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Ku Klux Klan in Napa

St. Helena Star
1923 October 26
Newspaper
St. Helena Library

"Ku Klux Klan in Napa," St. Helena Star, 1923 October 26 p.1; St. Helena Library Newspaper Archives, St. Helena Library

The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s operated as a political, paramilitary terrorist, and social organization. The Klan oriented its ideals around advocating a white supremacist ideology. Different regional branches of the Klan (which were known as klaverns) had their own strands of racism and nativism, though anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism, along with support for Jim Crow laws and practices, were core principles. What made the Klan as popular as it was in the 1920s was its social networking and financial structure. In 1924, the peak year of Klan membership, four million people, including men and women from the South, North, Midwest (especially Indiana), and West, banded together to show their support for white supremacy. Compare this document from the Klan alongside Grant’s map (Source 7), California’s anti-miscegenation law (Source 9), and the California Criminal Syndicalism Act (Source 1). In what ways does this document compare to the others? Are there more commonalities or differences between this and the others in the set? How does this document provide evidence to address the question, Why were the 1920s filled with extremes?

The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s operated as a political, paramilitary terrorist, and social organization. The Klan oriented its ideals around advocating a white supremacist ideology. The Klan that became popular in the 1920s was distinct from the Klan that formed during Reconstruction. This more modern version of the Klan focused not simply on terrorizing African Americans (though many branches continued to do so); instead, it worked to support anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant sentiment in a national context. Different regional branches of the Klan (which were known as klaverns) had their own strands of racism and nativism, though anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism, along with support for Jim Crow laws and practices, were core principles. What made the Klan as popular as it was in the 1920s was its social networking and financial structure. In 1924, the peak year of Klan membership, four million people, including men and women from the South, North, Midwest (especially Indiana), and West, banded together to show their support for white supremacy. Cultural events such as the premier of D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation encouraged broader appeal for the Klan. As your students investigate this document, direct them to situate it in a comparative context alongside other documents in this set. The following questions can guide this discussion: Compare this document from the Klan alongside Grant’s map (Source 7), California’s anti-miscegenation law (Source 9), and the California Criminal Syndicalism Act (Source 1). In what ways does this document compare to the others? Are there more commonalities or differences between this and the others in the set? How does this document provide evidence to address the question, Why were the 1920s filled with extremes?

Ku Klux Klan in Napa
The first appearance of the Ku Klux Klan in the North bay counties was made in Napa Saturday evening when the white-robed Klansmen held a gigantic initiation.
Residents of Napa and travelers on the highway were attracted to the field near the Napa State Hospital where the ceremonies took place about 9 o’clock and continued until 11 o’clock. Two hundred hooded Klansmen, appearing like phantoms in the moonlight, participated in the ceremonies and over one hundred were initiated into the order, twenty-five of these wearing the uniform of the United State Navy. Just before the initiation started a huge cross more than twenty feet in height and situated far up on the hillside in back of a large American flag, was illuminated and could be seen for a long distance. The Klansmen formed a square in the center of the field and inside of this the initiates were lead from station to station by a Knight on a horse carrying the fiery cross.
Spectators were allowed to witness the ritualistic work and they were directed to park their automobiles about one hundred yards from the knoll on which the initiation was held. It is estimated that close to two thousand people witnessed the spectacular site.