Loud gunshots rip through the early morning air and fill the streets with sounds reminiscent of a battlefield. Explosions of gunfire drown out the shouts of curses and slurs, creating a deafening cacophony of noise. Cars lay on their sides along the road; the contents of their trucks spilling from them like white wounds. Chaos reigns on the streets of Niles, Ohio. These are the images and sounds experienced by Niles’ citizens during the climatic event known as the Niles Riot.
On the morning of November 1, 1925, Klansmen and Catholic immigrants fought on the streets of Niles, Ohio. Descriptions of gun fire, car flipping, and threats of lynching filled newspaper articles after the riot, illustrating the scene of intense anger and violence. The Niles Riot, the climax of nearly two years of hostility between the Mahoning Valley Klan and the local Catholic’s anti-Klan opposition, is a defining moment in the anti-Klan movement. Anti-Klan activists opposed the growing influence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Mahoning Valley, an area of Northeast Ohio that contains parts of both Mahoning and Trumbull Counties. For citizens of these two counties, tensions caused by the newly arriving Catholic immigrants against the Protestant natural-born citizens of the area became the root of Klan influence and the subsequent immigrant-led, anti-Klan movement.
The heavy role that Protestantism, and its relationship with idealistic Americanism, played in the Northern Klan’s growth explains the strong anti-Klan motivation among immigrants and Catholic groups throughout the North. Political cartoons and other contemporary forms of media provide substantial evidence of the Mahoning Valley Klan’s obsession with one hundred percent Americanism and perceived guardianship of Protestant morals. This is demonstrated in two cartoons published in the early 1920s: a political cartoon published in the Youngstown Citizen, the Ku Klux Klan newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio during the 1920s; and the cover of the American Unity League pamphlet.1 Americanism is the allegiance to the traditions, institutions, and ideals of the United States. How the term is applied depends on an individual’s or group’s preferred customs or ideals. The Ku Klux Klan praised Protestantism, white superiority, and natural-born status. For the purposes of this paper the concept of Americanism also becomes intermingled with common American ideals like freedom, liberty, and patriotism. This understanding of Americanism is demonstrated from both the Klan and Catholic immigrant perspectives in the political cartoons published in the KKK newspaper and American Unity League pamphlet.
Both images illustrate Klansmen in their infamous white robes, but each differs in their interpretation. In the Youngstown Citizen political cartoon, the Klansman is depicted holding an American flag and standing arm-in-arm with Lady Liberty. In the background, a man labeled “The Rough Neck,” referring to an individual that performs manual labor specifically in the oilfield or to describe a generally rough and uncouth person, is raising his fist and demanding the Klansman unmask. In the second panel, the Klansman tears away his robe to reveal himself to be Uncle Sam and the ruffian runs away. The Klan advocated for one hundred percent Americanism, viewing Protestant values as equivalent to the morals of democracy. By depicting Uncle Sam as a Klansman, a figure that represents “Americanist” values of whiteness, Protestant, and masculinity, the Klan is stating that their organization stands for these values; as such, the illustration becomes a political statement about the Klan and its place in that period of American culture.
The cover of the Is Your Neighbor a Kluxer? pamphlet, which illustrates an injured World War I soldier smiling and gesturing a thumbs-up sign with a Klansman standing behind the soldier in his white robes labeled “100% American,” significantly contrasts the previously explored extreme patriotism. The implication of the illustration suggests that a true American fights for their country and defends its principles instead of parading in masks and claiming to be one hundred percent American based purely on blood and ethnicity, while prioritizing race and natural born status over acts of bravery and patriotism. The concept of an American being defined by outward actions of patriotism instead of natural birth appealed to immigrant groups because the idea opened the doors for immigrants to gain acceptance by believing in and practicing American ideals.
The underlying theme of the conflict between the Klan and the anti-Klan groups, ultimately, revolves around this principle of “true Americanism.”2 This ideal became the driving force behind all the actions taken by the Klan and the immigrants as they peacefully and violently opposed one another. Essentially, this philosophical discussion regarding the definition of what a “true American” is, provides the framework for the larger story involving the Catholic immigrant population of the Mahoning Valley and their resistance against the KKK. As discussed in Dr. William Jenkins’s article, “The Ku Klux Klan in Youngstown, Ohio: Moral Reform in the Twenties”, the Klan gained influence within the Mahoning Valley, located in eastern Ohio, due to the Mahoning Valley citizens’ concern for Protestant moral reform and the rapid change in the Mahoning Valley’s ethnic demographics following the increased immigration of eastern and southern Europeans.3 Following the KKK’s appearance in the Mahoning Valley, the Klan quickly became a political force in Youngstown and Niles.
However, despite the Klan’s political success and sizable membership in the Mahoning Valley during the 1920s, Catholic immigrants did not passively accept the Klan’s presence. Anti-Klan individuals and organizations within the Mahoning Valley spoke out and fought back against the Klan ideologies through non-violent means, such as newspaper articles and tactical unmaskings of KKK members. Tensions occasionally escalated into the violent attacks, best illustrated by the Niles Riot of 1924. Ultimately, non-violent and violent anti-Klan tactics resulted in the rapid decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the Mahoning Valley, allowing Catholic immigrants more space to be recognized as “true Americans.”
In the eyes of the Catholic immigrants, being viewed as an American relied more on outward patriotism and belief in American ideals. As the previous political cartoon illustrates, the idea of putting natural-born status before the characteristics and behaviors of a soldier is absurd. The Klan’s discrimination of Catholic immigrants challenged this view of Americanism and attempted to restrict immigrant opportunities for acceptance into American society, treating them as separate and unworthy. The anti-Klan movement became a way to validate the immigrant beliefs and claims of true Americanism for Catholics in the Mahoning Valley. By using both passive and violent tactics, those dedicated to the anti-Klan cause successfully pushed the KKK from the Mahoning Valley and allowed themselves a chance to gain more respect as Americans while also discouraging further disrespect towards their immigrant identity.
The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s receives a substantial amount of historical discussion among American historians. Academic research of the 1920s Klan originates from research completed by Emerson H. Loucks in 1936.4 These earlier studies sought to offer explanations and debated the reasons for the collapse of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan, citing internal decay as the cause for the Klan’s declining membership between 1925–1930. Loucks’s 1936 study, The Ku Klux Klan in Pennsylvania, focused specifically on the history of the organization in the state of Pennsylvania but blames financial mismanagement and fading nativist attitudes for the Klan’s collapse.5 Presently, there has been virtually no academic focus toward anti-Klan groups or the role they played in the decline of the KKK. Without research and discussion of the actions taken by anti-Klan groups, the explanation for the 1920’s Klan collapse will not be fully answered, which this paper seeks to resolve.
