The KKK in Indiana

           With the exception of the prologue, the setting for my soon-to-be-released book, The Bequest, is a fictitious small town in north central Indiana in 1924.  That year was an election year, and in Indiana it was an election year like no other.  The reason is simple and, to our thinking, most strange:  the overwhelming influence of the Ku Klux Klan in the state’s political and social fabric.

            If you can’t imagine your vote being influenced by your local chapter of the KKK, that’s a testament to how much our state, indeed our whole culture, has changed in the last 87 years.  Actually people’s thinking about the Klan began to change in 1925, only a year after the setting of my novel.

            Most people are aware that the Klan had its origins in the years following the Civil War.  Society had changed greatly after the war and those changes were not to the liking of many southerners, including many former confederate soldiers, who saw black independence as a threat to their lifestyle.  That first Klan was an extra-judicial attempt to control blacks and restore white supremacy.

            But that original Klan only lasted 7 years, until 1874, when it all but disappeared.  It stayed that way for 41 years until 1915. In that year the movie “Birth Of A Nation”, which glorified the old Klan, was released in theaters and became immensely popular. Influenced by the film, Dr. William Simmons, a fraternal organizer, climbed Stone Mountain near Atlanta, Georgia on Thanksgiving night with fifteen members, set a wooden cross ablaze, and proclaimed the establishment of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

            As Simmons intended, the Klan in those days was seen, more or less, as another fraternal organization much like the Elk or the Moose.  Its focus was not so much on lynching blacks as it was on defending White Anglo-Saxon Protestants from the perceived dangers of Catholicism, immigration and booze.

            After WW1, membership in the Klan exploded, particularly among military veterans who had an abundance of patriotic fervor that needed an outlet.  Eventually the Klan made its way into Evansville and, under the leadership of its Grand Dragon, D. C. Stephenson, was soon the dominant force in Indiana state politics.  Wikipedia states that, “At the height of its power the Klan had over 250,000 members, which was over 30% of state’s white male population.” The success or failure of many candidates in the 1924 election was largely determined by how much Klan backing they had.

            Stephenson, however, cared little for the perceived Klan virtues of 100% Americanism, prohibition, Protestantism, and the honor of women everywhere.  D. C. Stephenson had one goal and that was ensuring that D. C. Stephenson was the most powerful and influential man in the state.  At the pinnacle of his power he boasted in 1925 that “I am the law in Indiana”.

            However, Stephenson’s days at the top were short-lived.  In November 1925 he was convicted of 2nd degree murder in the rape and eventual death of schoolteacher Madge Oberholtzer.  The fallout from the trial discredited the Klan in the eyes of most Hoosiers and the organization went into rapid decline in Indiana and elsewhere.

            Today the Klan has virtually no power to influence elections. Yet I fear that, until Christ returns, there will always be an increasing number of D. C. Stephensons:  men and women whose sole agenda in seeking political office is the accumulation of wealth and power.  May we all pray for the day when that one great King will return who “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5)

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Tool Talk

            Hi and welcome to the blog! I’ll spare you any grand introductions. I suppose you know why you’re here:  to see if this guy has the wit to write anything worth reading. And maybe to get some news about his forthcoming book The Bequest.

            Of course your interest in the latter item may well be determined by the former, so I better get to work here.

            Writing is, after all, a difficult job and for me, can be a slow and time-consuming process. The fact that I’ve been in the drywall hanging/finishing business off and on since 1984 probably contributes to that, since I’ve likely breathed enough gypsum dust over the years to prevent significant amounts of oxygen from reaching my brain.

            In the drywall trade, as in any other, you get customers who really like your work, and others who think you have the finishing skills of a dung beetle. I’m glad to say that most of my customers have fallen into the former category. Which never ceases to amaze me considering the tools I have to work with.

            Since I’m too cheap to buy a zip router, I have a rusty drywall saw, the blade of which is held to the handle by two bolts. There’s a hole in the handle for a third bolt, but after dropping the saw one too many times, that bolt has fled for regions unknown. My drywall foot lift had a loop that I could run my foot through.  That was nice because I don’t like to bend over and pick stuff up. But that loop has long since broken off, so now I just kick the lift where I want it to go.

            My tool pouch looks like it was run over by a lawn mower. My cutting edge (c. 1995) glue gun’s only virtue now is that it gives me a firm handshake.  The legs don’t extend out easily from my drywall bench anymore, which I guess is not a huge problem since enough joint compound has dropped on it over the years that I get a little closer to the ceiling with every job I do. My slop box is pretty beat up, too.  I guess you’d say that a slop box is a poor man’s banjo. A banjo is a . . . well hey, I guess that’s why they invented Google.  I have to move on.

            After finishing my most recent job last week, the homeowners kindly complimented my work and cut me a nice check. I loaded my aging tools and body into my battered ’89 Chevy S10 and drove away feeling pretty good about a job well done. Even with bad tools.

            When you think about it, though, God has been working with some pretty bad tools for thousands of years. Them tools is us. Ever since the fall, bad tools are all God has had to work with.  Deceiver Jacob. Impatient Moses. Sign-seeking Gideon. Adulterer/murderer David. Impetuous Peter. Just to name a few. But even the cheapest articles in the house can be used for noble purposes in God’s hands (2 Tim. 2:20-21).

            Why does God do his work like that? Couldn’t he get a lot more efficient production using perfect, spotless tools? No doubt, but he gets a lot more glory from his people when he does the same work using the worst tools. Paul said that God puts his best gift, the knowledge of himself in Christ, into simple clay pots (us) “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor. 4:6-7)

            That’s a good thing for the tools to know.  No matter how beaten up, battered, and dilapidated life has left us, we can still be used by God for noble purposes. I think one of the chief ways we will be struck with awe in eternity future is to see how God has done that very thing time and again through his people in ages past. And we will glorify him for it.

            Now for a new glue gun . . . nahh!