Thursday, October 13, 2011

The KKK and "Patriotism"

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

I’ve often wondered what factors would motivate someone to join the Ku Klux Klan, as it was so obviously filled with hate, racism, and violence. In an interview for the CSUF Oral History Program in 1975, Edna Welton, who lived in Fullerton during the KKK’s “hey day” in the 1920s, said, “It’s my recollection that the Ku-Klux-Klan was put out as a patriotic thing. I think that a lot of folks got into it with the idea that it was patriotism on their part.” The KKK members had a certain vision of America as a land of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and they wanted to enforce this vision.

Fred Strauss, a Jewish merchant in Fullerton at this time, agreed. “They [KKK members] thought it was a new American organization,” he said. At this time in America, fraternal organizations like the Masons, the Elks Club, and Rotary were a very important part of the social life of communities. It is not unreasonable to assume that rural, uneducated folks saw the KKK in much the same light.

Albert Launer, a former Fullerton City Attorney and School Board member, said, “Some of them [Klan members] felt that they could use the Klan to improve and protect...youth and the purity of the community. The Klan was apparently presented to the prospective members as an agency through which you could keep this community growing safely and morally, in the right direction.” According to Launer, the Klan included a church group and a school group who sought to preserve “good morals and good culture.” Wait a minute! Church groups seeking to impose their morals and culture on everyone else? They still do that today! Only they don't wear hoods and burn crosses anymore.

Of course, the KKK ended up doing some pretty awful things. “Once in a while, they burned a cross on some Catholic’s home,” Strauss said. He also hinted at the fact that some residents of Fullerton would not go to his store, because he was Jewish. “If they didn’t want to come in our place, they didn’t have to come in.” The main targets of the KKK in Fullerton, those deemed morally or culturally inferior, were Catholics, Jews, and Mexicans.

Source: CSUF Oral History Project

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