Kampus Klan:
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Ku Klux Klan, in the Early 1920s

Project Editor:Ryan Treick, History 470: Digital History, Spring 2008

Table of Contents

National Klan
Nebraska Klan
University Klan

Nebraska Klan

Nebraska saw major efforts from the Ku Klux Klan to recruit throughout the state in 1921. As the organization became more established throughout the country, Klavern Number One was established in Omaha. Edward Young Clarke, also known as "king kleagle,"visited the state in 1921 to aid in establishing a Nebraska Ku Klux Klan. Its membership was concentrated in the Lincoln/Omaha area, however, the organization was scattered throughout the state. It is estimated that by 1923 that Klan membership in Nebraska had reached 45,000 people (Schuyler, 235).

According to Michael Schuyler, a scholar on Klan activities in Nebraska during the 1920s, Nebraskans did not join for the reasons that most would think. People were hoping the KKK would "oppose the doctrine of evolution, resist moral change, support law enforcement, and limit the influence of the Catholic Church (Schuyler, 238). Most Nebraskans were not members because they wanted to overthrow government or to terrorize black people. Most Nebraskans joined because the Klan represented many of the values that were commonly shared in 1920s America. It is true that the Klan wanted to maintain superiority over minorities and immigrants, but many Americans felt that same way in the extremely racist 1920s, and many nonmembers shared these same values (Schuyler, 242).

Schuyler argues that while the development of the Ku Klux Klan was a very telling aspect of the 1920s, its influence was much less on the state compared to Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, or Indiana (Schuyler, 246). One of the reasons for this was the fact that the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan was unsuccessful in its efforts to influence the politics of the state. Governor McKelvie told a New York newspaper in September of 1921 that he did "not regard the Ku Klux Klan with favor ("No KKK Stuff for McKelvie")." A prominent political figure in the state such as the governor coming out against the Ku Klux Klan had major influence in shaping public opinion on the organization; however, he was not the only Nebraska political figure coming out against the Klan.

One of the leading Congressmen in charge of the federal investigation into the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in 1921 was Representative C.F. Reavis from the first Nebraska district ("Reavis in Fight to Expose Klan"). The federal probe was a leading story in Nebraska in 1921, finding itself on the front page of several Nebraska newspapers. Having a Congressman from Nebraska a part of the investigation reflects at least a portion of the attitude in Nebraska that people were at least a little suspicious of the organization's activities.

Although the Klan was unable to win support of Nebraska politicians and had relatively negative press in the papers, there was obvious support of the Klan throughout the state because of its membership numbers. In a letter to the editor on 21 September 1921 by Clifford Rein, the Nebraska citizen defended teh Klan and criticized the press for its unfair coverage, "From the wide and largely unfavorable publicity which has been given the alleged Klan, it does not appear as established that this society authorize or directs acts of lawlessness, or in any case to take law enforcement into their own private hands (Rein)." The Lack of political support for the Klan did not necessarily mean it was ineffective; rather, the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan represented more of a cultural phenomenon in the state, which helped sustain its growth.

The Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska did not have a long lasting impact on the state. Although some aspects of the organization stayed alive through the 1930s, its overall appeal died. The failure to win support of any Nebraska politician coupled with the numerous charges in the media accusing the Klan of promoting violence and corrupt leadership hurt its ability to sustain a presence in the state (Schuyler, 253). By the end of the decade, the Ku Klux Klan was not a prominent factor in Nebraskan life.