The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England Catholics in the 1920s

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:20 PM
Room 103 (Hynes Convention Center)
Mark P. Richard , Plattsburgh (State University of New York), Plattsburgh, NY
This paper will explore the remarkable rise of the Ku Klux Klan in New England during the 1920s, a decade that witnessed another large migration of French Canadians to the industrial centers of the northeast.  According to the Washington Post, from the second Klan’s formation until 1925, the KKK admitted 150,141 members in Maine, 130,780 in Massachusetts, 80,301 in Vermont, 75,000 in New Hampshire, 65,590 in Connecticut, and 21,321 in Rhode Island.  During the 1920s, French-Canadian immigrants and their offspring made up a substantial proportion of the population of New England’s industrial centers, and the KKK took notice.  Although various scholars have examined the resurgence of the KKK during the 1920s, they have all but ignored the organization’s presence in New England.  Traditional interpretations of the 1920s Klan have tended to emphasize the organization’s nativism and extremism.  Monographs published in recent decades, however, have downplayed the Protestant Klan’s expressions of hostility to minority groups to focus instead on the organization’s normative behavior.  The Ku Klux Klan’s confrontations with French-Canadian and other Catholics in New England do not support this revision in our historical understanding of the 1920s Klan.  In New England, nativism, religious prejudice, and class differences account for the Klan’s astounding growth much more convincingly than do its functions as a social, fraternal, or civic organization.  In examining conflicts between the Yankee Protestant Klan and Catholics of French-Canadian and other ancestries, this study sheds light on religious, ethnic, class, and gender differences that existed in the United States during the early twentieth century, differences that have characterized the history of this nation and that resonate in contemporary society.