Due to the Stephenson scandal, which plagued the final years of the 1920s Klan, the organization remained largely ignored in serious historical research until the 1960s.6 The studies completed by David Chalmers in 1965 and Kenneth Jackson in 1967 described the Ku Klux Klan as a multifaceted monster of an organization, with motivations and concerns specific to local levels of operation.7 On the whole, the Klan upheld the practices of white supremacy, anti-Catholicism, and nativism with concern for public morality.8 This concept of the KKK went on to inspire further interpretation of the Klan’s locality, which is extremely relevant within this paper as it pertains to Northeast Ohio.
In many ways, the growth of the Mahoning Valley Klan and the subsequent anti-Klan movement, aligns closely with the trends of the Northern Klan. Regional studies of the Ku Klux Klan appeared in the 1960s with the publication of Charles Alexander’s book, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest. Alexander focused on the Klan in the southwestern region of the United States.9 The earlier mentioned works of Chalmers and Jackson also touched on the Northern Klan as both Chalmers’s Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan and Jackson’s The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930 were comprehensive histories of the KKK throughout the United States. Jackson even discusses the Mahoning Valley when examining the Niles Riot, though little attention is given to the anti-Klan forces involved in the event.10
William Jenkins took Chalmers’s and Jackson’s view of the 1920s Klan and focused on how it applied specifically to the Mahoning Valley in his paper, “The Ku Klux Klan in Youngstown, Ohio: Moral Reform in the Twenties” published in 1978. Ultimately, Jenkins agrees with Chalmers and Jackson that the Klan influence relied on the local concerns of an area.11 However, Jenkins further claims that the Mahoning Valley Klan gained attention and power from expectations that the Klan could secure more enforcement of existing laws relating to the morals of the community. Jenkins’s interpretation of the Mahoning Valley Klan’s motives plays a significant part of my research and defense of the anti-Klan’s motivations. However, the anti-Catholic motivations of the Klan and the part those motivations played in spurring the anti-Klan advocates continued to go overlooked within his 1978 article.
While the major approach for Klan insertion into the Mahoning Valley remains primarily focused on enforcement of morality laws, it is important not to forget the nativist and anti-Catholic ideologies at the core of the organization that stimulated prejudice towards the increasing number of Catholic immigrants in the Mahoning Valley. Within this paper, I tackle the Klan’s more anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant motivations as seen in political cartoons. By recognizing the Klan’s extreme Protestant ideals and their anti-Catholic principles, the provocation of the anti-Klan movement becomes clearer.
Later scholarly works that began appearing in the 1990s, such as “Unmasking the Ku Klux Klan: The Northern Movement against the KKK, 1920–1925” by David Goldberg, focus on the Northern Klan as a separate entity to the wider, national level Klan but also look into the anti-Klan elements of the organization’s history. This provides more explanation for the Klan’s ideologies, motives, and activities in the northern region of the United States.12 The article also begins the conversation of anti-Klan opposition tactics and organizations, like the American Unity League. The anti-Klan group, Knights of the Flaming Circle, receives a brief mention though.
In modern historical analysis of the Klan, there remains a lack of research and interpretation of the role of anti-Klan movements in the broader history of the Northern Klan and the Mahoning Valley. Steel Valley Klan by William Jenkins and a dissertation by Jonathon Kinser both address this gap in historical research by discussing the overlooked Knights of the Flaming Circle organization.13 The first mention of the Knights of the Flaming Circle appears in Bloody Williamson: A Chapter in American Lawlessness, a book written by Paul M. Angle discussing the often-violent history of Williamson County in southern Illinois. However, the acknowledgement of the anti-Klan group in the book remained brief.14 Kinser suggests that the lack of in-depth historical research on anti-Klan organizations comes from a scarcity of primary sources.15 In the context of the Mahoning Valley, Jenkins’s Steel Valley Klan provides the most comprehensive discussion of the Knights of the Flaming Circle and the anti-Klan movement until Kinser’s dissertation.
Jenkins’s book focuses primarily on the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan, but he does touch on the anti-Klan and their relationship to the Niles Riot. However, the role that Catholic immigrants played in the decline of the Mahoning Valley Klan goes overlooked in both Jenkins’s 1978 paper and his 1990 book. In 2017, Jonathon Kinser’s dissertation, “Beneath the Smoke of the Flaming Circle: Extinguishing the Fiery Cross of the 1920s Klan in the North,” started from Jenkins’s preexisting work and focused specifically on the anti-Klan movement and its role in the 1920s Northern Klan collapse, looking specifically at the Mahoning Valley and Williamson County, Illinois. Kinser highlights the anti-Klan movement and discusses the groups that formed to take down the Klan.
In this article, I explore the immigrants’ part in the anti-Klan opposition and how their actions both directly and indirectly brought about the decline of the Mahoning Valley KKK. By exploring the role immigrants played in leading anti-Klan action, I highlight an aspect of the Mahoning Valley’s local history that often goes overlooked. Using both Jenkins’s and Kinser’s works, this article aims to create a comprehensive history of the Mahoning Valley Klan rise and fall from power that also focuses on the Catholic immigrant resistance. This article also aims to build a bridge between existing research pertaining to the Mahoning Valley Klan’s collapse and broader anti-Klan research. I will also use my primary research to look closer at the motivations of the Catholic immigrants that challenged the Klan. The immigrant response to the rise of the Klan in the Mahoning Valley and the tactics utilized to bring down the organization are topics that must be explored. This paper will tackle these questions and create a cohesive story of the tensions between the Mahoning Valley Klan and the Catholic immigrants within the area.
