A look at the history of the KKK in Michigan

Jul 2, 2014

KKK Picnic July 4, Baraga State Park, Michigan. Dated on back, 1923.
KKK Picnic July 4, Baraga State Park, Michigan. Dated on back, 1923.
Credit user: Wystan / Flickr

The 90th anniversary of a Ku Klux Klan rally in Jackson, Michigan is approaching.

On July 4, 1924, 100,000 KKK members marched in a two-mile-long procession.

Joellen Vinyard, a professor of history at Eastern Michigan University, joined Stateside to talk about the history of the Klan in Michigan.

Vinyard said Michigan was fertile ground for Klan recruiters in the early 20th century. As the auto industry grew, white and black southerners traveled north for jobs. Immigrants also came into the state looking for jobs, and most of them were Catholic.

“The Klan in Michigan was as anti-Catholic as it was anti-black,” Vinyard said.

Vinyard said the Klan’s stated aim was to “keep America safe for Americans,” and its members viewed Catholics as a threat to democracy and the Protestant way of life they believed American was based on.

She added that Klan members were not ashamed to be affiliated with the group. Many marched without their hoods. Coca-Cola even openly sponsored one of their rallies.

However, as the country moved into the Great Depression, the Klan began to lose popularity. Scandals were unveiled, funding was being mismanaged, and people began to feel betrayed by some of their own.

Vinyard says we need to study the history of the Klan and understand who they were. 

“The Klan in Michigan in the '20s, it was a grassroots movement. It’s a reflection of democracy in action,” she said. 

*Listen to the full story above. 

–Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom.

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