“We Put the Bible in the Schools”: The Ku Klux Klan on Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM
Room 103 (Hynes Convention Center)
David J. LaVigne , College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, Minneapolis, MN
During the 1920s, a strong local movement of the Ku Klux Klan emerged on the Mesabi Iron Range, a mining region in northern Minnesota. While the Klan has been studied in detail for other Midwestern states, no scholarly analysis for Minnesota exists. In this paper, I explore the growth of the Klan on the Mesabi and its attitudes towards the large population of southern and eastern European immigrants who lived there. I focus on two major events. First, by 1924, the Klan had won elections for a number of city and school council seats on the Mesabi. The most visible consequence of these electoral victories was a resolution passed in 1924 by the Board of Education of the City of Virginia requiring the daily reading of the Bible in public school classrooms. Secondly, in 1927, the Klan organized a massive rally in Virginia, bringing together members from throughout the Upper Midwest. The capstone event of the rally featured a speech by Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans.

As these examples suggest, the Mesabi case reinforces recent interpretations that depict the 1920s Klan as a civic-minded organization which participated in local social and political matters. None of the Mesabi Klan’s activities involved extralegal or violent actions, and it operated predominantly through political realms. However, if the Mesabi Klan was not a radical fringe group, it was still a dividing influence. Most notably, it actively participated in contemporary debates regarding American national identity. The Klan supported a limited definition of what it meant to be “American” by targeting immigrants, Catholics, and Jews as unsuitable for citizenship. It advanced a rhetoric that linked Protestantism and the American nation. The region’s immigrant population, for their part, did not passively accept this understanding of “Americanism.” They challenged both the school Bible resolution and the Klan’s overall exclusivity.

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