Klan Origins in the Northern United States
The original KKK formed in the Reconstruction era of the Southern United States to oppose the free Black community and their growing liberties, while also fighting to maintain absolute white supremacy. Founded by ex-Confederates, the organization operated through vigilante justice against freed Black people and white radical Republicans. The Ku Klux Klan’s acts of violence included mass murder, lynching, whipping, and rape against freed Black people, who attempted to achieve rights equal to white Southerners. The public acts of violence resulted in the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871, which allowed law enforcement to enact measures to restrict Klan activity and shifted the Klan out of the public eye.16
Inspired by the Klan’s “origin story” as told in the commercially successful but divisive 1915 silent film, A Birth of a Nation, Colonel William J. Simmons founded a new iteration of the Klan later the same year.17 Born in Harpersville, Alabama, Simmons grew up surrounded by Civil War romanticism, shared comradery of Confederate veterans, and the “Lost Cause” narrative, sparking his desire to resurrect the KKK later in his life.18 Simmons’ goal in reestablishing the Ku Klux Klan revolved primarily around creating a fraternal experience for the new generation. The new Klan acted as a brotherhood united by fraternalism, nativism, and moralism but still upheld a focus on white supremacy. The second Klan expanded the focus beyond the concerns of Southern whites and instead became committed to maintaining law and their notion of Protestant morality.19 However, the emphasis put on the Klan’s distaste of Catholic immigrants should not overshadow the foundational anti-Black racism at the core of the organization’s principles. Despite the Northern Klan’s redirection towards immigrants, the second Klan still engaged in racial violence throughout the 1920s. In contrast with the Reconstruction era Klan, the second Ku Klux Klan grew largely from Simmons’ intent to create a money making enterprise.20 Simmons’ goal of resurrecting the KKK into the twentieth century remained unsuccessful; the organization failed to attract attention or spread outside of Georgia and Alabama until 1921.
The failure of the new Klan to gain attention came mostly from the poor promotion of the organization. Lacking advertising and financial knowledge, Simmons looked towards an advertising firm in Atlanta for help and hired Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler to guide the development of the new Klan.21 Clarke and Tyler’s marketing campaign, targeted at white, native-born, Protestant men, managed to add approximately ninety thousand members throughout the United States.22 The marketing and advertising aspects of the early 1920s Klan demonstrate how the organization functioned primarily as a business venture.
Further establishing the business-like structure of the 1920s KKK, Klan leaders created the position of “Kleagle” to recruit new members in different cities throughout the United States.23 However, the social issues and public concerns changed from city to city, so the Kleagles needed to tailor their recruitment speeches to each individual town they visited. The “traveling salesman” approach left the organization disjointed in its overall mission. Ku Klux Klan chapters across the country held different missions and principles.
For the Mahoning Valley, joining the Klan involved a desire to protect the strict Protestant principles against increased immigration.24 For the Mahoning Valley Klan, Protestant fundamentalism equated to a moral and pure America. Prior to the 1900s, the Mahoning Valley’s primary population consisted of American-born descendants of British and German settlers and immigrants. Their largely Protestant heritage brought about a strongly conservative moral code among citizens of the Mahoning Valley. The increase in vice practices, such as bootlegging and gambling, during the 1920s, challenged society’s moral code.25 Immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought an influx of Catholic immigrants, resulting in a strong desire from the Protestant citizens of the Mahoning Valley to safe-guard their Protestant practices.
The dramatic changes that the city experienced following the rapid industrialization of the area led to a growing concern for moral reform, allowing the KKK to enter the conscience of the large Mahoning Valley cities. Youngstown, specifically, expressed dissatisfaction in the enforcement of prohibition laws, likely due to the city’s declining financial situation. Citizens blamed corrupt government and inadequate officials for the unsuccessful crackdown on bootleggers, leading to the June 1923 passing of the home-rule charter for the city of Youngstown. The charter strengthened the Protestant morals of the community and gave Youngstown citizens the right to change their government structure, specifically relating to political parties.26 The growing concern over vice, the extreme Protestant beliefs of the area, and the Ku Klux Klan all intersected in the Mahoning Valley to create an extremely tense atmosphere during the early 1920s.
The Mahoning Valley Klan used the existing concerns of vice and law enforcement to gain influence and power in the large Mahoning Valley cities. The Klan promised to clean up the Mahoning Valley and keep out the “riff raff” that threatened Protestant morals. A political cartoon printed in the Youngstown Citizen successfully illustrates the idea of the Klan acting as guards for the Mahoning Valley.27 The cartoon focuses specifically on Mahoning County, representing the county as a wall with a gate. A Klan member, in full hood and robe garb, stands at a gate and gestures threateningly towards the undesirables: bootleggers, gamblers, strikers, and thugs. The clear message of the cartoon is cemented with the title, “Get Out And Keep Out.”28 The Mahoning Valley Klan viewed itself as the guardian of the Mahoning Valley’s morals. The significance of the titles given to the exiled individuals depicted within the cartoon often shared associations with immigrants and Catholics, most notably bootleggers and strikers.
In the eyes of the Klan, any non-white, Protestant, native-born individual posed a threat to the Mahoning Valley. The fear of non-Protestant influence and the breakdown of Protestant values became more recognizable as the demographics of the entire Mahoning Valley began to change following industrial growth in major cities.29 Reflective of the national immigrant population, the Mahoning Valley saw a dramatic influx of southern and eastern Europeans in the early 1900s.30 Drawn by the availability of jobs in the steel industry, the area grew exponentially in twenty years, resulting in a highly multiethnic community.31 Inevitably, changing demographics led to the spread of new ideas and values that challenged the Protestant way of life.
Immigration Trends in Mahoning and Trumbull County
Just as the wider United States experienced changing immigration trends around the turn of the twentieth century, the Mahoning Valley witnessed changing demographics as the immigrant population began to rise in Northeastern Ohio. In 1860, the foreign-born population within the two Mahoning Valley counties remained under fifteen percent.32 By 1880, the percent of immigrants in the Mahoning Valley population saw an increase, though only by a small margin; in Trumbull County the foreign-born population rose to nineteen percent and in Mahoning County the population rose to twenty-one percent. The majority of the first immigrant wave arrived from England, Wales, Germany, Scotland, and Ireland.33 Most of the early immigrant groups religiously practiced Protestantism. The Irish experienced discrimination by native-born Americans and other immigrant groups, due to their Catholicism.34 The arrival of Italians to the Mahoning Valley added to the anti-Catholic rhetoric among native-born citizens.
The cultural differences between northern and southern Europeans, specifically the practice of Catholicism instead of Protestantism, became clearer as the number of southern Europeans, especially Italians, grew within the Mahoning Valley. The first recorded Italian immigrants that arrived in the Mahoning Valley appear on the 1890 census records. The combined Italian population of the Mahoning Valley grew from 2,494 foreign-born Italians in 1900 to 6,433 foreign-born Italians in 1910. By 1920, the combined foreign-born Italian population reached 10,074, approximately four percent of the entire population.35 Meanwhile, as the southern and eastern European population increased, the old stock foreign-born immigrant numbers declined.36 Over the course of approximately forty years, the percentage of foreign-born to native-born inhabitants changed. For example, in Trumbull County, native-born of native-born parentage held the majority with 58.37 percent, but the percentage of those with at least a portion of foreign lineage remained high with 40.29 percent; in Mahoning County 56.34 percent of the population fit the criteria of at least partially foreign.37 The increase of immigrants and partially foreign individuals threatened native-born control and the status quo of the Mahoning Valley.
