What? Ku Klux Klan in Mendocino County? You bet! Unfortunately our county was no different than the rest of the USA in having a KKK presence over the last century.
First, thanks to the Fort Bragg Mendocino Coast Historical Society Spring 2018 story in “Voices of the Past” about Klan origins. The group originated in the South after the Civil War during Reconstruction. It appealed to whites who feared new laws giving equality to former slaves. Klansman wore masks with pointed hoods and long robes to hide their identities as they created terror, kidnapping, flogging and murdering “undesirables.”
Activities subsided until after WWI when economic, political and social turmoil caused KKK membership to explode. Jews and Roman Catholics were targeted along with blacks. Mendocino County had been settled after the Civil War by many southerners bringing their memories of Klan activities with them.
Old newspaper reports give readers what little information is available starting with an April 14, 1900 Mendocino Beacon clipping stating Caspar residents were greatly alarmed by burning crosses to the south. At first folks thought electric light poles had caught fire but someone stated it was the KKK making themselves known.
In a Ukiah Republican October 15, 1924 story. “Ku Klux Klan Sent Warning to Rancher—Has Shotguns Waiting—Farmer Wants Nothing But Peace—Prepares for Real War,” the headline stated. The jist of the story was an indignant rancher marching into the editor’s office waving the piece of mail he’d received. On salmon colored paper with a Klansman in full dress printed on it, the text said, “Justice: Be an American. Join the Klan!” There were more printed engravings on the back of the letter encouraging patriotism. The man who got the letter did not take it seriously and had no idea why it was sent to him but had his shotgun ready if Klansman showed up on his property.
The Ukiah Daily Journal reported a KKK branch organizing in a December 12, 1924 issue. “Those present were sworn to secrecy—50 or 60 in attendance—initiation for 25 to 30 in a few days—” Then the same newspaper reported on January 28, 1925 “The Ukiah KKK staged a spectacular demonstration with a large cross erected on a hill near the head of Clay Street and lighted after dark—it is presumed an initiation took place—” The Ukiah Republican on January 28, 1925 said “—nor is it certain who are the leaders in the movement—”
The Fort Bragg Advocate on March 4 of 1925 reported a demonstration on the streets of Fort Bragg with a fiery cross set ablaze on the north end of Franklin Street—a large crowd was attracted—then a mammoth cross was ablaze on Bald Hill near the summit. Using field glasses spectators said 200 people surrounded the cross in full regalia. The April 11, 1925 Mendocino Beacon said “…a fiery cross, symbol of the KKK was lighted and burned on the Little River road south of town plainly visible from this place—it was the first one seen in this section and created quite a bit of excitement—there are 100 KKK members in this vicinity…”
In a July 8, 1925 issue the Advocate stated, “a beautiful ceremony under the full moon took place in Anderson Valley near Boonville. Solemn and impressive white robed Klansman moved about in the glare of a fiery cross with 200 autos present. Women of the KKK, Knights of the KKK and American Krusaders were all initiated. In August the KKK had an advertisement in this newspaper stating they were protecting Protestant Christian religion, white supremacy, pure womanhood, laboring men, public schools, and that they had organized in Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties.”
“Open-Air Initiation of Klansman Held,” the October 14, 1925 headline of the Fort Bragg Advocate trumpeted! “A monster ceremony of the KKK held in Willits. From almost any vantage point could be seen a huge fiery cross looking down from the top of a high mountain north of Willits. The ceremony took place in the ballpark with almost a thousand spectators. A special train had been run from the Fort Bragg area.”
The Ukiah Dispatch Democrat reported in March 12, 1926 a 90-foot long blazing cross laid out on the hillside over Ukiah and a KKK representative said that had significance to KKK members and carried a message. In July of that year the Fort Bragg Advocate noted in a July 7 1926 issue, “Sunday flag raising exercises were held at City Hall. A new silk flag was donated by the American Legion and was raised on the large flagpole donated by the Knights of the KKK.”
So all the newspaper accounts this reporter could find featured installations and fiery crosses but there were no accounts of what, if anything, Klansman ever did in the county—other than donate a flagpole.
For decades there were very few people of color in this county who were not Native Americans. If the KKK were harassing people it was not reported to newspapers.