Racism Less Than a Century Ago: Oklahoma Governor Jack Walton Vs. the Ku Klux Klan

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Jack C. Walton, a progressive Democrat and Oklahoma’s fifth Governor, went to war against the racist Ku Klux Klan in 1923. Unfortunately for Walton, he also shredded Oklahoma’s State Constitution in the process and was impeached and thrown out of office before the year ended.

Jack C. Walton, Oklahoma's 5th Governor, both inaugurated and impeached in 1923.

Jack C. Walton, Oklahoma’s 5th Governor, both inaugurated and impeached in 1923.

Governor Walton was the only politician in the state who was willing to speak out publicly against the Klan that year. The KKK groups were a lot more powerful in that era than most people realize. If you’re a historian, sure, but the rest of us?

Not likely.

The problem was widespread throughout the United States, as documented in Time Capsule/1923, a book published by Time Incorporated. (All following quotations are from that volume.) True, Oklahoma’s Klan had gained a great deal of strength following the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921, and that state’s hooded night riders were asking for it, according to Governor Walton.

October 1 Upheaval in Oklahoma: Oklahoma vibrated. Governor Walton set out to fight the Klan, which he declared was responsible for 2,500 floggings in twelve months. His soldiers appeared, and the Klan disappeared. But large sections of the press and Oklahoma’s legislators rose up to fight the Governor. Censorship was placed on several newspapers, but the legislators were not so easily controlled. They began moves to impeach the Governor for usurpation of authority; Governor Walton threatened to jail them if they met.
__page 37

November 5 A Governor suspended: The Oklahoma legislature passed a bill of impeachment against Governor Walton and a resolution suspending him and making the Lieutenant Governor official head of the State. When Mr. Walton took the question to court, the State Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that Mr. Walton must stay suspended.
__page 37

Excerpts from page 37, Time Capsule/1923, by Time Incorporated.  The first entry is dated October 1 and the second is dated November 5.

Excerpts from page 37, Time Capsule/1923, by Time Incorporated. The first entry is dated October 1 and the second is dated November 5.

One particularly grim post in the book comes from Florida, where State Senator Wicker justified his lone legislative vote against a measure designed to stop the delivery of convict labor to turpentine camps with the following statement:

March 24 FLORIDA: …”There are two things I know about–mules and Niggers. Corporal punishment is the only way a convict Nigger can be controlled!
__page 32 “

From page 32, Time Capsule/1923, by Time Incorporated.  The post is dated March 24.

From page 32, Time Capsule/1923, by Time Incorporated. The post is dated March 24.

Texas Ku Klux Klan action made it into the Time Capsule book that year, too–not for physical violence, but in joyous recognition of racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Catholicism all wrapped up into one impressively misogynistic speech. In 1923, the Klan was so widely accepted in Texas that the Texas State Fair at Dallas devoted one entire day to said Klan. None other than Imperial Wizard H. W. Evans made the keynote speech; the published excerpt is included in the image below.

From page 38, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated, dated November 5.

From page 38, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated, dated November 5.

From page 28, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated (continuation of above entry).

From page 28, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated (continuation of above entry).

Obviously, Imperial Wizard Evans had his head up his hood. Ninety years after his speech, we have an “assimilated President” serving his second term in the Oval Office.

But wait. There’s more. Lest we get the impression that Klan activity was confined to relatively southern states in 1923, Time Capsule/1923 includes an Oregon entry:

March 10 OREGON: Governor Walter Pierce and Mayor Baker of Portland spoke on “Americanism” at a Ku Klux Klan dinner given for the Grand Dragon of Oregon.

Image from page 31, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated.  The entry is dated March 10.

Image from page 31, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated. The entry is dated March 10.

There are those who would say, “So what? That was ninety-one years ago! As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2013 about four Americans being killed in Benghazi in 2012, what difference does it make?!”

Of course, folks who take that attitude won’t be reading this post, anyway–but here’s a news flash: It makes a lot of difference. As we know, those who forget (or ignore) history are doomed to repeat it. Beyond that, while 91 years may sound like the era of the dinosaur to a twenty year old consumed with consumer gadgets, legal pot in Colorado, and how to conquer the opposite (or same) sex…it’s really not that long ago at all.

In fact, there are a few citizens still around who were alive when all this ultra-blatant racism (and anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism) was going on. My own father was one year old at the time, and my mother was a nine year old girl in–get this–Oregon.

Precisely 20 years after the forced convict labor at the turpentine camps was outlawed, I was born–in Florida.

And if I, who grew up as a Montana cowboy, find myself that close to the issue…what about those whose parents might have felt the lash in Oklahoma or, for that matter, any number of other states? The wounds are a lot fresher than some of us would like to admit.

I’m hardly a progressive Democrat, certainly no Jack C. Walton–in fact, I’m a registered Republican and Tea Party activist. But bullsh*t is bullsh*t, people are people, and reviewing the entries found in Time Capsule/1923 has led me to one inescapable conclusion:

A loudmouth publicity hog like Reverend Al Sharpton may not be my cup of tea, but I can’t judge him. Though I wouldn’t be one to back away from a polling site patrolled by New Black Panther intimidators, I can’t judge them either.

Without a shred of doubt, there are men and women living today who have seen with their own eyes atrocities perpetrated by Klan members–or, lacking that, the atrocity committed by two Wyoming homophobes when they crucified a young gay man on a barbed wire fence in the middle of an icy winter, leaving him to bleed and freeze to death, all in one.

The Time Capsule books have some mighty ugly historical entries…but they have some that can be viewed in a much lighter vein, too. Here’s one such image of three Capsule entries, included simply to lift your spirits so that you don’t leave this page too depressed or angry to ever return.

Unsurprisingly, these entries all involve the other gender, the ladies, who tend on the whole to demonstrate a greater level of common sense than we men do, but…insisting on the right to go to jail?

You be the judge.

From page 33, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated.  Pennsylvania entry dated March 14; Texas and Washington entries dated May 28.

From page 33, Time Capsule/1923, Time Incorporated. Pennsylvania entry dated March 14; Texas and Washington entries dated May 28.

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2 thoughts on “Racism Less Than a Century Ago: Oklahoma Governor Jack Walton Vs. the Ku Klux Klan

  1. I find it appalling that people were once judged, persecuted and limited by their race, creed or gender. I just don’t get it. I’m glad that has all changed. I know discrimination still exists – and probably always will – but it just makes no sense to me. We are all human. Isn’t that enough to allow us all to dream, prosper, learn, share and love?

  2. Obviously not. Color me a cynic, but one of my standard responses when asked about such things is this:

    “There will always be discrimination. If you take any three people at random and put them together at dawn, two of them will be plotting and scheming against the third by noon.”

    That’s not literally accurate, of course–but contains more than a seed of truth. We humans seem to be able to find as many “important” differences in each other than there are stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach. Which is why, when someone comes along who is able to find the things we have in common rather than the things we do not, he or she is often dubbed a “true leader” (and also, just as often, reviled by those who see that person as a sellout to their personally treasured values).

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