The immigration patterns seen in the Mahoning Valley reflect national trends of changes in national ethnic demographics. In the early 1900s, the massive waves of southern and eastern European immigrants disrupted the ethno-racial composition of the United States much in the same way as in the Mahoning Valley. Between 1880 and 1920, 23.5 million foreign-born individuals immigrated into the United States, demonstrating the typical nature of immigrant expansion in the Mahoning Valley.38 In the Mahoning Valley, the rapid increase in immigration fueled the native-born population’s xenophobic fears and spurred the Klan’s anti-immigrant campaign, reflective of the greater United States and KKK organization.
The Northern Ku Klux Klan saw immigrants, especially Catholic immigrants, as the largest threat to Protestantism and by extension American democracy. Klan propaganda negatively associated immigrants with crime and poor economic situations due to their position as easy scapegoats.39 The stereotypical perception that immigrants brought different traditions and opinions of government incited a fear among native-born citizens. Immigrants bring customs specific to their nationalities, from less contentious traditions, like food, to more contentious traditions, like religion. Ideas of government that conflict with democracy or a differing expectation of American liberty also intimidated native-born citizens. For many native-born citizens, outside perspectives and ideas threatened existing practices within the United States.
In a passionate argumentative pamphlet, entitled The Attitude of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Towards Immigration, Dr. H.W. Evans explains the reasoning behind the KKK’s detestation of the immigrant population. Written as a case for more restriction in immigration policy, Evans states “America must close the door to the diseased minds and bodies and souls of the peoples of foreign lands.”40 Throughout the pamphlet, Evans represents immigrants as greedy, ignorant, and unskilled. Evans accused the immigrant populace of being after American money with no intent of becoming true citizens. The pamphlet also addresses the concern that immigrants would not assimilate to American culture and concludes by explaining Protestant Americans’ responsibility to educate immigrants on the fundamentals of true American liberty.41 Evans’s belief in the Protestants’ responsibility to educate also provides more evidence as to how interwoven fundamentalism became with the concepts of anti-immigration and anti-Catholicism.42
Allowing only native-born Protestant men into their organization, the Klan promoted and exemplified pure and “true Americanism.” To many Klansmen, democracy and American culture equated to Protestant culture. Therefore, anti-Catholicism remains rooted in the belief that the United States is a Protestant country.43 Catholics indirectly challenged and threatened Protestant ideals, making them a clear target of Klan antagonization. Ultimately, the Klan became a self-determined Protestant defender.44 The negative attitude felt towards Catholics within the United States served as a justification for the Klan and the organization’s behavior towards the Catholic population.
Protestantism Versus Catholicism
Broadly-speaking, within the context of United States history, anti-Catholic religious tensions occurred due to the Protestant roots of the nation’s founding. Catholicism’s drastic differences in religious practices include ceremonial customs, such as the Eucharist and their commitment to the Papacy. These traditions isolated the Catholic Church from the other Christian denominations in the United States. On a political level, the New York governor Al Smith’s unsuccessful bid for Democratic presidential candidate in 1924 best illustrated anti-Catholic sentiment felt in the United States during the 1920s. Following Smith’s failure, the Klan gathered and burned an effigy of Smith showcasing the extreme opposition of Catholics on the part of the KKK.45 The political failure of Catholic candidates demonstrates a resistance to non-Protestant influence in places of power. The unease towards Catholic tradition persisted for much of United States history.
As seen by the development of auxiliary groups in the Mahoning Valley, the Klan leaned more heavily towards Catholic immigrants as targets of Klan antagonization than the general immigrant population of the area. The Mahoning Valley Klan’s more accepting nature towards auxiliary groups formed by Protestant immigrants and even Protestant African Americans best demonstrates the lack of focus on non-Catholic immigrants. Many auxiliary groups formed from the KKK and upheld aspects of the Klan’s principles and structure. Kamelia, a female auxiliary Klan group, formed from women’s interest in the Klan and became a significant contribution to the KKK influence in the Mahoning Valley. Evidence of these auxiliary groups not just within the Mahoning Valley but also in the Northern Klan, demonstrate a level of openness that was restricted specifically for non-Protestants indicating that Protestantism was the main priority for the Mahoning Valley Klan.
The Mahoning Valley became home to chapters of two noteworthy Klan auxiliaries during the height of the KKK’s influence: the Royal Riders of the Red Robe and the Loyal Legion of Lincoln. The Royal Riders of the Red Robe allowed naturalized Protestant immigrants into their organization. The Loyal Legion of Lincoln allowed Protestant African Americans to join.46 Significantly Colonel Evan Watkins, a prominent Klan influencer in the Mahoning Valley, was a foreign-born Welsh immigrant.47 This evidence shows that, at least in the Mahoning Valley, the Klan prioritized its identity as a Protestant organization. Any communities that directly contradicted the Protestant nature of the group, like Catholics, would therefore become a main target.
The Protestant focus of the Mahoning Valley Klan is further demonstrated by the extreme support Protestant ministers afforded the organization. Protestant minister, Reverend George Gibson, actively advocated for the Klan in his sermon titled “The Sin of Toleration” on July 1923.48 He did not mention the organization by name but the congregation understood the sermon’s message as a defense of intolerance towards non-Protestant groups. The sermon discussed the common themes and principles of the Klan, including the self-determined need to protect United States morals and the supposedly immoral principles of non-Protestants. Gibson even argued that the blame for all the world’s greatest wars rested with non-Protestant foreigners. Gibson also attacked local newspapers, specifically The Youngstown Vindicator, for censoring and withholding Klan and Protestant related news.49 The subject of the Klan became common in local Protestant sermons; most remained less passionately pro-Klan than Gibson’s sermon but still supportive of the organization.
