Copyright © 2006 Henrietta W. Hay
Memories of the Klu Klux Klan
September 22, 2006
What goes around comes around. The history of the world has consisted of one group fighting another group over their basic differences. I keep thinking we (the human race) will learn, but maybe it's genetic.
One of the current fights is over illegal immigration. This is so complex and so full of personal and economic issues that I am certainly not wise enough to write about it. But it does bring to mind the hateful activities of the Ku Klux Klan in Denver in the early twenties.
In June, 1921 I was seven years old, living in Englewood, a Denver suburb, with my parents who talked politics a lot over the dinner table. Usually I listened! Life was pretty simple. I didn't know anything about diversity or discrimination or bigotry. I just knew that as white Protestants we associated mostly with each other. The Catholics had a big church and stayed together socially. And the only black person I ever knew in those days lived in a tiny house and did my mother's ironing. We didn't disapprove of anybody, but we just didn't mix socially. It was just the way things were.
Actually, of course, that peaceful innocent existence was not "the way things were" in Denver in 1920. There was an underlying bigotry in the city. Negroes (sorry, this was 1920) and Jews were expected to stay in their part of town. Even the wealthiest Catholics could not buy their way past certain gates. White Anglo-Saxons had made the rules and ran the show, believing equality was a fine idea if it wasn't taken "too far."
Then came an experience that, after nearly ninety years, is still sharp and horrible in my memory. One night we smelled smoke and realized that there was a fire in the house across the alley. My best friend lived there We dashed over to help. What we found a huge cross burning fiercely on their front lawn on South Broadway. Making a semi-circle around it members of the Ku Klux Klan were marching around in their sheets, watching and shouting. The doctor who lived there was mayor of Englewood at the time, and I have never known what his specific "crime" was.
I sometimes wonder whether that awful night stayed in a little hidden spot in my brain and influenced my politics decades later.
The Ku Klux Klan in the early twenties, was ready to take over the state of Colorado. They hated the blacks and the Jews and the Catholics. So far as I know they still do and they have added a new group or two.
As the Denver Post wrote in 1924, "...beyond any doubt the KKK is the largest and most cohesive, most efficiently organized political force in the state." They secured a variety of political positions, including governor and the mayor of Denver. Their power started to fade in the thirties.
I wish I could write that discrimination is today a thing of the past.
I wish I cold say that the hatred that drove the Klan is over. But they are still with us.
William Sloane Coffin understood it best. "Clearly God is more comfortable with diversity than we are. After all She made it. We, on the other hand, fear it more than we celebrate it. In fact, diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to live without."