by Edi Sheldon
WALSENBURG- An Op/Ed piece from the Walsenburg World of Jan. 29, 1924, (which may still be relevant today) responded to the parade of the KKK down Walsenburg’s Main Street by stating; “What is needed in Walsenburg is not a spirit of antagonism, but a union of all classes and creeds for the building up and development and prosperity of our community.” The parade left a well-defined aura of fear among Walsenburg citizens.
The KKK established a presence in almost all of the southern Colorado communities. This outgrowth of Klan activity came after WWI and the decline of industrial production and mining in Colorado. Many were out of work and the economy suffered in this period of economic depression. The only community to resist was Colorado Springs according to a book by Phil Goodstein called In the Shadow of the Klan, When the KKK Ruled Denver 1920-1926. Government officials, including members of Denver City Council, were reported to retain membership roles in the Denver Kabal.
The resurgence of the KKK first came about in the deep south as a result of a man named William J. Simmons from Georgia. He was the son of a member of the original KKK who had been dismissed as a preacher of the Southern Methodist Church for incompetence. He was a veteran fraternal insurance salesman with links to the Masons and the Woodmen of the World. Simmons had seen the movie, The Birth of a Nation. This movie advocated the resurrection of the KKK as the answer to problems sweeping the south during the early part of the 20th century. Remaining members of southern aristocracy wished for a return to slavery in the south as one solution to problems being encountered at the time. The movie portrayed the original Klan as saviors of the south and guardians of southern womanhood and tradition. It showed violent actions against the Negro population and urged re-establishment of slavery as an answer to the violence and lawlessness after the Civil War in the south.
Colorado front range communities that experienced significant Klan reorganization during the 1920s were Florence, Canon City, Walsenburg, Trinidad and others on the eastern plains. During this period the population of most of these communities was a mixture of immigrant derivation. But with the increase of lawless activity such as bootlegging, gambling and active patronization of whorehouses, the strength of the KKK seemed welcome to some.
During 1924 the A.M.E .Christian Church in Trinidad found its coffers short and was unable to pay some of its bills. One of the members of the church published a letter asking the KKK of Trinidad to assist by donating money. The response was surprising: members of the Klan appeared at the church during services, marched down the aisle and laid a check in the amount of $254 on the podium. A letter presented with the check stated in part: “The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are ever ready to assist all PROTESTANT organizations that EXALT the living CHRIST.” The African-American membership of the church was shocked and surprised. The letter also stated that, ”the law abiding Negro has nothing to fear from this organization. “
Next week we will examine a local home with what appears to be a Klan meeting room built inside.