Overall, the tense relationship between Protestantism and Catholicism remained the backbone of the Klan and anti-Klan struggle within the Mahoning Valley. The primary motivation of the Mahoning Valley Klan remained focused on Protestant ideals, as demonstrated with their openness towards non-white or natural-born Protestant citizens. The clear target of the Mahoning Valley Klan became the Catholic immigrants. Furthermore, the wariness and intolerance towards the growing Catholic community did not just exist with members of the KKK, but also the Protestant community as whole. As Gibson’s sermon reached more local Protestants, intolerance became more vindicated within the area.
Politics of the Mahoning Valley Klan
The Mahoning Valley Klan’s most dominant period came in the early 1920s, after gaining political influence over multiple major Mahoning Valley cities in the election of 1923. For example, in Youngstown, a charter passed in June of 1923, which abolished bipartisan campaigns allowing the Klan to effectively become a political power with no concern over fitting into either a Democratic or Republican campaign.50 With the flexibility of creating a unique campaign specific to Klan motivations, Klan candidates also avoided the need to target individuals of a particular party, enabling the Klan to cast a wider net and gain both Democratic and Republican votes. Political power furthered the Klan’s influence over Mahoning Valley.
However, the Youngstown charter did not apply to the entire Mahoning Valley area, and some Klan candidates needed to align with existing parties to win political office. In other cities, the Klan commonly ran on the Republican ticket or non-partisan.51 To avoid splitting the vote, the Klan supported only one candidate, and in the case of Youngstown, Charles Scheible became the organization’s choice. Non-Klan candidates running for mayor all campaigned as the anti-Klan candidate and failed to rally with a singular candidate to oppose Scheible, effectively splitting the anti-Klan vote.52 The anti-Klan candidates also attacked each other in their campaign, all claiming to be the real and most efficacious anti-Klan candidate.53 Along with the divided anti-Klan campaign, another big contributor to the Klan success in the election lies within its promise as an effective political organization and the campaign promise of each Klan candidate: stricter law enforcement. The Klan gained political power riding on the Protestant citizens who demanded better law enforcement.
The 1920s election patterns in the Mahoning Valley indicate immigrants’ political distaste for the Klan. In Youngstown, Scheible lost in precincts with large populations of immigrants and the poor. The strongest support for Scheible appeared amongst the middle-class demographic. The neighborhoods with large new immigrant populations voted for the Catholic candidate: Thomas Muldoon.54 Youngstown’s wealthy residents also disliked the Klan and supported one of the anti-Klan candidates: William Williams.55 Despite large anti-Klan voting groups, the KKK prevailed politically. One explanation comes from Nicola Criscione, a Youngstown resident born from foreign-born parents, who explained the possibility of immigrant workers being harassed into voting for particular candidates.56 Additionally, the majority of immigrants remained unnaturalized without the right to vote provides a likely explanation for the lack of immigrant involvement in the election.57 Despite the failure of the Mahoning Valley’s immigrant population to stop the Klan’s rise to political power, the efforts made still indicate a strong motivation to oppose the Klan.
Throughout the state of Ohio, the Klan supported candidates, won campaigns, and became mayors, school board officials, and other high-ranking government positions within both major and minor cities. Klan backed candidates won their campaign in Akron, East Liverpool, Marietta, Portsmouth, Marion, and other smaller communities.58 These victories throughout the state proved Ohio to be a prime example of the Klan’s influence over the northern region of the United States. However, as the Northern Klan gained strength in political office, the people of Ohio also experienced anti-Klan resistance.
Instances of Klan failure demonstrate that Klan ideologies did not align with every city’s concerns. For example, in Chillicothe, the Klan endorsed candidates for the school board failed to secure the position. Additionally, in Steubenville, the anti-Klan candidate, Frank Hawkins, won the seat of mayor over the recognized Klan supported candidate.59 Despite these victories for the anti-Klan movement, the KKK continued to maintain political control over many cities, both large and small. In the Mahoning Valley, the Klan influence proved to be stronger than immigrant resistance during the 1923 elections, but the anti-Klan movement continued to grow in the coming year.
The Klan’s ability to win elections throughout the state of Ohio and the wider Northern United States came from their skill of targeting the fears and concerns of each specific area. For the Mahoning Valley, the major concern of most residents centered on protecting Protestant morals and strengthening law enforcement. At least in the Mahoning Valley, the Klan also benefited from a lack of cooperation amongst the individuals campaigning as anti-Klan. The evidence of middle-class support for Youngstown’s Klan candidate also aligns with the typical demographic of the Klan itself. Despite attempts at stopping a Klan victory, many immigrants were disadvantaged due to their lack of naturalization. Ultimately, the Klan gained power over many cities throughout the North and the anti-Klan advocates needed to take different action to successfully take down the organization.
Klan Intolerance and the Backlash
Irish-Americans and Italian-American Catholics largely led the anti-Klan movement in the Mahoning Valley. This trend is reflected through the broader nation-wide opposition of the Klan by the Irish-American led organization: American Unity League. Despite their common goal, Irish and Italian-Americans remained divided due to the Italian distrust of the ecclesiastical elite and their tendency toward the superstitious, which caused the Irish-Americans to view them as unworthy Catholics.60 However, this divergence of religious tradition proved to be a minimal distraction against the overwhelming desire to eradicate the Klan influence from the Mahoning Valley. Essentially, the anti-Klan mission became a cooperative Catholic defense against the Klan’s religious intolerance.
The Klan used printed propaganda to showcase their intolerance of Catholicism in Mahoning Valley. For example, the fictitious Knights of Columbus bogus oath led to a negative stereotype of Catholicism.61 Frank H. Waldeck, a district deputy for the Knights of Columbus in Warren, Ohio, publicly questioned the bogus oath. Within his article, Waldeck included the actual Fourth Degree oath taken by Knights and pointed out the patriotic aspects of the pledge. He ended the article by passionately stating that:
[the] bogus oath is but one of the many fabrications that certain enemies of our constitution have invented in order to enrich themselves by hoodwinking credulous people into subscribing funds to fight evils that do not exist.62
In the Warren Klan newspaper, The Buckeye American, a response to Waldeck’s article demanded that Waldeck resign from his position working at the local post office and stated that a federal employee should refrain from propaganda and insults.63 The numerous back-and-forth attacks through newspapers demonstrate early examples of the Catholic and Klan tensions.
The Klan additionally advocated for the stricter enforcement of vices like bootlegging. The Mahoning Valley Klan gained influence due to the growing Protestant concern over the lack of anti-vice law enforcement. Protestant faith places heavy emphasis on avoiding vices, such as excessive drinking and gambling, while also prioritizing practices like strictly observing the Sabbath. In contrast, the Catholic Church remained unconcerned with policing vice activities, resulting in similar indifference towards vice practices amongst immigrant Catholics.
