KKK and WCTU: Partners in Prohibition


The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) shared a common interest in promoting and defending alcohol prohibition, women's suffrage, Protestantism, and the protection of domesticity. They also both shared hostility toward immigrants. For this reason, the two groups cooperated with each other and shared many members and leaders.

WCTU in Alaska
Women of the WCTU, Alaska chapter, 1915. Courtesy National Park Service.
The temperance goals of the WCTU are widely known but those of the KKK are not. However, one of the major supporters of National Prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. (1920-1933) was the anti-alcohol Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

 

  • The Ku Klux Klan was "revived in Atlanta in 1915 to defend Prohibition," which existed in Georgia at that time.Statement from Chancellor Brehm on Benton Mural. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University press release, March 25, 2002.
  • "Prohibition became one of the Klan's leading issues"Lantzwe, Jason S. Dark Beverages of Hell. Part III. Rural History Project; ruralhistoryproject.org/ research_report?385&F=1 and the Klan strongly supported both Prohibition and its strict enforcement.Lay, Shawn Hooded Knights on the Niagara: The Ku Klux Klan in Buffalo, New York (NY: New York University Press, 1995).
  • The Ku Klux Klan "adopted prohibition as a central rallying cry."McCaymer, John F. The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s Assumption College, October 2001; assumption.edu/ahc/1920s/ Eugenics/Klan.html
  • "Enforcing Prohibition was a cornerstone of the KKK's 'reform' agenda."Kleinegger, Christine Womin the Ku Klux Klan: Constitution and Bylaws; Outline of Principles and Teachings (Albany, NY: New York State Museum. The University of the State of New York, n.d.)
  • "Enforcement of Prohibition, in fact, was a central, and perhaps the strongest, goal of the Ku Klux Klan."Norberg, David Ku Klux Klan in the Valley: A 1920s Phenomenon (White River Journal, January, 2004).
  • "Demon Rum (and the support of Prohibition) was the most obsessive issue on the Klan mind next to the pope."Tucker, Richard K. The Dragon and the Cross: The Rise and Fall of the Ku Klux Klan in Middle America (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1991), 111.
  • The KKK's "support for Prohibition represented the single most important bond between Klansmen throughout the nation...."Politics and World Affairs, August 30, 2004. Italics are in original; backwash.com/previewnewsarchive .php?newsid=1576. Or in the words of historian Dr. Leonard Moore, "The single most important bond between Klansmen throughout our nation was support for Prohibition." See Prohibition and the Rise of Big Government, 488; americanpoliticaldevelopment.org/ townsquare/print_res/in_progress/morone_prohibition.pdf
  • Because it so strongly "opposed the sale of alcohol,"Feldman, Glenn Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1999) the new Klan "attacked bootlegging.""The 1920s: An active Ku Klux Klan raises fear" Santa Cruz Sentinel on-line edition; santacruz sentinel.com/extra/century/25/indix.html "The Klan's resurgence in the 1920s partially stemmed from their role as the extreme militant wing of the temperance movement. In Arkansas, as elsewhere, the newly formed Ku Klux Klan marked bootleggers as one of the groups that needed to be purged from a morally upright community. In 1922, 200 Klansmen torched saloons that had sprung up in Union County in the wake of the oil discovery boom. The national Klan office ended up in Dallas, Texas, but Little Rock was the home of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan. The first head of this female auxiliary was a former president of the Ark-ansas WCTU."Johnson, Ben John Barleycorn Must die! The War Against Drink in Arkansas: 1920-1950 (Little Rock, AR: Old State House Museum exhibit); oldstatehouse.com/exhibit s/archive/johnbarleycorn/default. asp; and, oldstatehouse.com/exhibits/ archive/john-barleycorn/1920-1950.asp
D.C. Stephenson
Indiana KKK’s “Grand Wizard” D.C. Stevenson
The rapid growth of the new Klan probably reflected the fact that "It promised to reform politics, to enforce prohibition, and to champion traditional morality."Ku Klux Klan (Handbook of Texas Online, a joint project of the General Library of the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Historical Association); tsha.utexas.edu/ handbook/online/articles/KK/ vek2_print.html
  • There was much interaction and overlap in membership between the Klan and other prohibition supporters. For example, a top leader of the Klan, Edward Young Clarke, raised funds for both the Klan and the Anti-Saloon League.The Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Ku Klux Klan. Section I: 1915-1944 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, July, 1957), 21.
  • Its enforcement of prohibition was one of the factors "most responsible for the Klan's great popularity" in some states and communities.Moore, Leonard J. Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991)
  • The KKK challenged bootleggers by organizing armed patrols to intercept shipments of alcohol.Behreus, David "The KKK flares up on LI: In the early 1920's, white robes and burning crosses are seen in many villages," (Long Island: Our Story) Newsday.com/ LIHistory.com
  • "The Ku Klux Klan associated itself with the campaign against alcohol.... One of the major KKK activities in the 1920s was rooting out bootleggers and breaking up speakeasies."Smith, Richard Candida The United States from the Late 19th Century through the Great Depression: Prohibition (History 124), University of California at Berkeley; history. berkeley.edu/faculty/Smith/H124/ lectures/lecture17.html
  • "...widespread were Klan efforts to put bootleggers out of business."Zerzan, John "Rank-and-file radicalism within the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s," Anarchy, 1993 (Summer), vol. 37.
  • KKK Women
    Klanswomen in Indiana, August, 1923 Photograph from W. A. Swift Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Ball State University Libraries.
    On occasion, Ku Klux Klan tarred, feathered and ran bootleggers out of town.Schaal, Peter Sanford as I Knew It, 1912-1935 (Orlando, FL: P. Schaal, 1970)
  • Some bootleggers would have preferred being tarred and feathered. "In 'Bloody Williamson,' a county in far southern Illinois, battles between the operators of wide-open taverns and the 'dry' Ku Klux Klan killed 14 people in 1924-25."O'Neil, Tim "Prohibition," Post-Dispatch, January 13, 2004.
  • Although Prohibition became increasingly unpopular with the passage of time, the KKK strongly and actively opposed its repeal.Resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, 1920s, u-s-history.com; u-s-history.com/pages/h1381.html; Better than Necessary: A Celebrational History of Shawnee Mission North High School; smn-rab.org/SMN-HIST/btn_20s.htm

