The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #6

Q. I’ve heard that lots of Mormons joined the Ku Klux Klan. Is this true?

A. False! This is yet another false rumor about Mormons that seem to become popular in certain segments of the African-American Community. The LDS Church as an institution, and white Latter-day Saints as individuals, have always utterly despised the Klan, and preached against it! When the KKK was only a year old, in 1868, the Church published an anti-Klan editorial in its Deseret News. It also condemned other anti-Black organizations; calling them “secret combinations”; a term in The Book of Mormon which refers to satanic conspiracies:

“The Ku Klux Klan, the Loyal League, the Grand Army of the Republic, all secret, oath-bound orders are spreading fear and dismay through North and South.... These secret orders are no ‘new things under the sun,’ though they are called by new names. They have existed at intervals from the earliest ages, and originated with him who tempted Eve to sin [Satan].

***

If that nation will arise and shake off its wickedness and turn unto the Lord like Nineveh of old, He will turn His wrath away from the people, and give them power to search out and destroy those secret combinations, whose schemes and plots and hellish deeds, like an army of white ants, are eating their way into the roots of the national tree.” (Millennial Star 31:344, 348)

The Book of Mormon speaks of such secret combinations thusly:

"And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” (2 Nephi 26:22)

Few people know today that the LDS Church was from the beginning a public and avowed enemy of the KKK; even in periods when the Klan was very popular among most white Americans (unlike today). In return, the some leaders of the Klan considered the LDS Church to be it’s greatest enemy!

*Anti-Mormon attacks by the Klan in the South

The Klan was all too aware of anti-KKK attacks from the oracle of the Mormon Church: the Deseret News. This may have inspired the Klan in the Southern United States to begin a campaign of terror against Mormon missionaries in the South. Historian Larry R. Gerlach writes:

“Mormon missionaries were harassed periodically by Southerners acting under the name of the Klan. In Georgia, for example, Klansmen in 1883 posted a sign near an LDS conference site advising the ‘Mormon Devils’ that they had thereby been given ‘fair worning [sic] to get out of Haywood Valley’; in 1886 the Klan sent Elder William Spry a letter which, in advising the missionary not to come within three miles of the town of Fish, snarled that ‘death is too good for such contemptible puppies as you are’; and in 1887 the Klan threatened a group of elders led by G.S. Spencer with ‘a coat of tar and feathers’ within twenty-four hours. Such incidents, combined with numerous indignities, mobbings, and even murders suffered by Mormons in the South caused many Saints to regard the Ku Klux Klan as a band of lawless, anti-Mormon cut-throats.” (Blazing Crosses in Zion, p.11)

In the summer of 1878, Elder Frank Croft was assigned as a traveling missionary for the State of Alabama. One day he was abducted by KKK members for the purpose of being whipped. As they tied him to a tree, a letter from his mother dropped out of his pocket. They read it:

“Surely, my boy, the men who are mistreating you elders ‘know not what they do,’ or they would not do it. Sometime, somewhere, they will understand and then they will regret their actions, and they will honor you for the glorious work you are doing. So be patient, my son; love those who mistreat you and say all manner of evil against you, and the Lord will bless you and magnify you in their eyes, and your mission will be gloriously successful; and remember, son, that day and night your mother is praying for you always.” (There is No Law, p.30)

After the Klansmen read the letter, they untied Elder Croft and let him go unharmed.

In 1879 Elder Joseph Standing, a missionary in Georgia, was shot in the face and killed by a Klan led mob. Also in that year Elder Rudger Clawson was struck in the back of the head by Benjamin Clark; a local Baptist Deacon. Clawson was left for dead, but survived. Also in 1879 Elder Parry was beaten near death by a mob in Clay County, North Carolina. On July 20th of that year the Mormons of Brasstown, North Carolina, were attacked by a large mob. Both men and women were whipped and their homes were plundered. (There is No Law, p.30)

In the 1880s the Rev. C. P. Lyford published a number of anti-Mormon pamphlets and distributed them throughout the South.

