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Kansas Battles the Invisible Empire

The Legal Ouster of the KKK From Kansas, 1922-1927

by Charles William Sloan, Jr.

Autumn 1974 (Vol. 40, No. 3), pages 393 to 409;
Transcribed by Tristan Smith; composed in HTML by Tod Roberts;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets refer to endnotes for this text.

IN THE SPRING OF 1921, 200 kleagles, of the Ku Klux Klan spread across the nation seeking members for William Joseph Simmons' revival of the KKK of Reconstruction days. Kansas did not escape the invasion. Fresh from successful membership campaigns in Oklahoma and working out of the Kansas City, Mo., office of Imperial Representative George C. McCarron (who had made his way north from Houston and Oklahoma City [1]), the organizers appeared first in southcentral and southeastern Kansas, in such places as Arkansas City, Winfield, Pittsburg, Fort Scott, Caney, and Independence, and in the state's two largest cities, Wichita and Kansas City. They declared that the "Invisible Empire" stood for Protestant, Fundamental Christianity, old-fashioned morality, and patriotism. At the same time, while arguing that the organization was not opposed to Catholics, Negroes, Jews, and the foreign-born, they nonetheless capitalized upon the prejudices held by many citizens towards these groups.

Eventually the kleagles spread over the entire state, and even though the KKK had a reputation for violence and intimidation, which these men denied, possibly 40,000 Kansans were enrolled in the Invisible Empire, with perhaps 6,000 of them in Wichita alone. [2] Yet in late 1922, with the KKK's strength much less than what it would be nationally at the middle of the decade, Kansas' governor, Henry Justin Allen, ordered that action be brought before the state supreme court to oust the organization from Kansas.

Governor Allen's decision to seek the KKK's ouster had as its direct cause the activities of the Invisible Empire regarding a strike of railway shop crafts workers in Arkansas City. On July 1, 1922, 71 percent of the shop craftsmen in Kansas joined a national strike against the railroads [3]. A large number of those who chose not to strike were Negroes. [4] When it was announced two days later that the KKK would hold its first parade in the state on July 7 in Arkansas City, the governor became greatly upset and announced, on July 5, that he would consider such a parade menacing to the peace of the community, especially during the strike, and that he would employ troops if necessary to stop the Klan's celebration. [5] While he did not say so at the time, he believed that the purpose of the parade was to frighten Negro workers who were not on strike. [6] He further concluded that if the parade were allowed, Klan demonstrations would be held throughout the state. [7] The sheriff of Cowley county informed the Klan, by letter, of the governor's position, and the parade was called off.

Nevertheless, Allen dispatched Kansas' attorney general, Richard J. Hopkins, to Arkansas City to determine the extent of involvement between the shop craftsmen and the Klan. As a result of this investigation, the governor on July 8 issued a proclamation prohibiting the appearance on Kansas streets of anyone wearing a mask. In justifying the order, he argued that the activities of "bodies of masked men assemble[d] for…parading and so-called ceremonies" contributed to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in communities where "industrial quarrels" were in progress. [8]

What facts the attorney general uncovered remain unknown, but there is little doubt that he found Klan organizers embracing the craftsmen's goals and capitalizing upon the fact that those workers who were not on strike were Negroes. [9] Ironically, Governor Allen was probably partly responsible for the support that the shop craftsmen were giving the Invisible Empire, for he was the prime advocate of the Kansas industrial court. The industrial court law, which grew out of the crippling coal mining strike of 1919, while recognizing the right of an individual or any number of individuals acting "as a result of mutual-interest consultations" to quit work at any time, made it unlawful to picket for the purpose of suspending the operation of such "essential" industries as the railroads. [10] Perhaps some craftsmen, denied the right to picket, turned to the KKK, believing that it could be used to persuade the non-striking workers to join the majority.

While the governor had expressed his opposition to the Invisible Empire, it did not result in an end to Klan activity. In early July, 400 candidates were taken into the KKK near Liberty. Allen ordered an investigation, saying, "I just want to find out what sort of party it was." [11] Later that month, the unions asked friendly merchants to place placards in their windows stating, "We are for the strikers 100 per cent." When Allen, offended by the placards, ordered that they be taken down, the Arkansas City and Wellington Klans responded to his order with a letter stating that " Kansas will hold up for the strikers" and advising him "to reform." [12] Finally, when word reached his office that placards threatening certain classes of citizens either to leave town or be subject to a tar and feather party had been distributed in Arkansas City, and that the Manhattan Rotary Club had received a letter warning it to cease its opposition to the KKK, the governor sent Judge James A. McDermott of the industrial court to investigate the situation. It was conceded in "top state official circles" that Allen was now determined to drive the Invisible Empire from Kansas. [13]

On October 3 McDermott made a confidential report to the governor. He did divulge to reporters, however, that he had discussed the activities of the KKK with the mayor of Arkansas City, and that he had requested that the mayor of Arkansas City, and that he had request that the mayor determine if any of the town's policemen were Klansmen. He also reported that one local citizen had been tarred and feathered, that at least two had left town, and that the Klan had issued an open warning threatening those who criticized it actions. [14]

