Did You Know…
This Week in Sapulpa History – Beginning of Sapulpa’s Ku Klux Klan, One Year After the Tulsa Race Massacre
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
At the turn of the 20th Century, the American Civil War, which ended in 1865, was still in living memory. Civil rights for African Americans were lacking, and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK or Klan) was resurging - primarily through the influence of the wildly popular 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Since 1915, the KKK had been growing in urban chapters across the country.
After World War I, veterans returned to Tulsa, and they tried to re-enter the labor force. Social tensions and anti-Black sentiment both increased in cities where job competition was fierce. Northeastern Oklahoma was in an economic slump which increased the level of unemployment.
According to the Oklahoma History Center, “Tulsa was also a deeply troubled town. Crime rates were extremely high, and the city had been plagued by vigilantism, including the August 1920 lynching, by a white mob, of a white teenager accused of murder.”
“By September 1921, the Oklahoma City Klan claimed twenty-five hundred members. The Tulsa Klan grew in a similar fashion, numbering two thousand Kluxers soon after the 1921 event. By the end of 1921, 3,200 of Tulsa's 72,000 residents were Klan members according to one estimate. In the early 20th century, lynchings were common in Oklahoma as part of a continuing effort to assert and maintain white supremacy.”
“The Oklahoma KKK was triggered by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The Massacre took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921. Mobs of white residents, some of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents and destroyed homes and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa.”
One year later, June 2, 1922, a Klan parade marched down Sapulpa’s Dewey Ave.
“Eighteen hundred Ku Klux Klansmen, clad in the white robes and helmets of their organization, paraded in the business district of this city last night before the largest crowds that has ever turned out for any event in Creek County.”
The City Manager was asked for permission for this event earlier that week. Many people from all over the county were present in the downtown district for Klansmen appearance. Spectators described the event as “long, silent line of white-cloaked [figures] appeared from over a hill at the western end of Dewey. Brilliant sky rockets and red and blue flares leaping far into the air from the unseen side of the hill appeared ahead of the Klan. Streaming rockets from the tops of business, houses, ignited by unknown parties, sailed above the thousands of spectators.”
Underneath some members' robes were hidden instruments; their band played as the members marched forth. “The parade proceeded east on Dewey, through the entire downtown, turned south to Lee at Oak, and thence west again out of the city.”
Other members without instruments carried signs bearing slogans. “‘Here Yesterday, Here Forever,’ ‘70,000 of Us in Oklahoma,’ ‘One Language for Americans,’ ‘No Hyphenated Americans,’ ‘Protect Our Public Schools,’ ‘We Are Behind Law-Enforcing Officers,’ ‘Lawbreakers Get Out,’ ‘You Can’t Fool Us,’ ‘Separation of Church and State,’ ‘We are in Every Walk of Life,’ ‘We are Pledged to Law and Order,’ ‘Law Abiding N-- Need Not Fear Us,’ ‘We Believe in Free Public Schools,’ ‘America for Americans, ‘Keep the Church Out of Politics.’”
The crowd and the Klan remained silent for nearly the whole program. The crowd would cheer or applaud “when they saw a banner which pleased them.”
More on Sapulpa’s Klan: To the white community, the Klan appeared to make efforts to help the town, its businesses and organizations, and its people. Ads were published in the Sapulpa Herald; bribery was the main reason for such ads - the Klan members would slip money in secret to the offices.
On one such occasion, two members of KKK, dressed in their white regalia, made an appearance at the Herald office, presenting 3 envelopes of money to the clerks. One envelope went to a former Sapulpan in need of help, one envelope to William E. Day (Principal of Booker T. Washington School), and the last envelope to another unknown Sapulpan. The money was accompanied by a letter addressed to the Herald: “It is our purpose to aid and assist, whoever and whenever possible, those persons who are worthy, regardless of race or color. Signed, Sapulpa Klan No. 106 (or 100), Realm of Oklahoma.” The Klan gave money for charity; but gave it to the papers first to get the publicity and to hide their own true biasness.
The Herald wrote an editorial about the Klan extolling their virtues. In 1922, Oklahoma City had started a women’s chapter called Cu Clux Clan; Sapulpa had a chapter called White American Protestants (W.A.P.) Study Club. The editorial stated that there were no objectionable features visible in their platforms. It mainly leaned toward law enforcement and white supremacy. Furthermore, it stated that if the Klan wanted to persecute the colored, then they would have during the previous year - this may have been referencing the Tulsa Race Massacre. With both female and male organizations keeping watch on the law enforcers, the law breakers better be on guard. “The eyes of the Ku Klux Klan and the Cu Clux Clan are upon all. It behooves the criminal element to beware.”
In 1923, the Oklahoma Legislature passed an anti-mask bill aimed at curbing Klan violence. Governor Walton wanted to diminish the Klan organization. Sapulpa made national news for the cross erected by the Ku Klux Klan in the northern section of the city. It was erected on North Heights’ Hill (“Klan Hill”), at 40’ tall with 62 bright red light bulbs. Due to the new law, however, members of the community sought to blow up the cross with dynamite. It is unknown who blow up the cross, however. Within a few days, another cross was rebuilt, smaller and without light bulbs.
From 1924 to 1928, the local papers often ran advertisements and editorials for the Klan.
For the Salvation Army: “The Klan asks no questions as to race, creed, or political affiliation, all we ask is the opportunity to serve humanity in the name of the meek and lowly Nazarene.”
For the Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.): “$25 donation from the local Klan to be used to furnish a room for women who were temporarily out of work.” The Klan held a public initiation and barbecue on “Klan Hill” north of Sapulpa.
Arrangements from the local W.A.P. were made for a Mrs. Block for a new washing machine for her business: Mrs. Block stated that she had turned out 8 loads of washing in a week as compared to normally doing five. Additionally, Sapulpa had one of the first known Junior Ku Klux Klan (or “Ku Klux Kiddies”) organization meetings.
Over the rest of the decade, the Klan slowly declined in allegiance and power. Anti-Klan organizations began forming to oppose the reign of the invisible empire. Threats and counter-threats of violence and retaliation became a common occurrence between 1923 and 1926. Internal disputes also weakened the Klan. Charges of greed and graft greatly diminished Klan membership. Nationally, a series of scandals reduced membership to a small core. Despite a brief resurgence of membership in the 1930s, and despite many isolated incidents of Klan activity, the Ku Klux Klan remained weakened and fragmented, having negligible power in Oklahoma since 1928.
(Sapulpa Light, March 8, 1907; Sapulpa Herald: May 1, 1922; June 3, 1922; February 2, 1923; December 26, 1923; August 26-27, 1924; October 9, 1926; October 15, 1926; February 12-16, 1929; December 21, 1961; San Bernardino, Evening Telegram, September 20, 1923; Oklahoma Historical Society; Greenwood Cultural Center; Oklahoma History Center; Tulsa Historical Society)
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The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.