In 1883 Elder John T. Alexander was shot and wounded by three masked men in Plainville, Georgia (Church Chronology, p.112)

On January 25th, 1884, Elders William H. Crandall and John Gaily were mobbed in Jasper County, Mississippi (There is No Law, p.32)

On February 18, 1884, Elder Thomas Davis was fired at in Jones County, Mississippi (There is No Law, p.33)

On August 10, 1884, in Cane Creek, Lewis County, Tennessee, an anti-Mormon mob led by a Methodist minister (and suspected Klanman) attacked the small Mormon settlement of Cane Creek. The Mormons were having Sunday services when group of 12 to 15 armed men attacked. Two missionaries, Elders Joseph Argyle and Elder Edward Stevenson, were killed outright; as one a Southern Mormon named Martin Garn. Several Mormons were able to rend a gun or two away from the assailants and fire back; killing the Methodist minister who led the attack. The Chicago Inter-Ocean soon after wrote:

“It seems the inhabitants of Hickman and Lewis County, Tennessee, do not relish the proselyting ministrations of Mormon missionaries, and have commenced a counter campaign with their shotguns. Up to the present time three Mormon Elders have gone to join Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in the happy hunting grounds.” (Quoted in Millennial Star, Sept. 15, 1884)

When the attackers were later brought to trial the judge immediately dismissed the case against them, stating that “there is no law for Mormons” in Tennessee. (There is No Law, p.1)

In 1888, in Meridian, Mississippi,  Elder Alma P. Richards’ head was crushed in  by several anti-Mormons.

In 1898, in Baker, Florida, Elder George Paul Canova was shot to death by unknown assailants.

In 1900, in Eugene, West Virginia, Elder John Dempsey was killed by a Cambellite (“Disciples of Christ”) minister.

Besides these killings there were also numerous tar-and-featherings, beatings, minor acts of violence, death-threats, humiliations, and intimidations of Mormon missionaries in the South between the years 1870 up until very recent years.

The South, or Southern United States, has always been hospitable to Mormons missionaries. The vast great majority of Southerners have treated Mormon missionaries with respect, dignity, and that famous ‘Southern Hospitality’. A frequent response from a Southerner to Mormon missionaries at their door is—

“Well, boys, I’m a Baptist and y’all are gonna go to Hell, but my wife just made supper and y’all welcome to come in and join us!”

Yet, it is also true that the South has been a spawning ground for organizations like the Klan; the most infamous and notorious anti-Black (and anti-Mormon) organization ever known (with the exception of the Missouri State Militia).

In 1880 Klansmen in Lawrence County, Georgia, forced Elders Bills and Densley from their beds at night for the purpose of beating them. Unexpectedly, friends of the elders showed up and the Klansmen left. In Mt. Lookout, Alabama, an intoxicated mob led by a Baptist preacher told mission President John Morgan of the Southern States Mission to leave the county or be killed. President Morgan replied that the elders were “delegated to preach the Gospel” in the South and rather than ignore their divine commissions, they would “lay their bodies in a martyr’s tomb.” (There is No Law, p.31)

*Birth of a Nation (The Clansman)

In 1905 a Baptist minister named Thomas Dixon wrote a book called The Clansman which became a national bestseller. The Clansmen was a heroic novel about the original Ku Klux Klan which operated from about 1867 to 1879 or so. The Clansman describes Negroes as “half child, half animal, the sport of impulse, whim, and conceit, ...a being who, left to his own will, roams at night and sleeps in the day, whose speech knows no word of love, whose passions, once aroused, are as the fury of the tiger.” (The Clansman, p.293)

In 1908 a stage version of Thomas Dixon’s bestseller The Clansman, which glorified the KKK, played onstage in Salt Lake City. The Gentile newspaper of the city, The Salt Lake Tribune, praised the play and its message. However, the Mormon newspaper, the Deseret News, wrote that although they considered the play an “excellent production” the Klan was not a heroic organization as the play portrayed but “rode about the country at night killing or torturing Negroes and their sympathizers” in a “reign of terror” and “became a band of idle, dissolute and vicious individuals who entered upon a career of brutality and violence that appalled the country.” (Deseret News, Nov. 2, 1908)

The Salt Lake Tribune, the Gentile and Anti-Mormon newspaper in Utah, praised Birth of a Nation thusly:

“Mob violence and outlawry are depicted, followed by spectacular views of the Ku-Klux Klansmen who organized secretly to control the Negroes through their superstitious fears. The Klansmen were fearless nightriders and they wore white shrouds. Acts of vengeance were perpetrated under the cover of darkness, and the pictures show clearly why such extreme measures were necessary for the continuance of law and order.” (Salt Lake Tribune, April 2, 1916)