Allen's plans to oust the KKK now moved at an accelerated pace as investigations were launched in several Kansas communities, including Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka, Fort Scott, Independence, and Coffeyville. [15] The governor became all the more determined n the middle of October when Theodore Schierlman, the Catholic mayor of Liberty, was kidnapped and flogged by 15 alleged Klansmen because he had criticized the Invisible Empire and refused it the use of a hall in which a district judgeship candidate had made a speech denouncing the KKK. Upon hearing of the incident, Allen stated that "Kansas has never tolerated the idea that any group may take the law into its own hands and she is not going to tolerate it now." He ordered the attorney general to investigate the flogging, and he repeated his warning that Klan activities would not be permitted in Kansas. [16]

The following month, Attorney General Hopkins completed the gathering of evidence and the preparation of an ouster petition against the KKK. On November 21, 1922, the petition, consisting of two counts, was filed with the clerk of the Kansas supreme court. Though attention had been focused on alleged acts of intimidation and violence by Klansmen, the first, and more important, count claimed that the KKK was a Georgia corporation organized and existing under the laws of that state. The KKK was therefore a foreign corporation, the attorney general said, and Kansas' statutes required that "any corporation organized under the laws of another state…and seeking to do business in this state, shall make application to the state charter board…for authority to engage in business in this state as a foreign corporation."

Moreover, the law defined "doing business in such a manner that any corporation would come under its provisions: "Every corporation…that has an office or place of business within this state, or a distributing point herein, or that delivers its wares or products to resident agents for sale, delivery, or distribution, shall be held to be doing business in this state." The Invisible Empire had not sought a charter, yet it was doing business in Kansas, argued the attorney general. Meetings and parades were held, and an active campaign was under way to attract members and establish new local units. The organization had offices in Kansas where it sold "paraphernalia, regalia, stationary, jewelry, …magazines, periodicals, newspapers, circulars, and other printed matter," and engaged in the "highly profitable" business of obtaining a $10 initiation fee from each new member. Obviously, Hopkins felt confident on this point; although the foreign corporation laws had not been previously used as an instrument of social control, countless court opinions had built up much precedence for ruling in the state's favor. [17]

The ouster petition's second count charged that the Ku Klux Klan claimed to be the "revival and renewal" of the Klan of Reconstruction days, which had "established the reputation and identified its name with practices of intimidation, threatening injuries to persons." The modern Klan, argued the state, had chosen the Klan name for the purpose of intimidation and threats against persons who do not conform to [its] plans, doctrines, theories, or practices." The KKK was accused of instigating animosities against persons because of differences of race, in place of birth, and in religious beliefs; of disturbing the peace of individuals; and of interrupting religious services. The petition concluded by asking that the KKK "be ousted, restrained, and enjoined from acting or doing business as a corporation within the state." [18]

Most of the testimony presented before Sardius M. Brewster, the court-appointed commissioner to hear testimony and present findings of face and conclusions of law, concerned the second count. [19] Attorney General C. B. Griffith (Hopkins's successor) introduced letters, allegedly written by the Caney Klan, which threatened a local railroad agent whom the Klan did not like, a glass worker who used "vulgar, low down, and profane talk," and the builder of a skating rink which, the Klan believed, had "deplorable…moral and social" consequences. The Arkansas City Klan, said Griffith, warned an Arkansas Citian who had moved to Tulsa that an anti-Klan article which he had written for an Arkansas City newspaper would create problems for him with Tulsa Klansmen. The same Klan, it was contended, asked the superintendent of schools to dismiss teachers who were Catholics, and placed an advertisement in a local newspaper warning that it would take action against "joy riders," "evildoers, "dope peddlers," "bootleggers," and "gamblers."

The attorney general claimed that the Atchison Klan planned a whipping, threatened Catholics, and told a taxicab driver that it had evidence to implicate him in court. An Independence Klansman, it was stated, threatened to "take action" against a local citizen if he did not join the Klan and claimed that several people were "to receive their recompense" for actions which the Invisible Empire did not like. It was also argued that a special committee existed in the Kansas City Klan to inflict punishment upon individuals who were not in agreement with Klan objectives, and that the Newton Klan had interrupted Sunday services in a Hesston church. [20]

Defense Attorney John S. Dean of Topeka attempted to refute the state's evidence by bringing from Atlanta H.K. Ramsey, the imperial kligrapp (national security) of the Invisible Empire, to testify that the KKK did not threaten or intimidate persons or take the law into its own hands, but that it supported legally constituted authorities. To support the imperial kligrapp's statements, Dean called upon several Kansas Klansmen to testify that the KKK offered its assistance to law officers. One Klansman, an Independence policeman, stated that the Klan had called law violators to his attention and had furnished evidence which resulted in the successful prosecution of several individuals. Another witness claimed that a Kansas City Klansman had overheard a conversation which resulted in the capture of a safecracker. [21]

Defense witnesses were not needed, however, in deciding the validity of the state's second count, for Commissioner Brewster rejected the attorney general's position. While showing that individual Klansmen were guilty of "reprehensible, if not unlawful acts," the state, argued Brewster, introduced no evidence which connected the defendant corporation, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, with the wrongdoings that had been committed. "It was not enough for the state to show isolated cases of misconduct," he wrote. "It was necessary to show that such misconduct was carried on under the authority or direction of the defendant corporation." [22]

