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The KKK in Southwestern Minnesota in the 1920s
May 10 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Anita Gaul, Professor of History, will present “The KKK in Minnesota” at the Marshall-Lyon County Library as part of Marshall and Lyon County’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
In a period of rapid change, many Americans felt a sense of nostalgia and fear in the 1920s – nostalgia for an idealized, simpler past and fear that America was in a state of moral decline. This prompted the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, particularly in the Upper Midwest. This “new” Klan (as opposed to the original, post-Civil War Klan) expanded its list of threats to America beyond black Americans to include Jews, Catholics, immigrants, and “degenerates.” Presenting itself as a respectable, patriotic, Christian organization, the new KKK attracted millions of new members in the 1920s.
Klan activity in Southwest Minnesota began in 1922, peaked in 1924, and virtually disappeared by 1927. The KKK seemed to be particularly active in Fairmont, Pipestone, and Lake Wilson, but Klan activity was also reported in Walnut Grove, Montevideo, Tracy, Worthington, and many other area towns. Dozens of cross burnings occurred, but there were also Klan rallies, parades, picnics, meetings and speakers.
What attracted rural Minnesotans to this organization? How and why did it become popular in this area? And what accounts for its sudden demise? The brief but intense presence of the KKK in Southwest Minnesota is a hidden chapter in the region’s history and one that merits closer scrutiny.
Anita Talsma Gaul holds a doctorate in American History from the University of Iowa, and currently teaches at Minnesota West Community & Technical College. She is the author of several articles and two books on local history topics including Homely Girls & Pretty Babies: A History of the Murray County Fair (2013) and The Women of Southwest Minnesota & the Great War (2018).