Klan and Church, Lowell Mellett, 1923

The following is a brief excerpt of an article written by an Indiana newspaper man, Lowell Mellett (1884-1960), who was alarmed by the growing public presence of the KKK in Indiana in the early 1920s. Mellett was a distinguished journalist and served as an administrative assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1940-1944.


So long ago that “On the Banks of the Wabash” had not yet been written, I was a boy in Indiana…Catholics were still something of a novelty to us natives. We had profound knowledge of the ProtestantProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists... churchesThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church .... We knew the MethodistsThe Methodist church is a Protestant communion of churches which began in England with John Wesley (1703-91) and has become a worldwide movement. In the U.S., the United Methodist Church—one of the largest Protestant denominations—is known for its str..., the Christians, the BaptistsThe Baptist tradition includes a variety of Christian churches which trace their beginnings to the Anabaptist reform movement that rejected infant baptism insisting on the importance of baptizing only those who are able to profess the faith as believers., the PresbyteriansPresbyterian is the general name for churches governed by elected presbyters or elders and refers especially to Reformed churches in Scotland and England that shaped Presbyterian churches worldwide. The church is distinguished both from those in which aut..., the Campbellites, the Protestant EpiscopalsEpiscopal refers to any church in which authority is vested in a bishop (Greek episkopos). More particularly it refers to the Episcopal Church in America, which developed from the Church of England after the American Revolution.; knew which had the least irksome services; which Sunday School had the shortest sessions. But the Catholics happened to be newcomers. They came in on the boom that followed the discovery of natural gas and the building of many glass factories and steel and iron mills. They were strangers to us and consequently feared. It was some time before we realized that one of us was about as good, pound for pound, in a battle as one of the funny-talking lads from Pittsburgh. That having been established, in due course the barriers went down. The newcomers were absorbed into the community and it soon was as if they always had been there.

…Today [worry about the Catholics] has been revived. It is part of the state of mind that accounts for the amazing growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the old Hoosier commonwealth; that enables Indiana to compete with Ohio for the distinction of having a larger Klan membership than any other state. It helped make possible the remarkable election results of last fall, when practically every candidate opposed by the Klan went down in defeat.

In Indiana, as in other states, the Klan has the usual trilogy of fears. It fears the Jews, the Negroes, and the Catholics. But I heard little concerning the Jews and the Negroes. I heard much concerning the Catholics…Very clearly the crux of the Klan problem in Indiana is the Catholic ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church .... The Klan is feeding on a revival of anti-Catholic feeling and renewed circulation of Catholic goblin stories. Men actually join the Klan because they believe that a magnificent home (a million-dollar palace is the term usually used) is being built in Washington, D.C. to house the PopeThe Pope, the Bishop of the Church of Rome, is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, invested with both moral and ecclesiastical authority by the Church. In 1870, the pronouncements of the Pope on issues of faith were proclaimed to be infalli..., and that the VaticanThe Vatican is the residence and administrative headquarters of the Pope. Located in the area around St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, it is the official headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City is the name of the independent state headed by ... is soon to be moved to America!

Many have believed it is a fixed policy of the Church to keep its members down to a definite level of ignorance. Ku Klux Klan organs now assiduously spread this idea. The truth seems more nearly to be that the effort to spread education—general education, not merely sectarian education—is as great among Catholics as among ProtestantsProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists....

Indeed, one of the most serious charges against the Church that you hear in Indiana is that they are endeavoring to obtain control of the public schools. Why? To wreck the public school system, to be sure! The Catholics have had control of the School Board in Indianapolis for years, several excited informants told me, and they would say, look how the schools have deteriorated!

Investigation revealed that the Catholics had been represented on the School Board by one member. The superintendent of schools in a certain city, I was told in a confidential whisper, is a Catholic. But I had know this man intimately for half a life time and knew the contrary to be true…However, unreasonable as are the allegations on which the Klan’s growth is largely based, this growth is the most important fact in Indiana today.

[From Lowell Mellett, ”Klan and Church,” The Atlantic Monthly vol. 132 (November 1923).]