This was the title of the Binghamton Press’ article on October 23, 1924 regarding the anti-Klan resolutions which were adopted the night before by American Legion Post 82. Endicott was a village adjoining the Town of Union along the Susquehanna River in the Southern Tier of New York, and Binghamton was the area’s major urban center. In the post-war era, the Legion and the K.K.K. differed dramatically on this country’s search for “100% Americanism.” In fact, it reached the floor at the Legion’s national convention in 1923 in San Francisco where Resolution 407—also called the "Michigan Resolution" --was adopted. As quoted in the November 16 issue, of The American Legion Weekly, it condemned “any individuals or organizations which create or force racial, religious or class strife among our people….” However, it deliberately did not mention the K.K.K. by name in order to
avoid a direct confrontation.
When Post 82 was organized in 1919, the “Invisible Empire” was growing nationwide but was not established in the village. In 1922, one year before the Klan formed a chapter, or klavern, in Endicott, the Post composed dramatic anti-Klan letter to its community which was addressed to the Village Board. According to a local newspaper, the News-Dispatch on December 7, the letter—which was read out loud by the Village President--- stated that the Post “stood firmly by true Americanism and declared itself opposed to the type of people who called themselves Americans and hid behind masks.” However, the Legion could not prevent the Klan from gaining a growing, and active, Klan affiliate in its hometown.
On February 20, 1923, the Endicott-Bulletin reviewed the establishment of the Klan in the village, noting that it was “enlisting members here with unremitting efforts….” Cross burnings on surrounding hills became common, as did fully robed Klansmen’s dramatic interruptions of Sunday services at selected churches to make donations. By August, 1924, the Klansmen felt strong enough to nominate two supporters to the Union-Endicott School Board which ended in a near riot, and defeat of the Klan supported nominees. By the early Fall, Post 82’s Commander Leslie Toft became determined to investigate any K.K.K. involvement within the Post. “The question of Klan influence…has been brewing for some time, and it was decided to bring it to a climax,” wrote Binghamton’s The Sun on October 23. The Commander planned to go beyond the Michigan Resolution and directly confront the local Invisible Empire.
Toft’s resolutions unleashed an attack against his Post’s adversary, declaring forcefully that ”…we condemn…as unchristian, un-American and contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Constitution… the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan…. Therefore, we condemn such societies as the Ku Klux Klan because we believe they would try and render fruitless all the sacrifices made for the further tolerance, brotherhood and respect for the law of God and man for which the Legion stands.” In fact, when the remains of African-American Private Kenneth O. Nelson—who was killed in action in the Argonne Forest—was returned to Endicott in 1921, Post 82 provided a funeral with military honors including a volley from its firing squad, and taps. (However, local black veterans were excluded from the area’s veterans’ organizations, and formed a separate unit named after Private Nelson in nearby Binghamton in 1924).
But how would Toft answer “the question of Klan influence” in the membership? For the 75 assembled members, there would be a “rising vote”—that is, a person must stand to register his approval of the resolution. The vote was overwhelmingly supportive—only three members did not stand. But while the klavern’s direct influence on Post 82 was small, it gained momentum over the next few months.
In February, 1925, there was a regional Klan convention, or klorero, in Endicott at which there were thousands of its robed followers. However, there was no need for the local American Legion to articulate its opposition to the Kluxers and their views because of Post 82’s “smashing resolve” in October, 1924. This action aptly illustrates Californian Charles Kendrick’s words at the convention in San Francisco as recorded in the November 9 issue of the Legion Weekly: “I do not favor the Legion actively combating such movements as the K.K.K. because to do that only tends to dignify them…This, however, does not prevent a forceful denunciation on the part of the Legion, and when this is done no further action should be taken.” In the early Twenties, Post 82 expressed forcefully its Americanism.
About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.