If the attorney general anticipated having difficulties securing testimony concerning the state's first count, he had no reason for worry. Early in the proceedings, Defense Attorney Dean made a series of "admissions" and filed several exhibits covering the complete range of the KKK's business operations, Details were given on the division of the entrance "donation" (klectoken) among organizer, imperial representative, and the general treasury, and on the cost of robes and the allocation of profits from their sale. More important, however, the KKK claimed that when ordering supplies, local Klans sent their orders, with payment enclosed, directly to the Atlanta headquarters of the organization, and that the filled orders were sent to the Klan secretaries from Atlanta, This contention was the heart of the Klan's defense, Though there was no mention of it in the written record, this business, it was undoubtedly argued, came under the protection of the interstate commerce clause of the federal constitution. [23]

The attorney general, on the other hand, held that the Invisible Empire's admissions proved that it was engaging in business in Kansas. Commissioner Brewster was in agreement with the state on this, the crucial count of the ouster petition. The evidence presented, he wrote, convinced him that the KKK was exercising "every power, right, and prerogative" granted to it under its charter in Georgia. It formed Klans subordinate to and a part of the parent organization. It collected an initiation fee. Its officers and organizers acted as agents and representatives of the corporation, and "every robe, every bit of paraphernalia, every bit of stationery is obtained by having the local kligrapp [secretary] send for it, and it is furnished from the headquarters of the defendant corporation." And such material, he noted after examining the KKK's constitution, was retained in the state under the custody of the Klan's agents as the property of the corporation. "If this organization is not doing business in Kansas," he concluded, "then it is not doing business anywhere." [24]

The state supreme court accepted the findings of Commissioner Brewster, and on January 10, 1925, rendered its opinion. Kansas statutes, wrote Justice John Marshall, held that a foreign corporation could be ousted from Kansas if it had not obtained permission from the state charter board to conduct business in the state. Moreover, no distinction was made between different types of corporations -- "aggregate, civil, ecclesiastic, eleemosynary, lay, municipal, private, public, or sole" -- or whether or not they were profit making: "When organized under the laws of another state, each of these different classes of corporations," wrote Marshall, "is a foreign corporation." The KKK could not claim safety in the fact that it was chartered as a nonprofit, eleemosynary corporation.

The court also declared that a foreign corporation which carried on all of the functions that it was authorized to do under its charter, as Brewster found the KKK to be doing, was conducting business within the meaning of the Kansas foreign corporation laws. However, the justices ruled that the selling of paraphernalia, regalia, and supplies by the Georgia corporation to lodges and persons in Kansas was within the protection of the interstate commerce clause of the federal constitution. This ruling adds validity to the suggestion made earlier that the KKK claimed that its business operations came under federal protection. But the court also maintained that organizing and controlling lodges and corporate ownership of paraphernalia, regalia, and supplies were not interstate commerce. [25]

The state had won its case. "The defendant corporation," wrote Marshall, ". . . is ousted from organizing lodges. . . in this state and from exercising any of its corporate functions. . .except such as are protected by the interstate commerce clause. . . ." Significantly, no mention was made of the contention that the KKK employed threats and violence against individuals with whom it did not agree. The ouster was justified on nothing more than a legal technicality -- the fact that the KKK did not have a charter to operate in Kansas -- and usage of the language. As one justice wrote, the basis of the court's ruling was that "because usage of the language permits us to refer to the work of a missionary exercising the functions of a corporation for the promotion of religion as business; because it is permissible to speak of the business of benevolence, the word 'business' as used in the statute may be dissociated entirely from the thought of material profit or advantage." [26]

William Allen White, Kansas gubernatorial campaign, 1924

WILLIAM ALLEN WHITE (1868-1944) angered, could not sit idly by when an organization seemed to direct terror "at honest law-abiding citizens, Negroes, Jews, and Catholics." He is shown here with the Dodge car used in his 1924 campaign for governor, when he went after the Ku Klux Klan, nightshirts and all. Photo courtesy the Kansas City Star.

KKK in Kansas, 1920's

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan assembled at an unidentified railroad station.

Kansas Gov Henry Allen and Atty Genl Richard Hopkins, 1920's

Left: GOV. HENRY JUSTIN ALLEN (1868-1950 instituted action in 1922 to oust the KKK, as it "introduced in Kansas the greatest curse that can come to any civilized people."

Right: RICHARD J. HOPKINS (1873-1943), aattorney general in 1922, filed an ouster petition against the Klan in November, alleging that it was doing business in Kansas without a charter.

Kansas atty genl Charles B. Griffith & KKK defense atty John S. Dean, 1920's

Left: CHARLES B. GRIFFITH (1872-1928) succeeded Hopkins in early January, 1923, and "held that the Invisible Empire's admissions proved that it was engaging in business in Kansas."

Right: JOHN S. DEAN (1861-1937), the Topeka attorney who defended the KKK, was besieged with verbal brickbats, and was labeled by White as the Klan's "most august horned toad."

