Tom Archdeacon had a great story yesterday about how the UD football team busted up a Klan gathering meant to intimidate students, teachers and administrators at the Catholic school at the height of the Klan's strength in the 1920s:
According to a 1920 census, 28 percent of Dayton’s population was either foreign born or had foreign-born parents. Most were from central, southern and eastern Europe and the majority were Catholic.One day, UD's football coach got a jump on the Klan:
Add to that the growing prominence of the University of Dayton — which had changed its name in 1920 from St. Mary’s College — and you had a Catholic presence in the city that became a real target for a xenophobic, white Protestant hate group.
During that time it was estimated that Ohio had the most Klan members of any state. Summit County was said to have the largest chapter in the United States, some 50,000 members who included the county sheriff, the Akron mayor, several judges and county commissioners and most people on the Akron school board.
Licking County used to host the Klan’s state conventions at Buckeye Lake, annual affairs that regularly drew over 70,000 people.
Dayton, Trollinger discovered, was one of six cities in the nation to be designated Klan-friendly ‘’hooded capitals.” There were said to be 15,000 Klan members here and while they often held rallies around the city, nothing matched that crowd that poured into the Fairgrounds on Sept. 21, 1923.
I went through microfilm copies of the newspapers from back then and found several stories on the rally that drew some 32,000 to the fairgrounds.
“Dayton Mecca For Meeting of Klansmen” read the front page headline in the Dayton Evening Herald.
Special trains brought thousands of participants to town.
There was a massive parade up Main Street from the fairgrounds through downtown to the river and back again. The sidewalks were filled with cheering crowds who watched the spectacle that included:
Some 25 robed and masked men on horseback, a white-robed 70-piece Klan band and numerous floats including one by the Junior KKK and some representing area schoolhouses. Klan contingents from as close as Springfield and Middletown, as well as Mercer, Miami, Warren and Greene counties marched in the parade alongside groups from as far away as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana.
Once back at the fairgrounds, a masked keynote speaker addressed the crowd. According to newspaper reports, he hammered home the same themes that again are popular with certain politicians today.
He warned of “the hordes of (immigrants) coming to these shores” and how the Klan was the one to stop all that....
Baujan recounted how he had gotten tipped that the Klan was coming to campus and was going to burn crosses on a hill in Woodland Cemetery just across the street from the school.Notre Dame had a similar fight with the Klan back at that time. It is hard to believe how almost nobody knows that the Ku Klux Klan, in its anti-black, anti-Catholic, anti-Jew incarnation in the 1920s, was a massive organization which essentially ran the Republican party in a number of states. The Klan was allied to the Womens' Christian Temperance Union in support of Prohibition. These groups were able to retain political power by preventing the 1920 census from being used to reapportion Congressional districts. This would have yielded power to rapidly growing cities which favored the end of Prohibition, and granted equal representation to the large Catholic and Jewish immigrant populations these groups detested. It is one of the less impressive periods in American history.
As Trollinger wrote, Baujan said he went “to the halls and called out my biggest football players.” He brought them to the cemetery and told them to wait until the Klan gathered around their burning cross and then to “take after them” and “tear their shirts off … or anything else you want to do.”
The Klan saw the football boys coming and ran through the cemetery without getting caught.
Baujan told Gaudet that soon after he was downtown and “some fellows at the Dayton Noon Luncheon Club” admitted they had been “among the Klan members who had been chased.”
He said “one of the best ones” was a well-known referee who regularly worked Dayton football games.