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Event explores KKK’s influence in Indiana

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Defining what the Ku Klux Klan was in the early 1900s is as important as defining what it wasn’t.

The klan wasn’t just a group of robed mobsters riding on horseback and carrying lit torches. Klan members were businessmen, bankers, farmers, teachers and preachers. They infiltrated government and sold homes.

The KKK also wasn’t a stain reserved for the Deep South. Its influence and membership stretched virtually everywhere, including Indiana, which in the 1920s had as many as 250,000 members.

Indiana University emeritus history professor James H. Madison will share insights from his latest book, “The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland,” during a virtual talk put on by Indiana Historical Society at 7 p.m. Oct. 15.

The Zoom event is $10 for guests (or $36 with the book) and $5 for IHS members (or $30 with the book) at indianahistory.org. Registration closes two hours before the event.

Madison said he worked on the book for three years. As an Indiana historian, he found there are a lot of misconceptions about the klan that have passed from one generation to the next. The result, Madison said, is white Hoosiers — and white Americans in general — are allowed to “believe and say things that simply have no basis in historical truths.”

The Indianapolis branch of the NAACP released a poster in the 1920s in a stand against the Ku Klux Klan. (Photo provided)

Madison said he wants people to understand how the klan created an us “us versus them” environment.

A chapter of the book is also dedicated to Hoosiers who stood up to the klan, including the Indianapolis chapter of the NAACP, which led a political crusade against the KKK in 1924.

The klan’s presence has declined drastically over the decades, but it still isn’t difficult to find remnants or whole remains of the overarching ideology that says native-born, Protestant men represent what an American is supposed to be while everyone else pulls at the threads of the social fabric.

Susan Hall Dotson, coordinator of African American History at IHS and the moderator for the event, said the klan is probably still active to an extent, just with different names.

“Understanding that will help us understand some of the nationalist sentiment we see today,” she said.

It’s a bit of coincidence that this event comes on the heels of months of protest in Indianapolis and other parts of the country. The historical society has known for more than a year Madison was finishing his book soon but didn’t know exactly when.

It’s a “perfect storm” now, Dotson said.

“When we’re wondering why things are the way they are and why things were the way they were, you can look to that and understand,” she said. 

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

THE KU KLUX KLAN IN THE HEARTLAND

Indiana University emeritus history professor James H. Madison will share insights from his latest book, “The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland,” which examines the Klan’s operations in Indiana and the Midwest.

• When: 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 15

• Where: Zoom (register at least two hours in advance at indianahistory.org)

• Tickets: $10 for guests ($36 with a book), $5 for Indiana Historical Society members ($30 with book)

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