History of KKK in McPherson part of 'Click! 3'

Chad Frey
CherryRoad Kansas
Klansmen on parade in McPherson in 1924, on their way to the All Schools Day parade that year. This image is part of a new video featuring historic McPherson photographs from the McPherson Public Library collection


It is a striking image — members of the Klu Klux Klan marching down a street in McPherson. In the  photo they are led by a pair of hooded members carrying a U.S. Flag and a cross. They are followed by a pair of hooded members on horseback.

The photo was taken in 1924, and one of a few that are highlighted in a new video — Click! 3:  More Historic McPherson Photographs and Their Stories — created by the McPherson Public Library.

“While the great majority of the pieces in the three videos have included some amusing elements, this particular one definitely does not,” Read said.  “There are some stories that need to be told.”

Click! 3:  More Historic McPherson Photographs and Their Stories is the latest in a series. Jennie Hall, Melissa Smith, and  each selected images from the library’s collection of more than 3,500 historic McPherson and McPherson County photographs for a 50 minute production.

"This photograph was taken on the morning of Wednesday, May 14, 1924 as some of the McPherson Knights of the Klu Klux Klan make their way toward Main Street for the start of  All Schools Day parade," said Steve Read.

That 1924 KKK group had a float created, featuring a red school house pulled by horses. That was, according to Read, a symbol that the Klan intended to "protect" schools from those they saw as undesirable and "unAmerican"

That list included Catholics, racial minorities, young women "living an immoral lifestyle" and immigrants. 

The KKK was allowed to participate in the parade, namely based on their popularity at the time.

In Click! 3:  More Historic McPherson Photographs and Their Stories, Read gives a overview of the history of the KKK. The KKK began moving into Kansas from Texas and Oklahoma in 1921. IN about two years the KKK grew to 60,000 members in 30 local groups in the state.

"Klan activity had been going in in McPherson with impunity for many years," Read said. "During 1917 and 1918, Knight Riders in clan attire rode out to harass and tar and feather Mennonites — and others — who objected to U.S. involvement in WWI or refused war bonds."

The first official klavern in McPherson was organized in 1923. Klansmen ran for school board and city offices, winning those seats.

The Klan also formed a 60-,member band, dubbed the official band of the city of McPherson. It also named the official KKK band for the state of Kansas before being named the official, national Klu Klux Klan band.

The KKK established klaverns in Lindsborg and Marquette before influence began to wane. A cross burning just south of Lindsborg drew a crowd of 6,000. 

Shortly after the president of Bethany College, Ernst Pihlblad, came out against the KKK and defended the Catholic Church. William Allen White, the editor of the Emporia Gazette, followed by opposing the KKK at the state level, eventually running for Governor on an anti-KKK platform.

Support for the KKK waned, and the local klaverns collapsed.

Read narrated about a 10 minute history of the KKK in McPherson county and the state during the latest Click! video, posted to Vimeo online.

The video also includes a section on automobiles, downtown buildings, oil, the lighting of Main Street and others.

Click! 3:  More Historic McPherson Photographs and Their Stories may be viewed at macpl.org/click3.   Click! 3 also is available in DVD format and can be checked out at the library.  The two preceding videos continue to be available for viewing at  macpl.org/click and macpl.org/click2.