02-19-2017  8:52 am      •     

With a new historical webpage, University of Washington scholars are shining a bright light on one of the darkest chapters of Washington history – the days when the Ku Klux Klan was a force in the state. 
It was a brief era when the Klan had tens of thousands of members. KKK rallies drew crowds estimated at 50,000, the Klan entered floats in parades, there were Klan weddings and Christmases and the Klan even published its own newspaper, "The Watcher in the Tower," in Seattle.
Historians have created a webpage packed with articles, rare photographs and documents about Klan activities in the state during the 1920s as part of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, headed by James Gregory, University of Washington professor of history, and director of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor.
The project came about when history doctoral student Trevor Griffey planned to teach a 2006 class on local history of White supremacy. Griffey thought many people didn't grasp why the civil rights movement was needed in Washington, a place with a reputation of being liberal.
"We tend to associate images of Klansmen burning crosses, wearing white robes and holding public rallies with the South," Griffey said.  "But seeing some of the images we found and learning the stories of a secret society of White supremacists in Washington state shows that the Pacific Northwest also has a history of racism that we shouldn't overlook."
The Klan came to Washington as part of the second wave of KKK activity in the United States. Like the original Klan that sprang up after the Civil War, this version originated in the South in 1915 and spread across the country. By the early 1920s the Klan dominated the legislatures in Indiana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Colorado.
In Oregon, the KKK led a successful 1922 effort to outlaw private Catholic schools. The following year the group brought its anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant message to Washington.
"They tried to make the Klan seem natural by having picnics, patriotic fireworks and reenactments of the battle of Bunker Hill. They appealed to people's Christianity, their fear of foreigners and their patriotism by marketing the Klan as an essential part of protecting the nation," said Griffey. "I find it remarkable that they were able to draw tens of thousands of people, and in some cases as many as 50,000, from all over Washington to watch Klan ceremonies in Renton, Issaquah, Yakima and Lynden."
Nationally, the high-water mark of the Klan came in 1924 when it helped push a highly restrictive immigration bill through Congress. In Washington it promoted legislation outlawing private Catholic schools, but the initiative was defeated.
Failure of that measure, along with internal factional battles and scandals that involved high-ranking state figures who were Klan members sapped the organization's power and appeal. As its influence waned, Bellingham and Whatcom County became the KKK's last strongholds in the state. 
By 1929, the organization, which had once boasted of having four million members nationally, had largely disappeared. 
"This is not just about the past," Griffey said. "The Klan failed as an organization, but its fusion of White supremacy and Christian patriotism was not discredited. The Klan in the Northwest promoted itself as being 100 percent American, not by lynchings or race riots."
The KKK history page is at http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/kkk_intro.htm. The entire civil rights/labor history page is at http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. 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