How the KKK Sowed White Supremacy in Oregon in the 1920sHistorians in the News
tags: Oregon, Ku Klux Klan, White Supremacy
In January 1921, Ku Klux Klan recruiter Luther Powell stepped off a Southern Pacific train in Medford, Oregon. In the following days, he met with community leaders, including church pastors, police, and members of fraternal organizations.
Powell used these meetings to discover what worried white locals. In Southern Oregon, that meant bootlegging, general lawlessness, and a long-held resentment against Catholics.
Armed with that information, Powell set up a recruitment meeting, where he outlined plans for a new, local Ku Klux Klan chapter that promised to bring law and order to the region. Reportedly, 25 men immediately signed up. In the coming days, he passed out Klan flyers and arranged for lectures. These public events featured speakers who supported the Klan agenda — the roster even included a so-called “escaped nun” sharing her scandalous story of being held captive by the Catholic Church.
Within weeks, Powell successfully formed the state’s first official KKK chapter in Medford. One of its first activities included hooded men delivering a cash donation to a local church. In the coming months, public ceremonies and parades would follow.
The seeds of white nationalism in Oregon had been sown.
Throughout the early 1920s, Oregon was home to as many as 50 KKK chapters. The exact membership numbers are hard to track down. There are no official records. Historians can only guess based on the few documents and records that remain.
A 1923 Klan newspaper estimated Oregon’s membership at 58,000. Ohio and Indiana were both listed as having about 300,000 members. The same paper totaled the Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas membership counts at around 200,000 each. Numbers like these were often exaggerated. Regardless of the official counts, there’s no denying the Klan was once a powerful presence in Oregon and across the country.
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