It became clear that the Invisible Empire had no intention of going out of business in Kansas, After all, every time that a new citizen was enrolled in the Klan, the Atlanta headquarters collected five dollars of his initiation fee, H. A. Strong, writing in The Independent, a pro-Klan weekly published in the Crawford county village of Mulberry, stated, "Of course the Kansas Klan win ignore the Kansas supreme court decision and go right on and do business." Comparing the KKK to the abolitionists of pre-Civil War days, he declared that the Kansas Klan would continue to function "just as [the] anti-slavery spirit of the North rose in keen rebellion of spirit against the Dred Scott decision." [27] Charles H. McBrayer, Kansas grand dragon, urged Kansas Klansmen to "stand firm," and to "fight to the last breath and the last drop of blood, . . ." [28]

But if all that the KKK had to do to make its existence in Kansas legal was to secure a charter from the charter board, why did it brace itself for battle? The Klan realized that at least two of the three members of the hoard -- Attorney General Griffith and Secretary of State Frank J. Ryan (a Catholic ) -- would vote to block the granting of a charter, Also, if the governor were opposed to the Invisible Empire, the Klan believed that the third member of the board, the governor-appointed state bank commissioner, would probably be opposed to the KKK, too. Therefore, if Klansmen were to gain a charter, they knew that pro-Klan candidates would have to be installed in the state's top elective positions.

The KKK had already sought to influence the outcome of the election of 1924. In April of that year, Commissioner Brewster had presented his findings to the supreme court, and Defense Attorney Dean had probably informed the Klan that its chances of receiving a favorable opinion from the state's highest tribunal were not good.

Rollin Kirby cartoon in N.Y. World, 1924

[Editorial cartoon by Pulitzer-Prize-winner Rollin Kirby, published in The New York World during William Allen White's 1924 Kansas gubernatorial campaign; figure is labelled "Willilam Allen White" and caption written at the bottom of the cartoon reads: "A Real American Goes Hunting."]

The Invisible Empire therefore entered politics, and one of the most colorful campaigns in Kansas' history resulted. Attorney General Griffith wanted an anti-Klan plank in the platform of the Kansas Republican party, but his motion was overruled by Ben S. Paulen, who, with the support of the KKK, secured the Republican nomination for governor. The Democrats, on the other hand, denounced the Invisible Empire in their platform, but because Gov. Jonathan M. Davis had accepted the Klan's support in 1922, considerable doubt was cast upon the sincerity of the Democratic position. [29]

When Paulen issued a statement claiming that the Invisible Empire was not an issue in the campaign, and that the organization had been injected into politics by the Democrats in order "to direct attention from the real issues," [30] William Allen White became so angry that he decided to seek the governorship on .an independent ticket. The Klan, he said, was directing terror "at honest law-abiding citizens, Negroes, Jews, and Catholics." The candidates of the two major parties were unwilling to defend these people.

Kansas [he said] with high intelligence and pure American blood, of all states, should be free of this taint of bigotry and terror. I was born in Kansas and have lived my life in Kansas. I am proud of my state. And the thought that Kansas should have a government beholden to this hooded gang of masked fanatics, ignorant and tyrannical in their ruthless oppression, is what calls me out of the pleasant ways of my life into this distasteful, but necessary, task. I cannot sit idly by and see Kansas become a by-word among the states. [31]

White lashed out at the KKK's attorney, calling him the Klan's "most august homed toad." While Dean may have supported Paulen simply because he always supported the candidates of the Republican party, he nonetheless made a campaign speech endorsing the Invisible Empire and praising it for supporting Paulen. [32]

The KKK also supported candidates running against the attorney general and secretary of state. It was as the Rev. William Woodward, an Atlanta-based spokesman for the KKK, said: "If White, Ryan, and Griffith are successful in November, there will not be any Klan in Kansas. The Kansas Klan never will get a charter if these men get into office." [33]

White was not elected. Though he did not entertain the thought that he would win, he did collect nearly 150,000 votes out of 600,000 cast. More important, while Paulen won the election, White believed that he had proved to his beloved Republican party that the Klan's endorsement was a liability rather than an asset. Griffith and Ryan were reelected, though by substantially smaller pluralities than their fellow state Republicans. [34]

KKK supporters, however, won control of the state senate and a large number of seats in the state house of representatives; therefore, when the supreme court's decision was announced in January, 1925, the Invisible Empire turned to the state legislature for help. In February, pro-Klan legislators attempted to pass a bill compelling the charter board to grant the KKK a charter. The bill, which would have taken away the board's powers of investigation and discretion in granting charters, was openly debated in the senate. "There is no beating around the bush," said Sen. Ben F. Hegler, an opponent of the KKK, "this is the Klan bill." The measure passed the senate, and an attempt was made to rush it through the house of representatives while the anti-Klan speaker, Clifford Hope, was in Wichita making a speech. Fortunately for the bill's foes, Hope was able to return to Topeka before debate began, and the bill was eventually defeated by a narrow margin. [35]

