First Open Meeting of the Ku Klux Klan in Bloomington

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Not much has been written about the Ku Klux Klan in Monroe County.  So one must wonder if it was ever here at all.  A review of the Fiery Cross, a Klan newspaper published in Indianapolis, Indiana, sheds some light on the subject.  Copies are available online through NewspaperArchive, a subscription website. KKK

On August 17, 1921, the Bloomington Evening World noted that the Ku Klux Klan, described as a “fraternal and beneficial” organization, incorporated in Indiana on August 15.  In response, the Indiana Colored Masonic Convention adopted resolutions opposing the Klan and sent them to Gov. McCray with a request that he promote legislation in the next session of the general assembly that would curb the society in Indiana.

A year or so later, on February 23, 1923, The Fiery Cross published news of the first open meeting of the Ku Klux Klan in Bloomington on February 20.  Two masked horsemen in full regalia went up and down the streets around the square early in the day promoting the meeting.  That night 300 people or more, of various classes, assembled at the Carpenters and Joiners Union Hall to hear a speech given by  Rev. V. C. Blair.

Blair read from the Klan constitution which stated that members that must be white, male, gentile, above 18, native born, good Christian gentlemen and must owe allegiance to no foreign prince or potentate.  He then went on to defend the various sections of the constitution declaring that “the Klan is not against the negro but against social equality, against the Jews only who are trying to gain control of the world; also the Klan is against the idea that the Jews are chosen people.  The Klan is not against Catholics but opposed to their system which is against our idea of American ideals…It is time for the scum to be thrown from the melting pot and the Klan is here to stay, and the Invisible Empire will do the skimming.”

On May 11, 1923, the Fiery Cross reported that 2,000 people gathered on the courthouse square on May 7 to hear an “eloquent appeal” for the Klan that was received with much enthusiasm.  Apparently the Klan’s recruitment efforts met with some degree of success for a few months later, on October 15, an all-day gala in downtown Bloomington attracted a crowd of 10,000.

The Fiery Cross was not in the business of outing members.  Unless they were dead.  When George Sellars, a U. S. Marine and Bloomington native, was accidentally killed at Paris Island, South Carolina, in August 1923, his body was returned to Bloomington for burial.  After the funeral service, his body was carried under military escort to Rose Hill Cemetery where 74 Klansmen in full regalia carried a floral cross to the grave of their departed brother.  With head bared, the leader of the Klansmen led others in singing “Nearer My God to Thee” after which the procession filed silently by the grave and departed.

Joseph Stine of Ellettsville was another individual for whom the Klan provided last rites.  They accompanied his body to the Chambersville Cemetery in September 1923 and provided a floral tribute of red roses in the form of a fiery cross.

Indiana’s Klan organization reached its peak of power in the early 1920s with an estimated membership of 250,000, about 30 percent of the native-born, Indiana male population.  It was all but dismantled, however, in 1925 with the conviction of Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson of Evansville for the rape and murder of a young school teacher.

By the end of the 1920s, the Indiana Klan was all but dismantled following the conviction of Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson for the rape and murder of a young school teacher.


Early African Americans in Monroe County as Noted by Martha (Maxwell) Howard

Blog post by Randi Richardson

A photo of Martha (Maxwell) Howard shared by Phil Schlee at FindaGrave.

On Reel 18 of the Local History Microfilm Collection at the Monroe County Public Library is a paper titled “An Early Sketch of Bloomington and the Family of David H. Maxwell” written by Martha (Maxwell) Howard, a resident of Terre Haute, Indiana, in July 1907.  According to that paper, Martha is the daughter of Dr. David H. Maxwell and his unnamed wife who is noted in other records as Mary (Dunn) Maxwell.   Martha died on April 27, 1909, at the age of 90.  The transcription, with punctuation added where needed, is eight pages in length.  The paragraphs noted below are excerpts from that paper.  The words in brackets have been added by me.

…[My mother] was fortunate in having for help a colored woman[, Maria,] whom she had brought from her Kentucky home.  But the laws of Indiana made Maria a free woman after she had been in the state a year and, although she remained with my mother several years, she finally decided to go south where she would be among colored people.  Then it was that my mother faced all the hardships of the situation.

It was a Herculean task for two hands to do all the work for a large family, cooking, sweeping, sewing, taking care of the baby and the little children, and a thousand other things that go to make up housekeeping.  Reared in a Southern state, she knew nothing of housework, other than sewing, until she was married.  She became an excellent cook, but when the time came that she had no help, and had for a time to do her own washing, this was the climax of her hardships.  Attempting it, every knuckle on her fingers would be skinned and bleeding, but she learned that there was a way to wash without the skinning process.

In the first settlement of the town there were two colored women by the same name, the one my mother brought from Kentucky, the other one having been brought from Maryland by Mr. Rawlins.  As one was large and the other small, one was always designated as “big Maria” and the other as “little Maria.”  Dr. Maxwell, my father, also brought with him from Kentucky a colored boy, almost grown, a slave in his father’s family, by the name of Richard Moor (sic).  These two colored people from Kentucky were the first of the race in Bloomington.