*The KKK in the 1920s

During the 1920s the KKK grew to a great height of power and popularity in the United States. This was mainly do to the overwhelmingly popular film among white Americans called Birth of a Nation. It had during this time about 5 million white American members; the equivalent of about 15 to 18 million today (2000 A.D.). Historian William J. Whalen writes:

“No secret society in the United States has ever equaled the power and size of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. Nearly 5,000,000 American men belonged to the Invisible Empire in its heyday. Between 1921 and 1925 the Klan seized control of five state legislatures and elected governors in Indiana, Maine, and Colorado. Because of the Ku Klux Klan, men were murdered and mutilated, friendships broken, political careers wrecked or launched. The Klan’s influence was felt from courthouse to state house to the floor of the Democratic national convention. Claiming to protect the values of white Protestant America the KKK eventually turned to terror, intimidation, libel, and murder.” (Handbook of Secret Organizations, p.91)

Many who joined the Klan were Methodist and Baptist ministers. According to historian Charles Alexander:

“Thousands of Protestant ministers (one Klan lecturer estimated 40,000) took citizenship in the Invisible Empire.” (The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest, p.87)

Just about all of these same ministers were also Anti-Mormon.

The KKK had began in 1867-8 as a fraternal order for former white Confederate officers. Nothing more. In 1869 the LDS Church, via the Deseret News, declared that the KKK was a “secret combination” that would bring terror and death and tyranny to America. The Church suggested that America destroy this and other “secret combinations” of the Devil! America didn’t listen, and the KKK turned out to be exactly what the Church said it was.

*The Ku Klux Klan in Utah

In 1920 the Deseret News called the KKK “an insult and a menace to orderly government” which would lead to “riot and bloodshed.” (23 Dec. 1920) In 1921 Imperial Grand Wizard William Simmons (head of the KKK and a Southern Methodist minister) announced that the Klan was going to start a chapter in Utah. The Deseret News then published an editorial titled “No Room Here For This Outfit” which says in part:

"So far as its operations are known—its secrecy, its mummery, its terrorism, its lawlessness—it is condemned as inimical to the peace, order and dignity of the commonwealth. These mountain communities of ours have no place whatever for it in their social scheme of things. It should be spurned and scorned, and any individual presenting himself as authorized or qualified to establish branches, ‘domains,’ camps or Klans should be made emphatically to understand that his local endeavors will be worse than wasted, and his objects are detested, and that his room [absence, space] is preferred to his company. The people of Utah have no taste or patience for such criminal nonsense, and there should be all plainness in making that fact known.” (July 23, 1921)

Historian Larry Gerlach writes:

“Faced with the prospect of the Klan becoming an actuality instead of an apparition, the Deseret News launched a devastating attack upon the secret order. That the News would lead the initial opposition to the establishment of the Klan was as predictable as it was significant. The secular oracle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Deseret News, through its editorials passed the opinions of the Mormon Church hierarchy on public affairs to the faithful;***

Given the long-standing opposition of the Mormon Church to the Ku Klux Klan for both secular and sectarian reasons, it is not surprising that the Deseret News viewed the coming of the Klan to Utah with ‘disapprobation and contempt’. (Blazing Crosses, p.24)

In April 1922, the Klan did open a chapter in Salt Lake City. The head of this chapter was Charles Kelly; son of a Baptist minister. Kelly himself was an Atheist, saying, “all religions are man-made and there is no such thing as a true religion.” (Blazing Crosses, p.29) He also once said:

“Why it is that everybody of whatever nationality or religion wants to kill a Jew on sight? I know why I want to kill them;¼.If the Jews are God’s chosen people, I hope God never chooses me.” (Blazing Crosses, p.29)

In July 1923, the Imperial Klanvocation [KKK convention] in Atlanta, Georgia, convened. The Imperial Grand Dragon of Wyoming addressed the assembled Klan delegates and told them that the Roman Catholic Church was not their #1 enemy, but:

“In the Realm of Utah and scattered over the west in general, we have another enemy, which is more subtle and far more cunning in carrying out his efforts against this organization [the Klan] ¼.the Latter Day Saint religion.” (Papers Read at the Meeting of Grand Dragons, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, July 1923, pp.112-3)

In 1923, in Ogden, Utah, the Klan formed its only other chapter. Ogden was nicknamed “Junction City” because it was the major railroad hub for the western United States. In the 1920s and 30s many blacks worked for the railroads as porters, cabmen, and cooks. Many in the west made their home in Ogden; which had a black population at the time of about 2,000 (out of a city population of about 30,000). Ogden was about half Mormon and half Gentile. Most of the Gentiles worked for the railroad or had something to do with the railroad. Mormons were primarily farmers.

