OPB, a member-supported public media organization serving the Northwest, will premiere next month a new historical documentary that traces the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Oregon in the 1920s and the hatred, intolerance and culture of white supremacy it perpetuated. It examines how the nation’s most prominent hate group became a powerful force in the state – a troubling history not widely known.
“Oregon’s Klan in the 1920s: The Rise of Hate” is the latest episode from “Oregon Experience,” an original OPB documentary series that explores Oregon’s past and helps to provide a deeper understanding of the historical, social and political fabric of the state and region.
It is also one of many Oregon Experience episodes that investigates and confronts the Northwest’s legacy of oppression, marginalization and systemic racism.
One hundred years ago, Oregon was home to one of the largest KKK organizations in the country, with tens of thousands of sworn members in dozens of chapters across the state.
It was part of a broader, national resurgence of the KKK that tried to appeal to the masses to generate support -- and ultimately millions of dollars for its leadership.
By the 1920s, Oregon already had a long history of racist laws, including a Black exclusion clause within its constitution. At the time, the state’s population was about ninety-seven percent white and primarily Protestant. With so few people of color in Oregon, the Klan also focused on other groups that had been persecuted in the region, such as Catholics and newly arrived immigrants.
The revived group met with community leaders and tried to portray itself as a service organization that would uphold law and order. Its slogan was “100 percent Americanism.”
The Klan held public events in cities and towns across the state, including parades and lectures. It published a newspaper, solicited funds, and actively recruited new members. It also publicly campaigned for politicians, including Oregon’s Governor Walter Pierce.
Active membership in the KKK dropped off In Oregon after a series of lawsuits, scandals, and internal corruption. The group’s emergence in the state, though, left a dark legacy that is remembered to this day, as white supremacist groups are still active across the Northwest.
“Oregon’s Klan in the 1920s: The Rise of Hate” features interviews with:
- Darrell Millner, professor emeritus and adjunct, Portland State University
- Gwen Carr, emeritus board member, Oregon Black Pioneers
- Walidah Imarisha, assistant professor, Portland State University
- David A. Horowitz, professor, Portland State University
The program is produced by Kami Horton and edited by Lisa Suinn Kallem. It is narrated by internationally known Jazz Pianist, Composer and Music Professor Darrell Grant. All “Oregon Experience” episodes are made possible by the generous support of OPB members. For more information, please visit opb.org.