Copyright © 2010 Henrietta W. Hay
Denver and the Klu Klux Klan
March 12, 2010
One night when I was seven years old I saw a big fire in the house across the alley. My parents and I rushed over and saw a huge cross burning in the middle of south Broadway in front of the our friend's house. A group of men in sheets and white spiked headdress were marching around and shouting. Our neighbor was a popular doctor and he was also mayor of Englewood. His "crime? He was Jewish.
Many years later in my High School years, I finally understood what had happened that frightful night. The Ku Klux Klan was showing its power and its hatred..
Right now, in 2010, as I watch what is going on in Washington, with the Senate in gridlock, I remember the Ku Klux Klan and how powerful it was politically in Denver in 1920. I have been trying to pull together my fragmented memories of the Klan at that time, its violence, and its political strength in Colorado.
A Denver doctor, John Locke, was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. Locke understood Denver's underlying bigotry well. Negroes (that was not the word commonly used then, nor is it today) and Jews were expected to stay in their own parts of town. Even the wealthiest Catholics couldn't buy their way past certain gates.
White Anglo-Saxon Protestants males made the rules and ran the show, firmly believing equality was a fine idea if it wasn't taken too far.
That is the way it was in Denver in 1921. That's what I, a kid, assumed was the way everybody was. My mother and father were fine, generous people, very active in the community, but they accepted the culture of their times. It was not bigotry, not prejudice, it certainly was not hatred. It was simply the way things were. We lived in an Anglo-Saxon culture. As I think back I am appalled, and ashamed.
And into that peaceful nest of separation came the Ku Klux Klan to Denver in the early twenties, ready to take over the state of Colorado. With them the bigotry was quite deliberate. They hated the blacks and the Jews and the Catholics. So far as I know they still do.
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 seats, including governor and the mayor of Denver.
The Ku Klux Klan is a racist, anti-Semitic movement with a commitment to extreme violence to achieve its goals of racial segregation and white supremacy.
It is still is in existence, defending the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male population against all comers.
Of all the types of right-wing hate groups that exist in the United States, the Klan remains one of the largest.
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."
I would like to think that we have evolved since 1921, but it is going to take a lot more than 100 years for us to accept universal tolerance toward our fellow human beings. America has become a diverse nation but all too many of us are refusing to accept it.
I only know that I shall never forget the burning cross or what it stood for.
A democratic form of government cannot exist if hatred can overcome civility.