George Will’s history lesson touches my books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve read THE IMPERSONATOR, you may remember a character who is running for public office named Henry. Henry is a bigot, typical of Oregonians (and many other Americans, it should be said) in the 1920s, who rails against Catholics, the Japanese, and private schools (because some were Catholic). Henry mentions that the current governor is a friend of the Ku Klux Klan, as is Henry himself.  In my third book in the series, RENTING SILENCE, the main character Jessie goes on a vaudeville tour in Indiana and comes up against serious threats from the KKK–but she can’t get help because the town’s entire police force are Klansmen. Some readers thought these portrayals were inaccurate–that the Klan was only in the South.

History books seldom go into enough detail to mention that the Klan was stronger in Indiana and Oregon than it was in parts of the South, but it is true. So I was delighted when conservative columnist George Will wrote about this in last week’s column. Here’s the excerpt:

In the Twenties, however, Oregon was a national leader in a different flavor of nonsense, as historian Linda Gordon recounts in “The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition.” The Klan’s revival began in 1915 with the romanticizing of it in the film “Birth of a Nation,” adapted from the novel “The Clansman” by Thomas Dixon. He was a John Hopkins University classmate and friend of Woodrow Wilson, who as president made the movie the first one shown in the White House. Wilson was enraptured: “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

The resuscitated Klan flourished nationwide as a vehicle of post-World War I populism. It addressed grievances about national identity — pre-war immigration (too many Catholics and Jews) had diluted Anglo-Saxon purity — and disappointment with the recalcitrant world that had not been sufficiently improved by, or grateful for, U.S. involvement in the war.

Gordon, who grew up in Portland, says: “Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, and extending through the mid-twentieth century, Oregon was arguably the most racist place outside the southern states, possibly even of all the states.” By the early 1920s, “Oregon shared with Indiana the distinction of having the highest per capita Klan membership” because the Klan’s agenda “fit comfortably into the state’s tradition.”

In 1844, Oregon territory banned slavery — and required African-Americans to leave. Prevented by federal law from expelling African-Americans, Gordon says it became the only state to ban “any further blacks from entering, living, voting or owning property,” a law “to be enforced by lashings for violators.” The state offered free land, but only to whites. It imposed an annual tax on non-whites who remained. Oregon refused to ratify the post-Civil War Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments (not doing so until 1959 and 1973, respectively).

In 1920, Oregon’s population was 0.006 percent Japanese (they came after the federal government banned Chinese immigration in 1882), 0.3 percent African-American, 0.1 percent Jewish and 8 percent Catholic. To make living difficult for Japanese, Gordon says, the state “banned immigrants from operating hospitality businesses.” In 1923, only one state legislator voted against barring immigrants from owning or renting land. In advance of today’s progressive hostility to private schools competing with government schools, Klan-dominated Oregon — it was primarily hostile to Catholic schools — banned all private schools. In 1925, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (Gov. Walter Pierce was a Democrat and, Gordon says, “an ardent Klan ally”), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down this law.

Interesting, huh? Thanks, George Will, for elaborating on this subject.

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Published in: on August 12, 2018 at 8:53 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Vey interesting. Hard to imagine that Oregon didn’t pass those 2 amendments until 1959 and 1973!!!!

    Would like to know how liberal they are now. I bet it is astonishing. So sad.

    >

  2. I was stunned. All new to me. Thanks, Mary, for always having interesting historical tidbits in your books!


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