Racism Then And Now
Local historian will discuss the 1920s Ku Klux Klan infiltratration of the Monterey Bay Area.
Thursday, September 20, 2001
Cabrillo College history professor Sandy Lydon has been planning his lecture on local Klu Klux Klan activities in the 1920s for months. But the resurgent racism he has seen arise since last Tuesday led him to amend his presentation.
Lydon speaks Friday in in Pacific Grove about the KKK''s racist and anti-Catholic activities. He will also talk about how intolerance continues to cycle through American culture, apparent now in incidents of anti-Arab treatment. The free lecture takes place at 7:30pm in the Hopkins Marine Lab auditorium.
"The KKK was extremely popular because of its message, which played upon a growing fear of ''attack by foreigners'' after World War I" Lydon says.
"I intend to relate all the earlier cycles of racism with the current rash of incidents," he says. "Once again, racism and hate is at the door of Monterey Bay communities, and each is going to have to decide how to respond," he says.
Prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, Lydon was pondering the growing wave of racial friction, which he felt was sparked by President Bush''s immigration policies.
"Hispanics are the fastest growing minority and are threatening to gain more political influence," Lydon says.
Back in the 1920s, some cities in the Monterey Bay Area embraced the white-hooded group. Others rejected it.
"Every city got a visit from the Klan," he says. "They would go in and find out what was troubling or what caused fear, then work on supporting the other side."
There was always a group that could be blamed for rising economic woes. And by playing on the unease with crowds of new immigrants, the KKK''s ranks swelled. Four million to 5 million Americans were in the Klan in 1924, according to Lydon''s research.
In Monterey in the ''20s, the Klan tried to gain support against Monterey''s multi-ethnic community. The police chief made a decision that the Klan was not welcome. The Monterey Herald editor wouldn''t allow the group to advertise. Klan organizers were arrested. The Klan was refused access to Monterey.
In Watsonville, the KKK got a warmer response. In the 1930s, there was a large Irish Catholic community. The Klan promoted anti-Catholic feelings.
When Lydon published the names of 16 Ku Klux Klan members from a 1920s Watsonville "klavern" or chapter, a local citizen wrote to him and confessed that he had first-hand knowledge of some of the Junior Klan''s activities.Lydon had been researching the topic for almost 30 years already, but had little hard evidence that the Klan existed in Monterey or Santa Cruz counties.
In 1999, he was contacted by a Sacramento man, claiming to have very rare totems of the Watsonville Klan. Lydon now owns those items: two white hoods once worn by a Pajaro Valley Klan No. 105 member, the charter document of that "klavern" containing members'' names, a handbook containing the rules and philosophies of the KKK, and an embosser which could stamp any document with the official seal. Lydon describes the hoods as "chilling."
"Part of the huge appeal of the KKK was it gave upper-middle class, Mid-Western American men the chance to have a ''dangerous, secret life'' following the unrest of the war," Lydon says.