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Monday, May 27, 2024

Looking back 100 years: How Notre Dame students resisted the KKK

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In May of 1924, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) planned a rally in the city of South Bend, the home of many Jewish and Catholic residents, and the nearby University of Notre Dame. In an intense conflict, some of the university’s Catholic students confronted members of the Klan, pushing them back to their headquarters a few blocks away. The students followed, and violence ensued.

The Indiana Historical Society’s RESIST! exhibit depicts images from a clash between Notre Dame students and the KKK in 1924. (Photo/ Indiana Historical Society)

Following the confrontation back to the KKK headquarters in South Bend, a small group of the nearly 1,500 Catholic students attending Notre Dame, proceeded to break the windows and attempted to infiltrate the headquarters upstairs, according to the Indiana Historical Society. A Klan member produced a gun, and the students backed off. A truce was called wherein the Klan could hold their rally without their weapons or their robes.

Primary sources, archives, photographs and immersive experiences from this day in 1924 make up the Indiana Historical Society’s (IHS) new exhibit, RESIST! A recounting of the events that unfolded, RESIST! is open to the public until Aug. 2, and features a wide array of different perspectives and exhibitions highlighting this day in history.

An immersive telling of the riot, RESIST! not only details this specific instance of the KKK’s involvement in Indiana, but also their rise to power.

“I think this exhibit is important because it’s a real story. This is part of the history of our state and part of our DNA,” said Jody Blankenship, president and CEO of the Indiana Historical Society.

As guests pass through the exhibit, they will hear a collection of stories from people at the gathering of the Klan in 1924 to help them understand different perspectives from the event.

“I hope [guests] can feel empowered. I hope they feel inspired. I hope they walk away feeling more curious,” said Blankenship.

In addition to the IHS exhibit downtown, The History Museum in South Bend offers guests the opportunity to view a sister exhibit in the very place that the conflict originally occurred.

“To be able to have an exhibit where it happened — you’ll be able to look out of a window and see directly where the Klan headquarters was located. It’s where the Notre Dame students rallied and resisted the Klan,” said Brian Harding, executive director of The History Museum in South Bend.

Beginning May 17, the 100-year anniversary of the conflict, The History Museum in South Bend will feature similar imagery to the IHS exhibit with even more educational materials pertaining specifically to the South Bend area. A map of a walking tour where patrons can retrace the steps at the site of the conflict will add to the immersive experience.

“We are incredibly excited. It’s incredibly moving to be able to bring this to life and to be able to tell this story,” said Harding.

While both exhibits’ intention is to show the conflict and showcase an important event for both Notre Dame and Indiana, Blankenship explains that the larger story is to learn from our history.

“It’s important to look at all of our history. We can understand complex issues and how they have developed over time…We can understand how to make better decisions in the present and make better decisions about tomorrow,” said Blankenship.

For more information on the RESIST! exhibit and to buy tickets at the IHS, visit https://indianahistory.org/events/resist/. To purchase tickets for the May 17 exhibit at The History Museum in South Bend, please visit https://www.historymuseumsb.org/plan-your-visit/buy-tickets/

Contact Staff Writer Hanna Rauworth at 317.762.7854 or follow her at @hanna.rauworth 

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