In the Mahoning Valley, the immigrant population did not share the desire to rid the community of vice practices like drinking and gambling. The Klan’s strategy directly challenged the ideals and morals of the immigrant communities, specifically Italian Catholics. Many Catholic immigrants viewed Prohibition as an attempt to force Protestant morals and few intended to obey.64 Ironically, the Klan and the anti-Klan groups shared a common motivator: opposition to vices. Members of the anti-Klan cause combated the Klan’s open condemnation of Catholicism and also opposed the increased enforcement of vice and Prohibition.
Public officials openly disapproved of the discriminatory and bigoted messages associated with the Klan, specifically those published in the Youngstown Citizen. Only two months before the 1923 election, the City Council met to discuss ending the advertisement contract held between the city and the pro-Klan newspaper.65 This attempt to end the contract demonstrates the general public’s distaste for the Klan’s anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant propaganda. However, the failure of the City Council to officially end the advertisement contract indicates the Klan’s strong hold on the politics and government of the Mahoning Valley.
Newspapers held an important role in the 1920s and became a common way for the Catholic immigrant community to voice their opinions and call for support of the anti-Klan movement. Using editorials, immigrant members attacked the Klan’s mission and actions, demanded naturalization to ensure future Klan political failure, and called for violent action against the Klansmen.66 Specifically, the Italian-American paper, Il Cittadino Italo-Americano, stood out as one of the primary opposition papers to the Klan. The Youngstown Vindicator also leaned towards the anti-Klan faction, by supporting anti-Klan candidates in the 1923 election and publishing out of state articles putting the KKK in a negative light.67 Overall, newspapers in the Mahoning Valley became one of the anti-Klan’s first non-violent tools to fight the KKK’s influence.
The Catholic community across the United States viewed the Klan as antagonistic and sought to decrease the organization’s influence on the country. The nationally recognized American Unity League (AUL) newsletter, Tolerance, spoke out against forms of bigotry and called for the tolerance of all minority groups.68 Founded by Irish Catholic immigrants, the organization stood as the national defense against the Klan and actively attacked the Ku Klux Klan through unmasking. The organization confirmed the trends of national distaste for the KKK present in the Mahoning Valley. The technique of unmasking provided anti-Klan groups in cities across the nation a method to combat the Klan with the support of a recognized organization.
The Klan’s emphasis on secrecy created a vulnerability that the AUL cleverly exploited. Tactical mass unmaskings destroyed the protection of anonymity provided to members of Klan. After obtaining membership lists from disillusioned Klansmen or from break-ins, the AUL successfully printed the names of Klansmen, from chapters across the North, in the AUL newsletter, Tolerance. Occasionally, booklets were printed for individual cities with lists of Klan members from each specific location.69 The booklet, Is Your Neighbor a Kluxer?, published the local Mahoning Valley Klan membership list in 1923. Local Irish immigrants acquired the membership list by breaking into the Klan’s safe on the evening of September 30, 1923.70 According to an article in the Youngstown Vindicator, the robbers stole a list of nineteen thousand names from the Klan safe, approximately ten thousand being Ku Klux Klan members, while the night watchman remained distracted by multiple blown fuses throughout the building.71 The release of the Mahoning Valley Klan members’ names, in typical AUL fashion, can be accredited to a theft orchestrated by Catholic led organization.
Anti-Klan activists used political cartoons and newspaper editorials to insult and oppose Klan members. The political cartoon, “Life’s Darkest Moment”, published in The Youngstown Vindicator in 1923, emphasizes the opinion that the Klan did not truly uphold Christian morals and values.72 The satirical cartoon depicts two Klansmen wearing their white robes. One is seated, arms crossed, reading a piece of paper; the other is standing, head lowered in shame. The seated Klansman speaks of grave charges and asks the shamed Klansman to defend their actions. At the bottom of the cartoon the narration explains the scene, stating that a student of the “Ku Klux Kollege” is charged with spelling Christianity with a “K.” The cartoon targets the Klan’s claim at being Christian. The creator suggests that the Klan twisted Christianity to fit their ideology, fabricating “Kristianity,” which stands separate from real Christianity. Due to the Mahoning Valley Klan’s foundation in Protestantism, this challenge targets the core of the organization and brings to light the hypocrisy of their actions.
The majority of Catholics within the Mahoning Valley identified as either Irish or Italian, though other immigrant groups, like Slovakians also self-identified as Catholics but in smaller numbers. The Slovakian Catholic population remained primarily inactive in the anti-Klan conflict.73 In reaction to the Niles Riot, the editor of the Slovakian newspaper, Youngstownské Slovenské, even went as far as writing, “with pleasure I can report that in this shameful and bloody event neither the Slovaks nor Slovenians participated.”74 For Slovakian Catholics, their anti-Klan rhetoric stayed within the non-violent realm of newspapers. Their neutral stance resulted in their condemnation of the violence between the Catholics and the Klan.
In contrast, the Youngstown’s Italian newspaper, Il Cittadino Italo-Americano, clearly encouraged the violent action taken against the Klan. When announcing violent altercations between Klan and anti-Klan forces the Italian paper explains that “Sons of Italy” action must play a part in destroying the Ku Klux Klan.75 Passive, non-violent methods to tear down the Mahoning Valley Klan had become too ineffective. The anti-Klan mission required combative action to succeed in ending Klan influence. The Italian newspaper went further and began celebrating acts of anti-Klan aggression, expressing pride in the success of stopping the Klan parade, in spite of the violence that played a significant part in the Klan’s defeat.76 In their opinion, the downfall of the Klan in the Mahoning Valley “may please God that [the Klan’s] deaf ferocity … be extinguished by the rope.”77 This quotation, from a poem printed in the Il Cittadino Italo-Americano two months before the Niles Riot, shows not only the level of hatred and ill-intent felt towards the Klansmen within the Mahoning Valley, but also that the feelings did not appear suddenly without notice.
Tensions rose and the distaste towards the Klan strengthened throughout 1924, worsened by Klansmen’s blatant disrespect of immigrant customs. For example, the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations demonstrate pride felt by the local immigrant population, specifically the Irish Catholics. Local churches and businesses organized exciting events for the popular and important feast day.78 To members of the Irish community, St. Patrick’s Day held significance that should not be challenged by the intolerance of the Klan. The Klan’s violent and disrespectful actions elicited an aggressive response from the Irish Catholics of the Mahoning Valley.
