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The Nativist Klan

This slideshow contains 8 items
1
Ku Klux Klan march, Milo, 1923

Ku Klux Klan march, Milo, 1923

Item 23229 info
Island Falls Historical Society

The Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s grew under the charismatic leadership of F. Eugene Farnsworth, who toured the state appealing for better government and stronger adherence to patriotism, Protestant values, white supremacy, the Bible, and Holy Scripture.

Specifically, the Klan warned against Catholic teachers and school board representatives in public schools because they fomented anti-Americanism.

A recurring message was that Catholics owed their loyalty to the Pope and therefore could not be loyal American citizens.

The Klan avoided the public violence and intimidation that characterized its behavior elsewhere and concentrated on fraternal rites, parades, and political campaigning, finding a constituency among Maine’s “dry” voters and those uneasy about new “foreign-born” members of their own communities.

It was adept at using existing organizations – businessmen’s and fraternal groups and even churches – to further its political goals and recruit members.


2
Ku Klux Klan Constitution cover, 1921

Ku Klux Klan Constitution cover, 1921

Item 23286 info
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

By 1923, the Klan reported a statewide membership of 20,000.

Politically, the Klan backed Portland State Senator Ralph O. Brewster as the Republican nominee for the 1924 gubernatorial election at a time when the state Republican organization endorsed Frank G. Farrington.

Brewster won the nomination and the governor’s seat, and repeated his victory in 1926.

In November 1922, Governor Percival Baxter had called the Klan "an insult and an affront to American citizens" and predicted it would never be popular in Maine.

Brewster's support of the Klan helped its reputation.


3
Ku Klux Klan procession, Portland, ca. 1923

Ku Klux Klan procession, Portland, ca. 1923

Item 1265 info
Maine Historical Society

The Klan continued to target Roman Catholics and sponsored a bill in the state Legislature in 1923 and 1924 to prohibit use of state funds for parochial or private schools.

The bill failed, largely due to opposition from the Catholic bishop in Portland and from Catholics throughout the state, who comprised about 20 percent of the total population.


4
Women of the Ku Klux Klan seal, Houlton, ca. 1924

Women of the Ku Klux Klan seal, Houlton, ca. 1924

Item 23289 info
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

In September 1923, Farnsworth organized a women's branch of the Klan and chapters sprouted up throughout the state, giving the organization a family image.

In Portland, the daily newspapers reported Klan activities on the society pages.

A Lewiston newspaper suggested that the Klan should get "fair treatment, honest discussion and a sensible publicity."

That, no doubt, was a chilling statement for the city's large Franco-American community.


5
Ku Klux Klan hood, Hollis, ca. 1925

Ku Klux Klan hood, Hollis, ca. 1925

Item 28836 info
Maine Historical Society

Despite the Klan's lack of overtly violent acts, the groups it targeted -- non-Protestants, immigrants, African-Americans -- certainly were aware of the group's presence because of the public parades and gatherings.

Klan supporters in Portland bought an estate in 1923 and added a 4,000-seat auditorium and a 1,600-seat dining room. Ten thousand people attended a Klan initiation ceremony in August 1923.

The auditorium burned in December 1924 and was not rebuilt.


6
Ku Klux Klan robe, Hollis, ca. 1925

Ku Klux Klan robe, Hollis, ca. 1925

Item 28642 info
Maine Historical Society

The Bangor chapter, which grew rapidly, built a meeting hall that would hold 2,000 members.

A chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was organized in Bangor in 1920, at about the same time as the local Klan chapter.


7
Ku Klux Klan parade, Brownville Junction, 1924

Ku Klux Klan parade, Brownville Junction, 1924

Item 1264 info
Maine Historical Society

Despite Farnsworth's claims that the Klan support would elect politicians and Klan policies would become public policy, the Klan was not politically successful in Maine.

Brewster, elected in 1924, denied he was a Klan member, but expressed support for the organization. He was the only Maine politician associated with the Klan to be elected in the state.


8
Ku Klux Klan outfit, Hollis, 1963

Ku Klux Klan outfit, Hollis, 1963

Item 192 info
Maine Historical Society

The Klan largely disappeared nationally and in Maine by 1930, after helping to defeat Al Smith, a Catholic, in his run for the presidency in 1928.

Its rapid decline in Maine can be attributed to several scandals involving bribery, adultery, embezzlement, and bootlegging and to the fact that Maine people generally did not respond to its hate campaigns once the organization’s goals were widely known.

The organization reportedly had only about 225 members statewide by 1930.


This slideshow contains 8 items
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