The Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was very active during the 1920s and 1930s – across the nation and in York County, Nebraska. In the South, the KKK was known for inciting racial hatred, specifically against African Americans. In York County, the organization seemed to direct its anger more toward people who went to the Catholic church or new immigrants from other countries.
Helen Bolton remembers that when she lived at home, “They [the KKK] got my dad to come to one of their meetings. My dad said, ‘I’m not ashamed of my face. I’m not going to cover my face for anybody.’ And I don’t know what it was all about. I was just a kid. But, I know they got my dad to come to one the meetings.”
Leroy Hankel’s family belonged to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church; they were not Catholic, yet for some reason, the KKK targeted them. “Well, one morning, we came out to the road and there was somebody burning a cross right there in our yard,” Leroy says. The action hurt his father deeply. “He didn’t like that at all. We knew the Ku Klux Klan done it… He didn’t like it. They burned a cross right in front of our house.”
Birdie Farr was aware of KKK activities in the York area, but she says the group focused its anger against Catholics more than blacks. During one KKK march, the local dentist identified a several of the people wearing hoods by their feet.
Walter Schmitt says the KKK was very active in Gresham and York at one time. “They had parades up and down Main Street at night, these hooded characters,” he says. “They’d put on these drills.” He says at one time about 2,000 people met in York when they were giving a second-degree level in the organization. He kept newspaper clippings that described how the group paraded around the square. “They had a number of Klansmen, robed Klansmen, took over the town, riding horseback. And they just patrolled the streets during a time they were having these meetings. York, here!”
In the following years, however, the Klan died out in York and the Great Plains region.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.