Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The footprint of the KU KLUX KLAN.

Ku Klux Klan hate crimes darken Palo Alto's history. By Kevin Harvey

Most students at Palo Alto High School do not expect a history of severe racism in their greater community. Most students discuss the United States' shadowy history tainted by racial prejudice and how people continue to work to overcome it. However, these students are not aware of the fact that during the 1920s and mid-1940s, many residents of Palo Alto and Stanford University were members of the racist hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan.

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 by veterans of the Confederate army after the Civil War in an attempt to resist the northern states' plans of reconstructing the South.

The Klan used violence and terrorism, such as lynching or cross burning, to display their white-supremacist views and to intimidate social or ethnic groups that they believed were of lower status. However, the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan began to disintegrate after President Ulysses S. Grant passed the Civil Rights Act of 1871.

Both Palo Alto and Stanford University established their own distinct chapters of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s and mid-1940s. Their members acted on their hatred of African-Americans, Catholics, Jews, homosexuals and immigrants throughout the community.

A second wave of Klan followers emerged in 1915 when D.W. Griffith's film, Birth of a Nation, was released. The film was based on Reverend Thomas Dixon's book, The Clansmen, which romanticized the original formation and actions of the Klan.

The propagandist's film displayed images of white men rescuing terrified Southern white women from haunting-looking black men and protecting the South from negative black influence.

Klan membership dramatically increased in the late 1910s to six million members across the country, which was about one quarter of the American male population during the time period. Many women were involved in the Klan as well.

In 1923, Palo Alto first encountered the Klan when Robert Burnett, a Texan and engineering graduate of Stanford University, advised the Palo Alto Times of his determination to create a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Palo Alto.

By the next year, two local chapters emerged. One was a Palo Alto chapter, made up of some of the area's businessmen and political figures and the other was at Stanford University, comprised of at least seven members of its staff. Later that same year, a women's auxiliary of the Palo Alto chapter was instated and consisted of over 50 members.

Unabashed, the two chapters of the Klan held many of their meetings publicly and throughout Palo Alto, both out in the streets or in public facilities.

According to the Palo Alto Times archive, initiations of new members were carried out and witnessed by as few as a hundred local resident or as many as a few thousand. They were organized by assigned recruiters, or Kleagles. Venues, such as the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds and numerous other halls in the area, were used for initiations and demonstrations. The Klan gatherings were extremely formal and each event would be conducted by an assigned leader. All members would be suited in a white hooded robe and a cross was burned as members chanted and made speeches.

At this time, Palo Alto Police Chief Chester F. Noble used his authority to repress the growing Klan movement within Palo Alto by aiding potential minority victims and empowering building owners to not rent their sites to the Klan. He made a valiant effort to eliminate Klan corruption within the police force by firing officers whom he discovered to be Klan members and by preventing police compliance with Klan activities, according to the Palo Alto Times.

Noble was later brought to trial and falsely accused by enraged Klan members of financial corruption and dismissal of charges against numerous criminals. Noble was testified against by multiple Klan members, including Burnett.

Outward violence by the Klan was relatively dormant during the 1920s. The Klan was able to intimidate the social and ethnic groups that it despised because of its large size.

The Klan drastically adapted since the 1920s and was much more secretive and covert. They no longer held large marches or gatherings, and all actions that were labeled as the Klan's were generally more terrorist-like intimidation rather than intimidation by the masses.

During the mid-1940s, Palo Alto residents suspected that there had been a second uprising of the Ku Klux Klan. However, the suspicion was never corroborated.

On May 31, 1946, a three-foot-high Ku Klux Klan insignia was painted in bright red on the intersection of Homer Avenue and Ramona Street, which was formerly a dominantly black populated area of town.

The menacing insignia disturbed local residents and Palo Alto Chief of Police Howard A. Zink immediately took action to repress any further uprising, vandalism or violence. Earlier that year, the home of an African-American WWII veteran named John T. Walker was burned to the ground in Redwood City, after the 22-year-old veteran was repeatedly threatened.

Despite the collaboration with the Palo Alto Police Department and other local police departments, no one was ever convicted for the crime.

Most students react to this little-known fragment of Palo Alto's past with disbelief.

"I know that the Ku Klux Klan was very wide spread, but I did not make the association that they were so prolific as to spread here too," junior Nadav Shiffman said.

Despite the popularity of the Klan in certain areas, the Klan has mostly disappeared in the U.S.

"While the crimes of the sort have subsided, the tensions are still there," Shiffman said. "Perhaps it will always be there as long as we continue to view race as an issue

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