Since the legislature was unable to assist the Klan, an appeal was filed in the United States supreme court. Obviously, the strategy was to gain time (it was over two years before the supreme court made its decision) so that additional efforts could be made to secure a charter. As long as the appeal was pending, the Klan had the right to operate in Kansas. On May 25, 1925, the KKK, apparently believing that it had no other alternatives for the time being, made application for a charter to conduct business in Kansas. On June 3, the application was turned down because the Klan claimed to be "mystic"; Kansas statutes, said the charter board, made no provisions for "mystic" corporations. The Klan therefore filed another application, this time applying as a "fraternal" organization. On July 1 the charter board members -- Griffith, Ryan, and State Bank Commissioner Roy L. Bone -- paradoxically turned down the Klan's request for reasons that the supreme court had rejected when ousting the Klan. The "scheme of the organization and its paramount purpose," declared Griffith, who wrote the board's opinion, were against public policy. It stirred up religious hatred and racial prejudice, he continued, and it created dissension, discord, and ill feelings in every community of the state. Moreover, it would be contrary to public policy to give the Klan recognition, he said, while its appeal was pending before the United States supreme court. [36]

The Invisible Empire now had only one opportunity left to legalize its existence, excluding an unanticipated reversal of the state supreme court's decision by the federal tribunal. If the Klan could secure the nomination of pro-Klan candidates in the 1926 Republican primary for attorney general and secretary of state, an application for a charter might eventually be favorably received. "The Ku Klux Klan has made its own issues in Kansas," wrote William Allen White. "When it endorsed Max Anderson as the Ku Klux candidate for attorney general and Ewing Herbert as the Ku Klux candidate for secretary of state, it endorsed the two men whose duty it is to vote yes or no on granting the Ku Klux Klan a charter in Kansas." [37] When the primary returns were in, however, it was clear that the KKK had been no more successful than it had been in 1924. Anti-Klan Assistant Attorney General William A. Smith was nominated for attorney general and Frank J. Ryan once again received the nomination for secretary of state.

Finally, on February 28, 1927, the United States supreme court refused to hear the KKK's appeal on the grounds that a question of federal law was not involved in the ouster Suit. [38] All legal avenues were now exhausted; the KKK was legally ousted from Kansas.

By 1927, however, even without the assistance of the United States supreme court, the Invisible Empire was near its death in Kansas. In fact, the Klan's decline was national, as the New York Times noted as early as February, 1926, when it reported that "everywhere it shows signs of dissolution; nowhere are there indications of gain." [39] On May 15, 1926, William Allen White declared the Klan dead within Kansas in his colorful style: 

Doctor Hiram Evans, the Imperial Wizard of the Kluxers, is bringing his consecrated shirt tail to Kansas this spring, and from gloomy klaverns will make five Kansas speeches. We welcome him. Enter the wizard -- sound the bull roarers, and the hewgags. Beat the tom-toms.
He will see what was once a thriving and profitable hate factory and bigotorium now laughed into a busted community; where the cock-eyed he-dragon wails for its first-born, and the nightshirts of a once salubrious pageantry sag in the spring breezes and bag at the wobbly knees.
The Kluxers in Kansas are as dejected. and sad as a last year's bird's nest, afflicted with general debility, dizziness on going upstairs, and general aversion to female society. [40]

The failure of the Klan to influence the primary election of 1926 was viewed by many as another indication of the KKK's waning strength. William Allen White claimed that "there was no other issue in the campaign and the Ku Klux Klan now stands a busted community in Kansas." The Wichita Beacon wrote that "the outstanding feature of Tuesday's primary election was the final elimination of the Ku Klux Klan as a factor in Kansas politics. . . . The voters of Kansas were ever ready to take the anti-Klan side where ever the issue seemed to be acute." The newspaper viewed the election as closing "a chapter of Kansas politics," giving notice "that hereafter there will be no religious or racial issue in Kansas politics." [41]

What was responsible for the decline of the Invisible Empire? As historians have pointed out, the KKK promised more than it could deliver. It could not restore the primacy of the Bible in the public schools, limit the activities of minority groups, nor halt the social changes of the 1920's. Also, it simply could not keep its members interested in doing little more than "repeating an eight-page ritual four times a month and passively awaiting election day." [42]

More important in dissolving the KKK were its terrorist activities and internal quarrels concerning financial matters. The Klan "threatened, boycotted, tarred and feathered, Hogged, mutilated, and on occasion murdered" [43]; Kansas Klansmen were aware of this from reading their newspapers, and such incidents as the Schierlman flogging made them aware that such things were happening in their own state. Since most Klansmen were "decent, hard-working, and patriotic, if narrow-minded," [44] atrocities perpetrated by a small minority -- those whom Former Kansas Grand Dragon McBrayer 20 years later would call the "lunatic fringe" [45] -- surely caused countless Kansans to leave the Invisible Empire.

Many Klansmen were able to cite examples of differences over the use of funds. As early as 1922, several Kansas City Klansmen had voted to discontinue relations with the Atlanta headquarters over the distribution of proceeds from the initiation fee. In September, 1924, a disagreement developed between Ray Tinder, the secretary of the Wichita lodge, and Frank M. Winters, the Atlanta appointed head organizer, over who should control $18,000 collected from the membership. Even the women of the Klan were unable to get along; in 1926, a number of women in the Wichita Klan wanted to pull away from the KKK and form an independent organization because "the kleagles [were] interested [in] profits." Said one Klanswoman, "Since Mrs. Smith became kleagle she has furnished her home three different times, and her hands are loaded with diamonds." [46]

