- Politics and Social Issues
The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana
Ku Klux Klan Cross Burning
D. C. Stephenson
Governor Warren T. McCray
A Brief History
In 1922, the Hoosier state suffered the largest membership in the terror arm of the Democratic Party known as the Ku Klux Klan. The dynamic leader and Democratic operative, D. C. Stephenson, amassed a fortune recruiting membership in the Klan.
The Indiana branch of the Ku Klux Klan under David Curtiss "Steve" Stephenson emphasized morality and claimed its main purpose was to help the poor and promote traditional values. The Klan’s stance against African Americans during this period was not uppermost as it had been when the original Klan was founded after the Civil War in Pulaski, Tennessee.
The Indiana Klan’s influence became so great that by 1925, a third of the Indiana General Assembly and the governor of Indiana, along with many top local and state officials were members. As current politicians need corporations and victim groups to get elected, the political class in Indiana during the early 1920s needed the Klan to get elected.
Democratic Operative D. C. Stephenson
D. C. Stephenson had sought elected office running unsuccessfully in the Democratic congressional primary in 1922. At that time, he ran as anti- prohibition, but as Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, he touted prohibition to gain support of ministers and church organizations.
Stephenson’s Klan promotion created a climate that even Republican politicians came under the Klan influence. As secretary of state, Edward Jackson, relying on public opinion of the Klan as defenders of justice, morality, and Americanism, accepted Klan support only to later regret that decision.
The Klan began to make demands on Jackson, who had aspirations of running for higher office. Because of those aspirations, Jackson issued the Klan a charter and tried to persuade Governor Warren T. McCray to support the Klan agenda. When McCray resisted, Jackson offered McCray a bribe of $10,000. McCray was offended by Jackson’s suggestion and bribe and refused.
Governor Edward Jackson’s Fall From Grace / Demise of the Ku Klux Klan
Nevertheless, through Klan support, Jackson did eventually become the 32nd governor of Indiana. Although, Jackson's administration oversaw the payoff of the state’s nearly $4 million debt and instituted a significant reduction in taxes, his ties to the Klan became Jackson’s ultimate undoing.
In 1925, D. C. Stephenson was arrested and tried for the rape and murder of Madge Obetholtzer. After his conviction and sentence to life in prison, Stephenson appealed to Jackson for pardon. When Jackson refused, Stephenson released to the press evidence of Jackson’s attempt to bribe former Governor McCray, taking both Jackson and Stephenson’s Ku Klux Klan down.
Jackson left office disgraced and Stephenson saw the demise of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan. After boasting a membership of a quarter of million in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan is now virtually non-existent in Indiana and elsewhere.
Edward L. Jackson
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes