". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Fargo Forum's History of the KKK in North Dakota

This is news, at least to me.  I'd no idea, until today's Fargo Forum put up a history of Ku Klux Klan. Evidently the Forum went into their archives about  KKK activity in the Red River Family because of this:

Three mischievous fans of the Roughriders’ hockey team flouted a taboo when they recently wore hooded Ku Klux Klan robes to taunt the opposing squad. But the Red River High School hockey spectators might not have known just how prevalent the Ku Klux Klan once was in the Red River Valley – nor that Grand Forks, home of Red River High, was a hotbed for the group, which railed against Catholics, blacks, Jews, Asians and foreigners.

Some Fargo residents are outraged that there are members of the Fargo community  who were outraged by the fans demonstrating support for their sports team by donning KKK robes and masks.  It's all in good fun, right? dressing up in the robes of those who lynched and in many others ways shoved a reign of terror upon unnumbered communities throughout the U.S. in the teens and twenties and into the thirties, and did it as much so in North Dakota as in Tennessee?  So what's the problem? Get grip!  Lighten up!  Laugh a little!  This ain't no thang.

It is history, and we know all too well how easily history repeats itself.

Excellent work, Fargo Forum. Thank you for showing, not telling us, so to speak, that none of us anywhere can be too vigilant when it comes to representing bigotry and the evil it performs in even the slightest of a positive light.

A Ku Klux Klan robe, modeled here on a mannequin, is part of North Dakota State University’s Emily Reynolds Costume Collection. The historic robe is not used in classes and is not on display to the general public. The garment was found in the 1950s by a man who worked as a Fargo trash collector. An NDSU employee discovered the robe and hood at an auction sale and bought it for $18, according to a 1990 NDSU Spectrum story.
Evidently grandpa died and the kids, cleaning out the closets, chose to throw out his old KKK robes instead of donating them along with rest of his clothes to the Salvation Army.

There are links to more photos and related stories that provide a profile of a Red River Valley KKK member of those days.  It isn't what you think, and it's shocking, because one of them at least, is an immigrant himself, from Croatia.

1 comment:

Foxessa said...

On some further reflection, what particularly strikes me about the history of the KKK in ND the Fargo Forum put up is this:

The KKK revives in the very early 1920’s, this revival of a hate and terror vigilante organization, formed in Tennessee in the waning days of the Civil War, and which had faded away nicely as Jim Crow established what in effect was neo-slavery (without the actual buying and selling of individuals -- though labor coffles were paid for, to the sheriff, who rounded them up upon the request of some local big guy who wanted a new field dug or a house built – whatever.

It was Griffith’s vile Birth of a Nation that was responsible – with the help of bigoted Virginian, Pres. Woodrow Wilson, who then established racial apartheid in government jobs. (He instituted the regulation that all government job applications had to include a personal photo, in order that not even inadvertently a black person would get one.)

But ND wasn’t even a state at the end of the Civil War. In the 1920’s a good percentage, maybe even the majority, of ND’s residents were immigrants themselves, as one of the associated stories, about the Slav from Croatia, demonstrates.

Though among some of those immigrants would have been my great-great-grandmother’s family. Her brothers and cousins had signed up for the first Union regiments, those formed in Wisconsin and Iowa – both of which had become states just in time to participate in the Civil War.

There are letters that my cousin recovered from that side of the family, in which the boys who signed up to fight for the Union, made clear they knew they were fighting against slavery and for emancipation as well.

Further, like my great-grandfather on dad’s side – he’d been to Europe with the U.S. army during WWI. He loved Europe, and New England where he'd trained. If my grandmother had been willing, he would have moved to New England. But she wasn’t going to leave her family so far behind. She remained close by letters, to the end of her life to her Prussian relatives, whom she'd never met in person.

Somehow, it being so much about the Red River Valley, this history is particularly disturbing to me; perhaps it’s because I’ve been forced to learn so much about the Klan due to our history work with slavery.

This is the same period in which so many Italians were being lynched down in New Orleans and Louisiana, as foreigners, I guess – and yet, they were no less bigoted toward people of color than white Louisianans – and generally, Louisiana’s religion was Catholic.