Catholic response to the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest, 1921--1928

Michael D Jacobs, Marquette University


Anti-Catholicism slowly loosened its grip on the American public but emerged for one final consequential surge in the 1920s. The second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan served as the major vehicle of this outburst. The Catholic Church was but one of the institutions subjected to Klan hostility and it responded in kind. To date, most historians credit the demise of the midwest Klan to scandal, internal power struggles, economic woes, law enforcement crackdowns, or investigative reporters. Active resistance of Catholics and their anti-defamation efforts have yet to receive consideration as contributing to the Klan's decline. Historians of the Klan have depicted Catholics inaccurately as passive or ineffective Klan opponents. This dissertation explores the multiple methods of Catholic opposition including organizational resistance, the efforts of the Catholic press, political contests, economic pressure, and a range of violence from light vandalism to riots and murder. The instigators and executors of these responses ranged from bishops to children--truly a catholic effort. Because the Klan was but a passing phenomenon, its greater significance lies in its ability to influence, sully, or otherwise complicate the operations of a lasting institution like the Catholic Church. The perspective and reaction of the Catholic Church and its adherents can be found, for the most part, only in contemporary literature or general histories. Klan agitation galvanized Catholics, thus reinforcing their Catholic identity. Less tangible but more significant were the changes the Klan compelled the Catholic subgroup to make, a genuine shift in American Catholicism. As a result of Klan agitation, the Catholic Church struggled to be accepted as a mainstream organization and viewed as supra-patriotic. Despite efforts of countless Catholics to parry or dismiss the Klan, the Klan paradoxically achieved its goal of creating an American consensus by assisting in the accelerated submersion of one of the nation's largest subgroups, Catholics, into mainstream America. The study of the Klan/Catholic conflict will provide greater understanding of both the Klan's demise and Catholics' "arrival" as unquestionably loyal citizens.

This paper has been withdrawn.