Since the legal proceedings lasted for over four years, it is difficult to assess the effect of the ouster suit upon the demise of the Invisible Empire in Kansas. It of course forced the disbandment of what was left of a once strong organization.[47] It may have hampered membership, and if this is the case, then it contributed towards weakening the Klan's strength at the polls, preventing the election of pro-Klan candidates as attorney general and secretary of state. No doubt the suit kept Klansmen on their best behavior, discouraging them from engaging in some of the more deplorable activities attributed to Klansmen elsewhere. Threatening letters were written, one man was flogged, but Kansas Klansmen were accused of no murders. And, the suit may have caused the Klan to project a benevolent image to the public. It is perhaps not just coincidence, for example, that two days before the ouster suit was initiated, Klansmen made headlines by giving $8,160 to Wichita's Wesley Hospital to prove that they had "malice towards none and charity for all" and to «save Wesley Hospital for Protestantism." [48]

Clearly, the legal ouster was of considerable importance. Even though the court rejected the second count of the state's petition, Kansas had chosen to battle what the Invisible Empire stood for -- bigotry, hate, terror, a total lack of respect for true equality and freedom -- in a court of law. And she was first among the states to take action. As one envious New Jersey publisher noted, Kansas' action was "the pyrotechnic display among states. Where other commonwealths are satisfied to let off a few sparks, Kansas desires to light the heavens." [49] It would have been more accurate, however, to have substituted the name Henry J. Allen in place of Kansas, for in late 1922 few Kansans were demanding the ouster of the Klan. In Arkansas City, where the Klan situation was most tense, neither of the town's newspapers demanded its removal; not even the Wichita Beacon, the newspaper which the governor owned, urged such action. In November, 1922, the Kansas Klan was small, and even though one tenth of the state's population was composed of Negroes, Catholics, and Jews, it is doubtful that many people were greatly affected by its existence. [50] There were, of course, those -- most notably Allen's dear friend William Allen White -- who were pleased that the state would battle the KKK, but it is impossible to determine their number.

Why did Allen seek the ouster of the Invisible Empire, particularly when few other people thought it necessary? The answer lies in his personality. A flamboyant pragmatist, he took dramatic, immediate action when confronted with what he considered a serious problem. When he concluded that the public was at the mercy of organized labor, he advocated the industrial court, an unparalleled experiment. Now, when the Klan seemed a menace, he demanded that it be banished from the state.

Moreover, Allen was disturbed by more than the Klan's potential interference in labor disputes. Just prior to the filing of the ouster petition, he toured the state explaining why action was being taken. On the basis of a speech that he made October 28, 1922, at Coffeyville, it is obvious that he clearly understood the nature of the Invisible Empire, and that he sought its ouster because it was a threat to American beliefs in freedom and equality.

"[The KKK has] introduced in Kansas the greatest curse that can come to any civilized people," he said, "the curse that arises out of the unrestrained passions of men governed by religious and racial hatred." He noted that few Klansmen were in sympathy with the violence that had been attributed to the organization, but that they had been attacked by the KKK's "flamboyant expression of the purity of [its] purpose." But if Klansmen stood for Christianity and the protection of womanhood, as they claimed, why "do they have to be masked to stand for that?"

In a democracy, the governor argued, "men . . . must have a love of liberty, and this love must extend to the liberty of others." Such incidents as the Schierlman atrocity, however, convinced him that the KKK did not stand far this essential aspect of liberty. If the Invisible Empire were allowed to continue proclaiming its prejudices and acts of intimidation, then he could only augur a distressingly poor future far the authority of law: 

We allow the beginning of a feud that is racial and religious, we justify the establishment of a quarrel that leads to group formation, make civil war upon each other in the name of racial and religious bigotry.
We teach to our young men and young women the dangerous doctrine that violence and hatred are justifiable, that mob law is consistent with freedom, that lawlessness is to be met by lawlessness, and that self appointed guardians of other people's rights may set themselves above the sacred duty of constitutional authority. [51]

As one Kansas historian has said in commenting upon this speech, Allen was no "coward." [52] It might have been better for his party in the election of 1922, however, had he been one. The Republicans, while making their usual fine showing in the state races, failed to secure the governorship, which was won by Jonathan M. Davis. Though Allen did not seek a third term, many people believed that the Democratic victory was the result of his stand on the Klan issue. [53] Davis certainly did not discourage KKK support. And had he been in Allen's place, there is little doubt that no action would have been taken against the Invisible Empire. In such a free environment, the Klan would conceivably have gained great strength, no doubt capitalizing upon the delicate labor situation that existed. Few persons would have dared challenge the Invisible Empire with the increasing political power that surely would have resulted, and it might have become as infamous as the KKK in Indiana.


CHARLES WILLIAM SLOAN, JR., native of Wichita, earned his B. A. and M. A. from Wichita State University, and has taken work toward his Ph. D. degree at the University of Chicago.

