socialists and Catholics.  In the state of Indiana the primary concern was actually about Catholics.  Membership in the KKK was a Christian based civic organization notice in the picture the American and Christian flags on either side of the robed members.

Godfrey Klan No. 93, Hartford City, Ind. (P 0411), Photo Subject Collection, Indiana Historical Society
Godfrey Klan No. 93, Hartford City, Ind. (P 0411), Photo Subject Collection, Indiana Historical Society
DC Stephenson

As a someone who calls Indiana home, I wish I could say that we as a Indiana came to their senses one day and realized that these racist hateful beliefs were wrong, but that is not the case.  What ultimately brought down the Klan in Indiana was a Grand Dragon (head of the Klan) of Indiana David Curtis Stephenson (1891-1966)was convicted of rape and murder in 1925.  The scandal discredited him and the organization.

The men who were in the KKK and those sympathetic to their beliefs helped set societal rules and make laws that affect us even today.  For example the Immigration Act of 1924 restricted immigration to almost exclusively Western Europeans.  Their mistrust and hatred of racial minorities helped shape the racial make-up of this country.  I know many people may feel that none of this really applies to them since they are not racist, but the KKK and groups like it were the seed of that privilege that continues to flourish today.


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