Mayor thwarted plan for KKK parade

In May 1923, The Ramsey News-Journal newspaper reported that seven hooded Knights of the Ku Klux Klan entered the Christian Church at Herrick and presented the pastor with $50 for the church building fund.
It was generally believed they were members of the Ramsey Klan, although it had been reported that there was a goodly number of the Klan in and around Herrick.
Two weeks earlier, 18 robed Klansmen entered the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, 3 miles east of Ramsey, and presented their pastor with $15, along with a letter that “showed that they are supporters to the cause of Christ…and the people were glad to know this order seems to be doing very much good for the poor and needy as well as cleaning up the country…”
Founded in Pulaski, Tenn., in 1866 as a social group for war veterans, it wasn’t long before many Southerners hid behind the front of the Klan and began to terrorize former slaves. Their actions grew so violent that congress passed the Forces Bill in 1871, which gave the president the power to suppress the Klan.
In 1928, the name was changed to the Knights of the Great Forest, but was widely known as the KKK. It was estimated in that during the 1920s, Klan membership was between four and six million. They practiced intimidation of Klan-targeted minority groups.
In 1944, the Klan formally dissolved as a national body because of unpaid back taxes. It is said the anti-horse-thief associations, which sprung up around the county, were offshoots of the Klan.
The late Mary Burtschi was a youthful witness to renewed Klan activity in Vandalia. Her father, Joseph, was Vandalia’s mayor from 1910 to 1925, and belonged to one of the Klan’s targeted groups, being a Catholic.
Mary remembered that in 1920, during the time her father was serving as mayor, there was much excitement surrounding an upcoming parade of what she and her sister, Josephine, and brother, Leo, called bedsheet ghosts that would march by their house carrying torches.
The three children each chose their vantage point on the front porch of the family home on the corner of Sixth and Randolph streets, and with anticipation waited for the day of the parade.
Mary remembered one evening when Mr. Cooper, a city councilman, visited the house and said, “Joe, those fellows really intend to burn a cross in your yard.” Her father hurriedly showed him into another room, so that she could not hear the conversation.
When the telephone rang more often, she sensed the situation was becoming serious. Conversations between her parents hushed when she entered a room, although her father retained an outward calm.
As the day for the parade drew closer, tension mounted. A school classmate told Mary that the bedsheet hoodlums might even capture her father.
The city council members worried because the mayor had given permission for the group to march through Vandalia’s streets.
As mayor, he could not forbid the group from assembling and marching, but he could have the streets oiled, which he did.

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