LIMA — It’s part of our history that most of us would like to forget: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
A discussion on that topic drew an overflow crowd Sunday at the Allen County Museum.
“The Ku Klux Klan was huge in the United States in the 1920s. There were probably more Klan members in Ohio than any other state of the union. The question about what it means to be an American is a question we’re still wrestling with and the Klan had and has one particular answer,” said William Trollinger, a history professor at the University of Dayton.
Around this time there were an estimated five million KKK members across the country, with an estimated 400,000 in Ohio.
During this era, not only were blacks targeted but also immigrants, Jews and Catholics.
So what did Catholics do to catch the ire of the KKK?
“Well, they weren’t Protestant and they were so often immigrants, and they were not seen as 100 percent American. That was the Klan’s big phrase, 100 percent American, and to be a 100 percent American, you needed to be white. You needed to be Christian and you needed to be Protestant,” said Trollinger.
While the number of organized KKK members has dwindled, their ideas haven’t died.
“What we saw in the ’20s with the Ku Klux Klan never died out. You have a lot of folks who still hold those ideas. The Klan might be small today but their ideas live on. The Klan in the ’20s was violently anti-semitic, and those ideas hang around. We haven’t rid ourselves of these ideas in America,” said Trollinger.
Trollinger presented newspaper clippings and pictures from Klan rallies all across the state including Lima.
The nationalistic rhetoric coming from the top levels of government could be seen as history repeating itself, and the attack Saturday on a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh are disturbing to Trollinger.
“We are seeing very divisive and hateful rhetoric that does indeed remind me of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. What I’m talking about today hasn’t disappeared. It’s not that history is repeating itself. It’s just that we’ve never gotten rid of it in America, and it’s really sad to come here today in the wake of the synagogue shooting and to say that, but that’s the way it is,” said Trollinger.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.