1. Charles C. Alexander, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest (Lexington, University of Kentucky Press, 1965), p. 43.
2. These figures from Kenneth T. Jackson's The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930, The Urban Life in America Series (New York, Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 237, 289, are the author's personal estimates. They may be too high. For example, while the Wichita Eagle reported that the membership of the Wichita Klan was 5,000 in late 1922, an investigation by the state attorney general (reported in the Eagle on November 25, 1922) produced a "complete" roster of membership; less than a thousand names were listed. Of course, the roster may not have been complete, and the Wichita Klan may not have yet reached its peak membership.
3. Kansas Court of Industrial Relations, Third Annual Report (Topeka, 1923). p. 9.
4. The Wichita Beacon, January 11, 1925.
5. Arkansas City Daily Traveler, July 5, 1922.
6. Beacon, January 11, 1925.
7. Arkansas City News, July 5, 1922.
8. Traveler, July 8, 1922.
9. In other parts of the country, the KKK had entered areas where strong unions existed, taking advantage of racial and religious differences within them. Usually, however, this involvement weakened the unions and resulted in a break between labor and the KKK. In fact, in 1924 it was suggested that the extremely antiunion Kansas Employers' Association was well aware of this, and that its counselor, John S. Dean, giving first loyalty to that organization, acted as the Klan's attorney only so that the KKK would be able to cause dissension in labor's ranks. "One prominent labor leader," wrote the Wichita Beacon, April 11, 1924, predicted that the Employers' Association would not be successful in its alleged intrigue: "Labor is more powerful than the Klan and is not going to be disorganized by any deep laid scheme of John Dean or any representative of big business."
10. Domenico Gagliardo, The Kansas Industrial Court: An Experiment in Compulsory Arbitration (Lawrence, University of Kansas Press, 1941), pp. 16-45.
11. Traveler, July 7, 1922.
12. Traveler, July 21, 1922; Wichita Eagle, July 22, 1922; William Allen White, The Autobiography of William Allen White (New York, The Macmillan Company, 1946), p. 612.
13. Traveler, September 30, 1922.
14. Ibid., October 2, 1922; News, October 3, 1922; Beacon, October 3, 1922.
15. The investigation of Wichita Klan activities is of particular interest since it received good press coverage. On November 25, 1922, the Wichita Beacon reported that the city was "alive with secret service men," and that a local druggist and attorney were being added to the list of defendants in the state's ouster case.
Investigators from the attorney general's office reported that the local Klan met on Thursday evenings in the Woodmen of the World Hall. The organizer of the local Klan, which also used the names Sphinx Club, Crescent Club, and White Owls, was D. A. Harris, an Oklahoman who made the Broadview Hotel his headquarters.
The tenets of the Klan, it was reported, were open Bibles in the public schools; support of Jim Crow laws; the abolition of secret societies among Negroes; an investigation of the Knights of Columbus; control over the ballot to prevent the election of Catholics, Jews, and the foreign-born; opposition to purchasing merchandise from the foreign-born; the withdrawal of charge accounts from foreign-born citizens; the employment of the foreign-born only as "business policy," but no employment of Negroes "under any circumstances"; the banishment of "undesirable" foreigners; the suspension of immigration into the United States; the use of the KKK as an obstruction to the growth of Catholicism.
It was also reported that the grand cyclops of the local Klan made a speech in which he said, "Too long have the liberty-loving, sacrificing Protestant-Americans suffered at the hands of Kike and Catholic, and we are going to put an end to it peacefully if you will permit, but if not -- then we are going to end it." A roster of the Klan's membership, copies of letters sent out by the Klan and signed by prominent businessmen, and a drawing of the lodge hall showing the location of a Bible, a sword, and a bottle of Savannah river water were sent to the attorney general's office.
None of the information gained in the Wichita investigation was introduced as evidence, however. Information gained in other investigations no doubt proved more useful.
16. Beacon, October 16, 1922; Eagle, October 16, 1922. Francis W. Schruben in his very fine book Kansas in Turmoil, 1930-1936 (Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1969), p. 18, claims that Allen challenged the KKK over the Schierlman atrocity. If the Arkansas City Daily Traveler and the Wichita Beacon are examined, however, one must come to the conclusion that it was the activity of the Klan in relation to the strike of railway shop craftsmen that brought Allen into combat with the KKK, and that his decision to oust the Klan had been made before the Schierlman incident.
17. Revised Statutes of Kansas, 1923, secs. 17-501, 17-506; petition of the state, in Kansas, State v. Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, "Plaintiff's Abstract of the Record" (Topeka, n. d.), pp. 5-9. Cited hereafter as "Plaintiff's Abstract."
18. Petition of the state, "Plaintiff's Abstract," pp. 10-13.
19. Since there is not enough time for the justices of the state supreme court to hear the testimony presented in cases which originate in that court a distinguished attorney -- in this case, Sardius M. Brewster, a former attorney general of Kansas -- is appointed as commissioner to hear the testimony. The commissioner is authorized to administer oaths, to summon witnesses and compel their attendance and giving of testimony, to hear and record the testimony, and to make findings of fact and conclusions of law to be submitted to the court for its consideration in making its decision. While the court is under no obligation to accept the conclusions of the commissioner, his recommendations are usually approved.
