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A Closer Look at Indiana's Klan


Purpose of Lesson: This lesson illustrates Ku Klux Klan activities in Indiana during the 1920s

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Understand and explain basic Klan ideology: who was targeted
  • Understand the Klan's tie to Indiana in the 1920s
  • Connect Indiana's Klan to current events

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Fourth Grade Social Studies)


 4.1.11 Identify important events and movements that changed life in Indiana in the twentieth century

4.1.13 Organize and interpret timelines that show relationships among people, events, and movements in the history of Indiana University

4.1.14 Distinguish fact from opinion and fact from fiction in historical documents and other information resources

4.1.15 Using primary source and secondary source materials, generate question, seek answers, and write brief comments about an event in Indiana history

4.3.10 Read and interpret thematic maps—such as transportation, population, and products—to acquire information about Indiana in the present and the past

4.5.2 Identify different types of social groups to which people belong and the functions these groups perform


4.4.2 Select a focus, an organizational structure, and a point of view based upon purpose, audience, length, and format requirements for a piece of writing.

4.5.1 Write narratives (stories) that:

•  include ideas, observations, or memories of an event or experience.

•  provide a context to allow the reader to imagine the world of the event or experience.

•  use concrete sensory details.

4.7.1 Ask thoughtful questions and respond orally to relevant questions with appropriate elaboration.

4.7.11 Make narrative (story) presentations that:

•  relate ideas, observations, or memories about an event or experience.

•  provide a context that allows the listener to imagine the circumstances of the event or experience.

•  provide insight into why the selected event or experience should be of interest to the audience.

Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:

During the 1920s, five million Americans joined the Ku Klux Klan. Hoosiers turned out in record numbers, making Indiana 's Klan the largest, most enthusiastic, and most politically powerful Klan in the country. Between one-fourth and one-third of native-born white Hoosier males joined the group (see document 5), and there were auxiliary organizations for women and children. At its peak in 1925, Indiana 's Klan could boast more members than the Methodist Church, the state's leading denomination.

This “second” Klan was organized in 1915 in Atlanta . In 1920, the southern group began a national publicity campaign, and the first Indiana chapter opened in Evansville in the fall of that year. A few people joined, but then a huge membership drive led by D. C. Stephenson from 1922-1924 brought in 118,000 members across the state (see document 6). Stephenson moved to Indianapolis and started a newspaper, The Fiery Cross, which ran from December 1922 to February 1925. In 1924, Klan numbers overwhelmed the state's Republican Party and elected the governor (Ed Jackson), a majority in both houses of the legislature, and nearly all of the state's thirteen congressmen.

The Klan's legislative program for 1925—directed against parochial schools and Catholic influence in public schools—was a complete failure. But other problems proved more pressing. D. C. Stephenson, the leader (Grand Dragon) of the Klan in the state since 1923, was a charming personality and powerful orator; he was also arrogant, cunning, evil, and hedonistic. Early in 1925, he assaulted, raped, and held captive his young secretary Madge Oberholtzer, who took poison and died one month later. Stephenson was indicted, and when Governor Jackson (who had now distanced himself from the Klan) refused to pardon him, Stephenson leaked information that to Jackson 's trial for bribery (the governor was acquitted on a technicality).

As a political influence, the Klan faded quickly in Indiana, but its social and cultural influence dovetailed more subtly into Hoosier life. Klan literature capitalized on American racism, nativism, patriotism, and traditional moral and family values. Klan members targeted blacks, Catholics, and Jews, but also immigrants, political radicals, feminists, intellectuals, gamblers, bootleggers, thrill-seeking teenagers, and motion picture producers (see document 7). In one sense, Indiana's Klan was a populist organization: it engaged community interests, presented a program of action, and promised political changes. The Klan's message of patriotism, American superiority, and Protestant Christianity united native-born Hoosiers across many lines—gender, geography (north and south), class (white and blue collar), religious (many denominations of Protestants), and residential (urban and rural). But this populist club also propagated a negative and wicked influence. Historians have found no documentary evidence to directly link Hoosier Klan members to lynchings in Indiana, but their marches, burned crosses, brazen publications, and boycotts of community businesses evoked fear, intimidation, and lifelong trauma (see documents 2-4). Historian James Madison has observed that Indiana's Klan “cannot be dismissed as either an aberration or as simply the insidious appeal of a fanatical few. Nor should the Klan be seen as thoroughly dominating the state and accurately reflecting racist, violent, or provincial beliefs shared for all time by all Hoosiers” ( The Indiana Way, 291). Somewhere in the middle we find the meaning of the Klan in Indiana history.

Lutholtz, M. William. Grand Dragon: D. C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. West Lafayette, Ind., 1991.

Madison, James H. The Indiana Way : A State History. 1986; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. [Pp. 289-95 provide an overview of the 1920s Klan in Indiana]

Moore, Leonard J. Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana ,1921-1928. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1991. [A social and statistical analysis of Klan appeal and activity]

Trelease, Allen W. White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction. New York, 1971. [Standard history of the post-Civil War Klan]


Lesson Activities and Assessment:

1. Self-start. Show a picture of the Klan and ask: What is this about? Who is targeted? What do you know? Discuss with the class.

2. Vocabulary activity. Explain or define the words with a matching activity: adulterer, bootlegger, Christian, immigrant, Ku Klux Klan, nativism, parochial school, prohibition, Protestant, Roaring Twenties, Roman Catholic, segregation

3. Thought questions. How many Hoosier joined the Klan? Why was the Klan so popular? What appealed to people? Who did the Klan target? What did they do? What did victims experience? What does the Klan mean to Indiana history? What does it mean to Indiana residents in 2006?

4. Writing. After reading the reminiscence of the Klan parade (document 4), write a possible discussion between Ralph Dolezal and his parents after he returned home from the parade. Assume the character of Ralph (write in first person) and discuss what it means to the family, to the town, how you feel about going to school, how you will interact with other kids.

5. Symbols. Identify the visual symbols used by the Klan. What do they mean? Research other forms of propaganda online. Write a page comparing Klan symbols with symbols from other time periods.

6. Oral history. Find out the percentage of Klan participation in your county (document 5). Interview people in the community about Klan activities they have heard about.

7. Field trip. View the Thomas Hart Benton Murals at the Indiana University auditorium and Woodburn Hall. Should the picture of the Klan continue to be displayed in a public building?

Historical Documents:

1. Photo of Klan Members in Robes

2. Photo of a Fiery Cross

3. Photo of a Klan Parade

4. A Klan Victim Remembers a Parade Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

5. Map of Indiana Klan Membership by County

6. Chart of Membership Growth of the Indiana Klan

7. Historian James Madison's discussion of Klan Enemies

8. Accounting for the Klan