The celebration of a saint’s feast day carries the addition of potential hostility to the Catholic creed in general, as Protestants do not typically honor saints to the same degree as Catholics; once again showing the Protestant versus Catholic motivation of the Klan. On the evening of March 17, 1924, during the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, a group of Klansmen burned multiple crosses throughout the city, one cross being lit near a school. By 11:30 p.m., a riot broke out, with a large amount of aggressive arguing and shoving happening in Youngstown’s Central Square. The local police defused the situation and everyone avoided arrest.79 Regardless of the quick defusing, the events still agitated the already tense relationship between the Klan and the Catholic population.
The Klan’s disrespect did not go ignored, and it became clear that the Irish did not forgive or forget. The Irish community demonstrated their displeasure at the Klan’s instigations through local newspapers. The following morning, The Youngstown Vindicator printed a short letter from “A Descendant of the Irish Race,” satirically thanking the Klan for their demonstration stating that “never was there a Saint so deserving of praise as he, the Patron Saint of Ireland.”80 This jab towards the Klan serves as another example of immigrants using print to express their irritation with the Klan but the confrontation itself further illustrated the potential of the two groups to become violent.
As newspapers continued to print their anti-Klan support and different nationalities demonstrated their varying degrees of dedication to the anti-Klan mission, the unease in the Mahoning Valley escalated toward a crescendo. For some Catholics, non-violent actions no longer satisfied the anti-Klan mission. The immigrants of the Mahoning Valley began refusing to stand down and ignore the Klan’s discriminatory actions, such as those on St. Patrick’s Day. Ultimately, the Catholics involved in the anti-Klan movement demonstrated a dedication to their cause that would not fade but instead flared dramatically in Mahoning Valley in November of 1924.
Niles Riot of 1924
By fall of 1924, tensions between the Klan and the anti-Klan movement reached a breaking point. The four-year battle for the hearts and minds of the Mahoning Valley resulted in the Niles Riots. In October 1924, when Niles’s Mayor, Harvey Kistler, approved the permit for a KKK rally and parade, the Italian-Americans of Niles, viewing this action as a challenge, proceeded to request their own permit to hold a counter-demonstration; Kistler denied the request.81 The Catholics of Niles, mostly of Italian descent, prepared to physically prevent the Klan from parading downtown.
In the Mahoning Valley, a lesser-known organization, the Knights of the Flaming Circle, became a large part of the anti-Klan forces. The founders of the Knights of the Flaming Circle created the organization to directly oppose the Ku Klux Klan. Founded in Kane, Pennsylvania, the Flaming Circle concentrated on non-violent opposition. The group proclaimed tolerance for all people, citing the American principles of every man being created equal as their defense.82 By citing American concepts as defense for their organization, the founders of the Flaming Circle express their stance of true Americanism. In the eyes of the Flaming Circle, American principles do not support discrimination based on nationality or religion; therefore, the KKK defies American ideals and must be challenged.
Initially called the Knights of the Blazing Ring, due to their intimidation tactic of burning circles in a flame, the group spread to other areas of the northern United States. As the organization spread, the members became more aggressive and active, moving away from non-violent principles.83 As seen in the Mahoning Valley, the tensions building between the Klan and Catholic immigrants turned many originally non-violent individuals towards more violent means of opposition, making way for the Knights of the Flaming Circle to spread into northeastern Ohio.
The Flaming Circle became a significant part of the anti-Klan movement in the Mahoning Valley, particularly in Niles. Niles’ chapter, founded in June of 1924, played a crucial role in the Mahoning Valley Klan’s slow demise.84 In the summer of 1924, Niles experienced a tense standoff between Klansmen and Circlers, each organization burning their unique objects as a symbol of their determination not to surrender. The Irish and Italian residents of Niles, tired of the non-violent methods, turned towards physical threats to achieve their desire to end the Mahoning Valley Klan. One threat included the bombing of the Niles Police Chief Lincoln Round’s home.85 The potential for a violent outcome to the Klan march scheduled for November 1, 1924 was clear from the beginning.
Leading up to the November riot, many signs indicated the strong possibility of a violent altercation. Niles’ residents called meetings and asked Mayor Kistler to revoke the Klan’s parade permit in an attempt to prevent violence, but Kistler refused, stating that he saw no reason the Klan parade needed to be canceled. He asked Niles citizens to be cool-headed and tolerant to avoid conflict.86 Even the bombing of Kistler’s home on October 29, 1924, two days before Kistler’s refusal, failed to persuade Kistler that there was justifiable reason to revoke the Klan’s permit.87 Kistler’s loyalty to the Klan kept him unmoved on the decision, and many in Niles began to prepare for violence.
The fear of potential violence amongst Niles’ residents did not go completely unnoticed. In spite of Kistler’s apparent nonchalant attitude regarding the mounting disorder, Trumbull County sheriff, John Thomas, feared the potential of a bloody riot and requested National Guard troops from Governor Vic Donahey. Donahey refused and stated that the responsibility to prevent any violence in Niles rested with Mayor Kistler and local law enforcement.88 Mayor Kistler, Sheriff Thomas, and Niles Police Chief Lincoln Rounds eventually called for extra law enforcement from Youngstown, Canton, Akron, and Cleveland.89 The situation in Niles quickly became a state concern as multiple cities came to help mitigate the expected hostilities.
The violence began hours before the scheduled KKK parade when a local anti-Klan advocate met with two Klan members. Early in the morning on November 1, 1924, Frank McDermott became the first injured in the Klan versus Knights of the Flaming Circle riot. McDermott and his friends had been out in the early hours of the day when two Klansmen shot McDermott in the left shoulder.90 Later in the day, when the rioting began, McDermott’s father and brother participated on the side of the Knights of the Flaming Circle while McDermott recovered at home.91 The following afternoon, both sides shared a part in the violence that occurred in downtown Niles, provoked by the Klan parade and the Catholics’ physical resistance and defense of their community. The ensuing riot resulted in two sides setting firm in their stances and refusing to stand down.
On the morning of November 1, as the Klansmen prepared to meet for their parade, the tension reached its ultimate climax as anti-Klan activists rose to meet the Klan members. Unwavering in their desire to prevent the Klan parade, members of the Knights of the Flaming Circle strategically set up roadblocks on major Niles streets. At each roadblock, Circlers stopped and searched passing cars, then proceeded to violently beat any passengers suspected of being Klansmen. In some cases, Circlers even overturned cars.92 Both Circlers and Klansmen carried firearms, resulting in a quick escalation of violence. Both groups opened fire into crowds of rioters. Members of the Knights of the Flaming Circle chased, beat, and at one point threatened Klansmen with lynching all within sight of police.93 The conflict of Klan versus anti-Klan descended into a period of chaos throughout the city.