20. Letter to Phil. Carroll, October 14, 1922, letter to George McKittrick, March 19. 1922, letter to Wm. Leberman, September 29, 1922, letter to F. J. Fleming, newsletter from Klan, envelope to letter from J. P. Tighe, envelope to letter from F. J. Fleming, letter to C. E. St. John, clipping from Traveler, August 21, 1922. -- "State Supreme Court Records," 1922-1925, archives division, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka; also, "Plaintiff's Abstract," pp. 144-152. Testimony of F. J. Fleming, "Plaintiff's Abstract," p. 62: of C. E. St. John, p. 73: of L. S. Harvey, p. 54: of James w. Burns, p. 37; of Arthur Bemish, pp. 61-62.: of C. H. Sutton, pp. 66-68: of Lyle Norton, pp. 77-79.
21. Testimony of H. K. Ramsey, "Plaintiff's Abstract," p. 84; of J. R. Buster, p. 97; of John L. Zeller, pp. 101-102.
22. "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law Made by S. M. Brewster. Commissioner," in Kansas, State v. Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, "Plaintiff's Supplemental Abstract of the Record" (Topeka, n. d.), pp. 47-50.
23. The KKK forms that were introduced included a copy of the Kloran, setting out the Klan's ritual, the kligrapp's (secretary's) cash book, the klabee's (treasurer's) account book, the kligrapp's quarterly report form to the imperial wizard, a membership and dues record book, a form ordering the klabee to pay money to another individual, a form for ordering robes, a form for ordering supplies other than robes, copies of the petition and application for membership. Later on, a copy of the KKK constitution and a booklet titled Klancraft Defined were introduced. -- "Admission of the Defendants in Plaintiff's Abstract," pp. 89-40.
24. "Findings of Fact ...," pp. 52-55.
25. State v. Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Kansas Reports, v. 117, pp. 569-578.
26. Ibid., p. 581. For more detailed discussions of the testimony presented before Commissioner Brewster, Brewster's findings, and the court's opinion, see Charles William Sloan, Jr., "The Legal Ouster of the Ku Klux Klan From Kansas, 1922-1927" (unpublished master's thesis, Wichita State University. 1970). pp. 18-42.
27. The Independent, Mulberry, January 15. 1925.
28. Clipping from the Wellington News, April 21, 1925, in the library of the Wichita Eagle and Beacon Publishing Company. Cited hereafter as Eagle-Beacon library.
29. Beacon, August 1, 27, 28, 1924; Topeka Daily Capital, August 26, 27, September 28; Emporia Gazette, August 27, September 4.
30. Beacon, September 4, 1924; Capital, September 5; Gazette, September 4.
31. Beacon, September 20, 1924; Capital, September 20; Gazette. September 20.
32. Beacon, September 24, 27, 1924; Capital, September 28.
33. Beacon, September 4, 1924.
34. White, Autobiography, p. 631; Hutchinson News, January 10, 1925.
35. Beacon, February 21, 26, 1925; Capital, February 20; interview with Clifford Hope by James C. Duram, January 23, 1970.
36. Beacon, May 26, June 3, July 1, 1925; Eagle, July 2.
37. Clipping from Emporia Gazette, in the "William A. Smith Papers," manuscript division, Kansas Historical Society.
38. Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. State of Kansas, Law. Ed. (U. S.), v. 71, p. 829.
39. Jackson, Ku Klux Klan, p. 252, quoting the New York Times.
40. White, Autobiography, pp. 631-632.
41. Beacon, August 5, 1926; Emporia Weekly Gazette, August 12.
42. Jackson, Ku Klux Klan, p. 255.
43. David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1965 (Garden City, N. Y., Doubleday and Company, 1965), p. 296.
44. Jackson, Ku Klux Klan, p. 240.
45. A clipping from the Wichita Beacon of December 31, 1945, in the Eagle-Beacon library, quotes the 70-year-old McBrayer (who was in Wichita to see his doctor) as saying, "When I saw everything getting topsy-turvy, I got out [of the Klan]. Then the organization finally quit. I was grand dragon of the state as long as there was a Klan in Kansas. There is nothing wrong about the Klan. It has been lied about so much that I finally decided to quit. I thought that I'd fought all the fight that I could fight. The thing that ruined the Klan was the lunatic fringe."
46. Testimony of V. A. Simmons, "Plaintiff's Abstract," p. 47; Beacon, September 10, 24, October 6, 1924; January 24, 1926: On June 11, 1973, Ray Tinder was honored by the Wichita Bar Association for having practiced law 65 years.
47. McBrayer stated in the Beacon interview that the Wichita Klan disbanded in 1927, and that its remaining funds were turned over to a local hospital. The fact that he gave 1927 as the year that the Wichita Klan "finally quit" suggests that it was the United States supreme court's pronouncement of that year which provided the final deathblow to the Kansas Klan.
48. Eagle, November 19, 1922.
49. "Why Kansas Bans the Klan," Literary Digest, New York, v. 83 (December 11, 1922), p. 13.
50. An article in the Wichita Beacon of September 20, 1924, quotes Willam Allen White as saying that over a quarter of the state's population was composed of Negroes, Catholics, and Jews. However, figures from The Official Catholic Directory (New York, J. P. Kennedy and Sons, 1924), pp. 316, 475, 720, and The Negro Almanac (New York, Bellwether Publishing Company, 1967), p. 221, indicate that the figure could not have been much over 10 percent.
51. Beacon, October 29, 1922.
52. Schruben, Kansas in Turmoil, p. 18.
53. Beacon, November 9, 1922. There were, of course, other issues -- the Industrial Court, tax reform, an agrarian depression -- which also contributed to the Democratic victory.