Attic Yields 1920S Klan Records
LANSING, Mich. - Auction workers searching the musty attic of a western Michigan farmhouse stumbled upon a rare find - three trunks full of Ku Klux Klan records and artifacts from the 1920s.
"I'm not aware of a collection anywhere like this in the country," said Ken Scheffel, a University of Michigan historian. "Klan information is very, very difficult to find because it is a secret organization."
In the wooden trunks in the home near Fremont were records of the Klan's history in Newaygo County in the 1920s, including the chapter's letter of incorporation and charter, dated Sept. 9, 1925.
Also among the 169 items uncovered were water-stained white robes, photographs, and the names of 679 dues-paying members of the Newaygo County Klan No. 29 of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Among members were a former Newaygo County sheriff, clergymen and several judges and attorneys of the time.
"The presence of sheriffs and judges in the Ku Klux Klan clearly suggests that anyone who was non-white and non-Protestant stood little chance of equal justice in Newaygo County back then," said Richard Loebenthal, Michigan head of the Anti-Defamation League.
Dr. Glenn Jeansonne, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an expert on Klan activities, said the Klan re-emerged from its post-Civil War days in the early 1920s and took a strong hold in small Midwestern towns.
"Surprisingly enough, the Klan of the '20s was more of a mainstream organization," Jeansonne said, a self-styled "law-and-order" group. But "their version of law was to enforce vigilante justice."
Loebenthal, also an authority on Klan history, estimates several hundred thousand Michigan residents were in the Klan in the 1920s. Today the Klan's membership is estimated at 10,000 nationwide.
Josephine Toliver, president of the Lake and Newaygo County NAACP, said there is no evidence of an active Klan in the county today.
"There is racism in Newaygo County," she said. "It's so subtle, though, you have to pinpoint it."
The Klan material is traced back to Ledford Anderson, who died in 1986. According to records found in the attic, he was secretary-treasurer of the Newaygo chapter. Anderson family members say they had not been in the attic in 63 years.
The farm, in the family for more than a century, will be sold at auction Saturday. The Klan material is for sale, too.
Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.