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 Protestant churches. We knew the Methodists, the Christians, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Campbellites, the Protestant Episcopals; 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 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 Pope, and that the Vatican 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 Protestants.

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).]