Membership in the KKK was limited to males. Women joined the Women of the KKK (WKKK). Lulu Markwell, one of the first leaders of the national WKKK organization based in Little Rock, headed the Arkansas chapter of the WCTU for twenty years. Lillian Sedwick served as state superintendent and county director of the young people's branch of the WCTU. She later became an important WKKK leader and other women followed the same path. They included Myrtle Cook of Iowa, a member of the WCTU murdered for documenting the names of bootleggers, and Lillian Rouse of the WCTU and its young people's affiliate, seven who later joined Sedwick in the WKKK Indiana affiliate. Elizabeth Tyler, one of the first leaders of the WKKK, was also active in the Anti-Saloon League.Blee, Kathleen M. Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991), 44.

Daisy Douglas Barr was the Imperial Empress (leader) of the approximately 250,000 member WKKK in Indiana and seven other states in the early 1920s. Indiana itself was the major center of the KKK power, with about 25% of the total national membership. Barr, along with the Indiana KKK's "Grand Wizard," D.C. Stevenson, was considered responsible for electing a Klan-friendly governor in 1924.

In addition to her leadership in the WKKK, Barr was a powerful member of the WCTU. In her role in that organization, Daisy Barr was a famous crusader for temperance. As a member of the board of education in Indianapolis, she promoted racial segregation. Professionally, Barr was a Quaker minister in two prominent churches and highly respected.

Anti Saloon League
Sixteenth Convention, Anti-Saloon League of America at Atlantic City, NJ, July 6-9, 1915 Library of Congress

The Klan made large financial donations to the WCTU in many communities. Similarly, the WCTU often lent its support to the Klan's anti-alcohol activities.Ibid, 27.

As unofficial law enforcement officers, members of the KKK would often enforce prohibition laws. In many cases members engaged in entrapment of buyers and sellers of alcohol and illegally collected evidence to prosecute the offenders. These illegal tactics made the enforcement by the Klan particularly effective. The WCTU recognized and supported the vigilante law enforcement efforts of the KKK. In towns and cities where the Klan was unpopular, the WCTU continued to support the group because of its effectiveness in law enforcement and conviction of bootleggers and moonshiners, despite the intimidation and violence used in the investigations.Ibid. In effect, the WCTU was an accessory to the Klan's illegal activities.

It's clear that the KKK and the WCTU worked hand-in-glove to promote prohibition.Ibid., 27, 31, 35, 85.

David Hanson -
David J. Hanson, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Sociology of the State University of New York at Potsdam. This fascinating story is reprinted by permission of the author and may not be reproduced without his consent. To see similar articles by Dr. Hanson, please visit http://www2.potsdam .edu/ hansondj/ AboutYour Host.html
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