The greatest promoter of the Klan in Ogden was Dr. Lemuel Addison Garrison, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ogden. Although not technically a member of the Klan himself, he promoted it He declared:

“The Klan is serving a great purpose in this country¼.there ought to be more Klans.” (Ogden Standard-Examiner, Sept. 24, 1923)

Like all Baptists of his day, Garrison believed Mormons to be dupes (deceived fools) of a false prophet (Joseph Smith) and the LDS Church a cult (false religion), and Mormons destined to burn in Hell forever.

On October 19, 1923, Garrison hosted a meeting of the Utah State Convention of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; an organization of Protestant women against the use and sale of alcohol. The County Attorney of Ogden, David J. Wilson, a Mormon, was invited to speak to the delegates about liquor sales and local laws. Instead, Wilson “aroused the delegates to a high state of tension” by attacking the Ku Klux Klan; calling it “un-American” and “a menace to the country.” (Ogden Standard-Examiner, October 20, 1923).

Just before the Ogden mayoral election, Mayor Frank A. Francis (a Mormon) declared:

“What a distressed country we would have if men generally were to nurse their religious and racial prejudices and personal hatreds, and inflict their bitterness of souls on their neighbors! I am opposed to the Ku Klux Klan because in spirit it is devoid of kindness and knows not charity of heart.” (Ogden Standard-Examiner, Nov. 5, 1923)

Mayor Francis was defeated by a pro-Klan candidate; a Gentile (non-Mormon).

By 1924 the KKK was at its height of power and prestige nationally. In almost every state of the Union the Klan was strong and powerful. However, Utah and Idaho were predominantly Mormon states. The New York Times reported on the Klan’s incredible strength in 1924, but added:

“In Utah and Idaho the masked order is without any foothold worthy [of] the name. It is said that there are a few Klan units in isolated spots, but they are negligible in number and in influence.” (New York Times, Oct. 19, 1924)

Most of the Klan officers in Utah were also officers in the Grand Masonic Lodge of Utah; a vehemently anti-Mormon organization (back then) which did not allow faithful Mormons to become members ;nor blacks or Catholics or Jews either. (Blazing Crosses, p.134)

In 1924 the Klan opened a small chapter in Logan, Utah; a city with 11,000 Gentiles but with a clear Mormon majority. The Logan Journal called for “the suppression of this menace,” and that the KKK should be “stamped out as a foe to constitutional government.” (Logan Journal, Aug. 27, 1924) The editor who wrote that was Augustus Gordon; a Mormon.

Faithful Latter-day Saints shunned the Klan like it was the plague. However, a few ‘Jack’ Mormons (inactive Members who don’t go to Church or follow Church leaders nor believe Church doctrines) did join. Larry R. Gerlach writes:

“Although some Mormons joined the Klan, they were few in number and essentially inactive Church members.” (Blazing Crosses, p.77)

Mormon Apostle George Albert Smith (later the 8th President of the Church) declared in October 1924:

“We may know that no man is a faithful member of this Church, in good standing, who [is also a member of the Klan].” (Blazing Crosses, p.105)

The Klan was preparing for a parade in Logan, and the Logan Journal heard of this and urged that the Klan “no more be permitted to parade public streets in gown and hood, than would masked bandits” and called for local laws against masked parades.(Logan Journal, Aug. 12, 1924). The Mayor and Logan City Council (all of them Mormons) soon afterwards enacted an ordinance making it “unlawful” for anyone to parade or appear in mask in Logan; with a $300 fine and 6 months in jail attached (Logan City Ordinance Record 4:315-6)

