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Hooded Knights on the Niagara

Hooded Knights on the Niagara: The Ku Klux Klan in Buffalo, New York

Shawn Lay
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Hooded Knights on the Niagara
    Book Description:

    They came in the dead of night, marking the homes and businesses of their enemies with crude symbols and dire warnings. They plotted against those of other religious faiths and circulated secret lists of alleged traitors to the community and nation. They mailed anonymous threats to those who refused to be intimidated into silence, all the while claiming that they were the true champions of American justice and freedom. The above may seem an accurate description of the sinister activities that distinguished the Ku Klux Klan in the early twentieth century, but in Buffalo, New York, and, in fact, throughout much of the northeastern United States, such activities were as characteristic of the Klan's opponents as of the hooded order itself. While the revived Klan of the 1920s-- the largest and most influential manifestation of organized intolerance in American history--proceeded with relative impunity in many locales, it encountered a very different situation in Buffalo where powerful enemies opposed the organization at every turn. Shawn Lay here provides a riveting portrayal of how the Klan established itself in Buffalo. Most chillingly, he explains how otherwise ordinary, well-established citizens, caught up in a complex set of circumstances, were persuaded to join a notorious secret society that pandered to the darkest impulses in American society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5266-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    They came in the dead of night, marking the homes and businesses of their enemies with crude symbols and dire warnings. They plotted against those of other religious faiths and circulated secret lists of alleged “traitors” to the nation and community. They mailed anonymous threats to local residents who refused to be intimidated into silence, all the while claiming that they were the true champions of American justice and freedom. They were strongly implicated in the bombing of a private residence; an undercover operative in their employ killed one man and seriously wounded another. Indeed, by the late summer of...

  7. One A Troubled Community
    (pp. 11-38)

    Buffalo, the self-proclaimed Queen City of the Great Lakes, entered the 1920s well-established as a major urban center. Scores of churches, a progressive public school system, three colleges, a university, a fine arts academy, museums, libraries, and concert halls attested to the city’s rich spiritual, educational, and cultural life; dozens of charitable, social, and professional organizations and a municipal government that employed nearly eight thousand workers likewise indicated an advanced stage of urban development, as did the modern office buildings and hotels that dominated the downtown skyline.¹ The federal census for 1920 placed the local population at 506,775, certifying Buffalo...

  8. Two The Kluxing of Buffalo
    (pp. 39-62)

    Only very gradually, and in distinct stages, did the Ku Klux Klan establish itself in Buffalo. Throughout 1920 and the early months of 1921, the dramatic expansion of the Invisible Empire remained a remote phenomenon that generated little concern among city residents. The local press featured numerous reports indicating that the Klan’s appeal was not confined to the South, but the possibility that the hooded order might develop a significant following in Buffalo or other parts of New York apparently received minimal consideration. Klan organizers recognized, however, that the Empire State might serve as a bountiful source of recruits, and...

  9. Three Fraternity, Moral Reform, and Hate
    (pp. 63-84)

    Despite their failure to circumvent the provisions of the Walker Law, the Klansmen of western New York continued to hold large gatherings over the next several months. On July 4, 1923, Niagara Falls hosted the first annual convention (Klorero) of the New York Klan, an event that attracted thousands of participants, including a large delegation from Buffalo. After a day spent relaxing with family and friends, a company of three hundred knights assembled on Riverway Drive at 6:00 p.m. and paraded some four miles through the city to a large tract of land just beyond Porter Road and Gill Creek....

  10. Four The Knights of the Queen City
    (pp. 85-114)

    While the reports of undercover investigators enhance our understanding of the Buffalo Klan, these sources focus on the activities of klavern officials and only vaguely describe the chapter’s rank and file. Exactly who composed the main body of the Klan, these masked men who gathered around fiery crosses at night? Often Klan studies are hampered by a dearth of reliable membership data, but a detailed evaluation of the Buffalo klavern is made possible by the existence of a rare document: a list, culled from the Klan’s official files, of the chapter’s active membership as of early July 1924. With the...

  11. Five The Destruction of the Buffalo Klan
    (pp. 115-142)

    In the summer of 1924, the enemies of the Invisible Empire launched an all-out war on the Ku Klux Klan in Buffalo, an assault from which the secret order never recovered. Although to many residents this appeared to be a rather sudden development, the anti-Klan campaign is best seen as the culmination of a gradually intensifying effort that had originated months earlier, during the previous summer. In June 1923, as the Klan conducted numerous ceremonials throughout western New York in defiance of the Walker Law, anti-KKK elements began to organize in earnest. Meeting in the office of a “prominent business...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 143-150)

    On January 12, 1926, the New York Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Walker Law, and shortly afterward George Bryant’s legal representatives appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. Briefs were submitted on October 10, 1927, and thirteen months later the nation’s highest tribunal rendered its decision. In a majority opinion written by Associate Justice Willis Van Devanter, the court ruled that because it could be reasonably concluded that the Ku Klux Klan stimulated “hurtful religious and race prejudices,” aspired to political power, and engaged in violent vigilantism, state governments could regulate the organization “within...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 151-176)
  14. Historiographical Essay
    (pp. 177-192)

    In 1990, Leonard J. Moore presented a review article entitled “Historical Interpretations of the 1920s Klan: The Traditional View and the Populist Revision” that remains the most important survey of Klan scholarship to date.¹ The purpose of the following essay is to reemphasize, supplement, and challenge some of the major themes in Moore’s work.

    Considering the great flowering of the social sciences in the 1920s, it is not surprising that sociologists were the first scholars to evaluate the second Klan. In an article first published in 1923, the prominent sociologist Frank Tannenbaum assessed the KKK in the South, concluding that...

  15. Index
    (pp. 193-199)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 200-201)