The city’s people turned on the Klan, causing their downfall. Evidence shows instances of police turning a blind eye to attacks on Klansmen.94 Additionally, the Circlers managed to intimidate a train full of 1,200 arriving Klansmen into surrender and retreat.95 By 1:15 p.m. the Ohio state government announced its decision to send in National Guard troops, and Governor Donahey declared Niles as being in a “state of riot.”96 The riot resulted in the serious injury of thirteen people, including G.E. Victor, who survived a stab wound to the chest, and Harvey Brauchle, who narrowly avoided being shot in the head; both men originated from outside of Niles and identified as Klansmen.97 However, the injuries and violence itself still left the Klansmen unsure and fearful of further open opposition.
The tenuous situation caused by the Niles Riot continued for the Klansmen even after the violent events, further pushing members to leave the organization. The Knights of the Flaming Circle did not stop pushing their message. Encouraged by the Circle’s apparent victory over the Klan during the Niles Riot, one of the Flaming Circle’s leaders, Joe Jennings, drove around the city with Klan robes stuffed in the grill of his car, no one daring to stop him.98 Jennings disrespected the Klan and also established himself as an undaunted victor. The lack of action taken against him also suggests a level of support, even among law enforcement, for the obviously anti-Klan message. This show of mocking triumph also served to further intimidate and discourage Klan activity.
Klansmen decided that the organization meant less to them than their lives, revealing the lack of real substantial motivation from most Klan members. Due to the more financial incentive of the national organization, particularly in the case of the Kleagles, plus the Klan’s association with respectability and class, many members did not have the passion necessary to combat the aggravated and determined Catholic immigrants.99 In the end, the threat of further immigrant hostility weighed heavily in the minds of Klansmen and left many second guessing their loyalties. However, despite the important role the Niles Riot played in ending Klan influence in the Mahoning Valley, other additional events and discoveries disadvantaged the wider Northern Klan, worsening the chances for the KKK in the Mahoning Valley.
The Klan scandal involving Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson also impacted the Mahoning Valley Klan membership.100 Stephenson, a political power broker and the Grand Dragon of a KKK branch in Indiana, had a record of dishonorable behavior: heavy drinking, violence towards women, and legal charges for indecent exposure. In 1925, Stephenson raped and abused a young white woman named Madge Oberhotzer.101 The abuse further led Oberhotzer to self-administer mercury pills, resulting in her death. The event became a public scandal; later in 1925, the court found Stephenson guilty of rape and second-degree murder, sentencing him to life.102 Stephenson’s actions resulted in the Klan’s loss of respectability, which caused many middle-class members to abandon the organization across the North. Within a year of the scandal, the Klan went from almost two hundred fifty thousand members to only a few thousand, and the numbers continued to drop.103 The timing of the scandal and the mass exodus of the Klansmen aligned with the end of the Mahoning Valley Klan’s demise.
The Niles Riot ended in an undeniable Klan defeat. According to Joe Jennings’ son, Joseph Jr., the city gained national attention and the name “Niles, America.”104 Jennings Jr.’s strong feelings regarding the anti-Klan triumph and the earned title, effectively brings the argument of “true Americanism” full circle. Regardless of the accuracy of this title, the perception of its legitimacy illustrates the feeling of pride and triumph felt by the anti-Klan organizers, and possibly other citizens, who identified as the “true Americans.” Essentially, the anti-Klan citizens, who participated in the Niles Riot, viewed themselves as the clear victors and they deemed their achievement as worthy of celebration and recognition.
This pride felt by those of the anti-Klan movement and the idea that they felt their victory earned the city of Niles the moniker of “Niles, America” further illustrates how Americanism became a driving force behind much of the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Klan conflict. The Catholic immigrants of the Mahoning Valley believed the Klan conflicted with true American ideals, and therefore, their success at driving the KKK from the Mahoning Valley served to prove themselves as “true Americans” and is worthy of national recognition. In the end, the Catholic response to the Mahoning Valley Klan and the actions taken to oppose the Klan proved to be enough to end its influence in the area.
Over the course of approximately two years, the Ku Klux Klan gained attention and power in the Mahoning Valley due to the organization’s Protestant ideals as they applied to the concerns of natural-born citizens of the Youngstown area. With the Klan influence came prejudice for the large number of Catholic immigrants in the Mahoning Valley. In the end, the Catholic immigrants resisted the Klan’s power and challenged the discriminatory organization by utilizing newspapers and tactical unmaskings of KKK members until eventually resorting to more violent means of confrontation. By pushing out the Klansmen, those involved in the anti-Klan movement lessened the amount of discrimination directed towards immigrants and provided more opportunities to earn respect as Americans.
Ultimately, the Catholic opposition of the Mahoning Valley Klan struck a fatal blow to the local organization and the KKK, in the region, failed to recover. The Catholic immigrants refused to passively surrender to the Klan and their discriminatory actions at any point during the Mahoning Valley Klan’s influence on the area. The Mahoning Valley’s Catholic community instead struck back against the Klan, using the non-violent methods demonstrated in print and violent retaliation as demonstrated by the heated tensions between the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the Flaming Circle. Despite the massive KKK membership, the passion and determination of the Catholic immigrants played a significant role in bringing the organization to its knees by relentlessly opposing the Klan and the organization’s principles.
The Klan’s practice of putting natural-birth on a pedestal compared to outward actions of American ideals hindered the concept of the “American Dream” and instigated a reaction from immigrants.105 Despite the extreme discrimination immigrant groups faced, especially those that followed a religious creed different from Protestantism, members of the immigrant community acted and displayed their belief in American ideals by challenging an organization they considered non-American. Immigrants proved, and continue to prove today, that no matter the creed or nationality of a group, everyone has the potential to live by American ideals and demonstrate themselves to be United States citizens. Ultimately, the anti-Klan and KKK conflicts of the Mahoning Valley during the early 1920s became an example of not only the tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism but also the debate of “true Americanism.” With their victory over the Mahoning Valley Klan, the local Catholic anti-Kluxers successfully defeated the faux Americans and proved themselves to be the true representation of Americanism; the real “true Americans” triumphed.