In 1925 the Klan in Salt Lake City was also contemplating a masked parade of its members. The Salt Lake City Council (a majority of whom were Mormons) enacted a city ordinance similar to that of Logan. At the December 23, 1925, meeting of the Salt Lake City Council, two Gentile Councilmen, Harry L. Finch and Herman H. Green, tried to get the anti-mask law revoked. When that fail, they demanded that the anti-mask ordinance be applied in all cases; including the fake beards worn by Santa Clauses around Salt Lake City every Christmas season. The Mormon councilmen reluctantly agreed, and during the next few days Salt Lake City policemen spent their time yanking the beards off of bewildered St. Nicks! (Blazing Crosses, p.121)

The Klan got involved in politics in Utah for the expressed stated purpose “to keep the Mormons from running everything.” (Blazing Crosses, p.140). Historian Larry Gerlach writes:

“The Klan’s adamant insistence upon the separation of church and state, which included opposition to sectarian control of the press and politics, sounded like a clarion call [of] anti-Mormonism in general and opposition to the dominance of the LDS Church in secular affairs.” (Blazing Crosses, p.139)

In 1935 Kellie declared:

“I really ought to move out of Utah to California, but if I did the Mormons would say they ran me out of Utah¼so I stay just to spite them.” (Pony Express Courier 4:3)

In the 1940s the Deseret News referred to the KKK as “American Storm Troopers” (after the German Storm Troopers who helped Adolf Hitler gain power), and commented that its reappearance was “a sad event for America” because “the Ku Klux Klan plague” contained “the virus which will sap the liberty and freedom of all Americans.” (Deseret News, July 29 1948)

In the 1960s the Deseret News referred to the KKK as “Bullies in Bedsheets” and declared that “it is time for the United States of America to stamp out such organized conspiracy and lawlessness.” (Deseret News, January 1, 1966)

On October 31, 1979, the Deseret News published an anti-Klan editorial called “Bigots in Bedsheets”:

“The Ku Klux Klan used to be confined almost entiredly to just the more bigoted and backward parts of the country. But after years of seeing its membership and influence decline, the Klan has mounted a recruiting drive that extends across the Midwest and into Utah, among other places.

In view of the KKK’s violent history, even a minor surge in Klan activity is cause for concern. Though the organization claims to have put on a more polite face in recent years, the same old sickness can still be found hiding beneath the hoods and bedsheets.

Just how sick the KKK remains can bee seen from some of the camps it holds for youths from 10 to as old as 17.

At one such camp near Birmingham, Alabama, for example, young people are said to be given firearms training and lectures on the purported inferiority of the non-white races in preparation for what the KKK calls ‘the upcoming race war.’

Last July, according to Life magazine, seven of the children of this camp participated in the burning of a school bus in Decatur, Alabama, to protest school desegregation.

When and where the KKK has thrived in the past, it has done so in areas characterized not only be prejudice, but also by ignorance and economic deprivation.

We’d like to think that the social soil and moral climate in Utah are anything but hospitable to this particularly vile weed.” (Deseret News, Oct. 31, 1979)

*Joseph Paul Franklin

On August 20, 1980, two young black men, Theodore L. Fields (age 20) and David L. Martin (age 18) were shot to death while walking with two 15 year old white girls near Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. All four belonged to the same Protestant church. The killings drew national attention, and many people in the African-American Community assumed a ‘Mormon’ had committed the murders; since Mormon ‘hated black folks’ and the shootings were in Salt Lake City.

The man who was eventually arrested for the killings (in October, 1980) was Joseph Paul Franklin; a drifter from Mobile, Alabama. Franklin was never a Mormon, and told police and FBI agents that he had been a Klan member in Alabama,  and was also a member of the American Nazi Party. When asked by reporters if he shot the black men because they were with white girls Franklin responded: “Oh, definitely¼I’m against race-mixing and Communism.” (Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 19, 1981).

Franklin was eventually connected with at least 20 separate killings in various states; including two young black teens  (aged 13 and 14) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Franklin had shot both dead while they were walking to the store to get some ice cream. All of Franklin’s murders were race-related. He is perhaps the most prolific racist serial killer in American history. He was finally caught by a task force of Salt Lake City police detectives and Salt Lake City FBI office agents; many of them Mormons.

One could honesty say that ‘Mormons’ captured the most anti-black white-racist serial killer in United States history.

*Conclusion

The LDS Church warned America in 1868 about the Klan and other white-supremacist groups; that the U.S. Government should "destroy" such secret combinations. But white America didn't listen. The LDS Church has been consistently Anti-KKK since that time.


Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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