Dick, as they called the boy, was remarkably bright and smart, so much so that Dr. Maxwell taught him to read and write.  As he was an office boy, whenever he could get any of my father’s writing he would copy and recopy it until it was such a perfect imitation it took the closest scrutiny to tell the copy from the original writing.  After he became a man, he corresponded with several of the noted abolitionists of that day—William Loid Garrison, Thadeus Stevenson and Wendal [sic] Phillips…

The first barber in the town was a colored man by the name of  Notly Baker.  He was owned in Kentucky by Mr. Joshua Howe who brought him from Kentucky.  There were two other old colored persons who were early settlers.  “Old Andy” and his wife, “Aunt Jinney.”  Another old colored woman was “Aunt Hannah.”



Blog post by Randi Richardson

David Starr Jordan was the seventh president of Indiana University.  He was inaugurated on January 1, 1885, becoming the nation’s youngest university president at the age of 34 and the first president of Indiana University that was not an ordained minister.

David Starr Jordan c. 1880.  Photo courtesy of IU Archives.

During the course of his six-year presidency he oversaw the university’s growth at the new campus in Dunn’s Woods, improved the university’s finances and public image, doubled the enrollment and increased the number of faculty.  Eventually Jordan Avenue, Jordan River, Jordan Field and Jordan Hall would be named in recognition of his many accomplishments.  What is lesser known is the role he played in the history of American eugenics.

Jordan, who graduated from Cornell University with a master’s degree in 1872, came to Indiana University in 1879 as a professor of zoology.  About that same time, Francis Galton was pioneering the principles of eugenics in England based, in part, upon the theories of his half cousin, Charles Darwin who published works about the survival of the fittest.  Not long afterward, Jordan became an advocate of eugenics.

Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices that aim at improving the genetic quality of a population through selective breeding.  On the positive side, eugenics might include programs that encourage particularly “fit” individuals to reproduce.  On the negative side, eugenics has prompted marriage restrictions and forced sterilization of people deemed unfit for reproduction.  After becoming popular in the United States, eugenic programs also became popular in Germany where they evolved into a lethal solution under Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Although Jordan did not coin the term eugenics, he was among the first to call attention to it in the U. S. when he published The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races through the Survival of the Unfit in 1902.  By then he had become the founding president of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, ranked as one of the world’s top universities, and an early leader of the U. S. eugenics movement.

In 1906, Jordan became chair of the eugenics section of the American Breeders Association, the first organization in the U. S. devoted entirely to eugenics.  A year later, in 1907, the first eugenics/sterilization law was passed in the U. S.  Hoosiers may be surprised to learn that it was in the state of Indiana and heavily influenced by Jordan’s authority.  That law was revised in 1927 and repealed in 1974 after more than 2,300 of the state’s most vulnerable citizens were involuntarily sterilized.

California became the third U. S. state to pass eugenics/sterilization legislation.  By 1921 that state accounted for nearly 80% of all forced sterilizations in the U. S. thanks in large measure to the prominence and organizational abilities of Jordan, who by then had been in California for more than two decades, and the resources of Ezra Gosney, an American philanthropist and eugenicist.

Gosney founded the Human Betterment Foundation (HBF) in 1928 in Pasadena, California, primarily to compile and distribute information about compulsory sterilization legislation in the U. S. for the purposes of eugenics.  Jordan, then chancellor of Stanford, was an initial member of the HBF’s board of trustees.  In 1935, the HBF took credit for inspiring the eugenics program in Germany.

Adolf Hitler was obsessive in his attempts to create a superior Aryan race through forced sterilization and ethnic cleansing.  From 1933-1945 the eugenics movement in Germany began the cleansing by deportation and ended with the horrific “final solution” and the elimination of some 6,000,000 Jews and other less desireables such as Gypsies and homosexuals in concentration camps and mass killing centers.

Once fairly mainstream, it was through the negative association with Hitler that the eugenics movement fell into disfavor during the second half of the twentieth century.  Support for eugenic theories plummeted.  Ultimately there were more than 65,000 forced sterilizations in 33 U. S. states.  The last forced sterilization in the U. S. was performed in Oregon in 1981.

Jordan Hall, 1962. Courtesy IU Archives.

Jordan died at his Palo Alto home in 1931.  In 1937 a new Palo Alto middle school was named in his honor.  In 2015, a student’s book report about Jordan’s influence on the eugenic movement sparked an interest in renaming the school; in 2018 the name was changed in favor of Frank Greene, Jr., an African-American memory chip inventor.

In June 1956 Jordan Hall at IU-Bloomington was formally dedicated.  It houses the biology department and was named for the university’s past president who was also a foremost ichthyologist.  In the fall of 2017 the walls of Ballantine Hall were plastered with notes urging IU to rename the building in light of the leadership role Jordan played in the eugenics movement.  This was during the same time that the renaming of the Wildermuth Intermural Center was under consideration because Ora Wildermuth, for whom the building named, was identified as a racist.

Although the matter or renaming Jordan Hall came up again for discussion in the late fall of 2018, no action was taken and interest among the students and faculty seems minimal.  Could it be that too few people know Jordan’s history?   Or is it that they don’t care?