A burning cross leaves vision of hatred
One night when I was seven years old I saw a big fire in the house across the alley. My parents and I rushed over and saw a huge cross burning in the middle of south Broadway in front of our friend’s house. Men in sheets and white spiked headdress were marching around and shouting. Our neighbor was a popular doctor and he was also mayor of Englewood. His “crime?” He was Jewish.
Many years later, in high school, I finally understood what had happened that frightful night. The Ku Klux Klan was showing its power and its hatred.
Now, in 2010, as I watch what is going on in Washington, with the Senate in gridlock, I remember the Ku Klux Klan and how powerful it was politically in Denver in 1920. I have been trying to pull together my fragmented memories of the Klan then, its violence and its political strength in Colorado.
A Denver doctor, John Locke, was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. He understood Denver’s underlying bigotry well. Negroes (not the word commonly used then, nor is it today) and Jews were expected to stay in their own parts of town. Even the wealthiest Catholics couldn’t buy their way past certain gates.
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males made the rules and ran the show, firmly believing equality was a fine idea if it wasn’t taken too far.
That is the way it was in Denver in 1921. That’s what I, a kid, assumed was the way everybody was. My mother and father were fine, generous people, very active in the community, but they accepted the culture of their times. It was not deliberate bigotry, not prejudice, it certainly was not hatred. It was simply the way things were. We lived in an Anglo-Saxon culture. As I think back I am appalled, and ashamed.
And into that peaceful nest of separation came the Ku Klux Klan to Denver in the early 1920s, ready to take over the state of Colorado. With them the bigotry was quite deliberate. They hated blacks, Jews and the Catholics. So far as I know they still do.
As The Denver Post wrote in 1924, “... the KKK is the largest and most cohesive, most efficiently organized political force in the state.” It secured a variety of political seats, including governor and the mayor of Denver.
The Ku Klux Klan is a racist, anti-Semitic movement with a commitment to violence to achieve its goals of racial segregation and white supremacy.
It is still in existence, defending its vision for white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males against all comers.
Of all the types of right-wing hate groups that exist in the United States, the Klan remains one of the largest.
William Sloane Coffin understood it best. “Clearly God is more comfortable with diversity than we are ... After all She made it. We, on the other hand, fear it more than we celebrate it. In fact, diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to live without.”
I like to think that we have evolved since 1921, but it is going to take more than 100 years for us to accept universal tolerance toward all human beings. America has become a diverse nation, but too many of us refuse to accept it.
I only know I shall never forget the burning cross or what it stood for. A democratic form of government can’t exist if hatred can overcome civility.