Minnesota’s history of racial intolerance exposed

Book Review

By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle’s introduction to The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota (History Press, $19.99) begins, “The overt whiteness of Minnesota in the 1920s makes the Ku Klux Klan finding a home in the state incomprehensible to residents today” — whatever that means. It is clear, however, that while the covert racism that yet prevails in this state might not do the Klan proud, it resolutely upholds its supremacist creed.

For instance, there is the constant hue and cry from Black businesses that get shut out of sweet, lucrative contracts to construct sports stadiums. Even the mere existence of Black business in Minnesota is a miniscule percentage. And judging from KKK in MNwebthe behavior of some members of the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments, it seems they had their training in a Klan camp.

The white sheets and hoods are gone, but the “Invisible Empire” is quite alive in spirit and deed. Minnesota, widely lauded for what is said to be social progress, was, truth be told, as Hatle notes, “one of the last states in the Midwest to give up on the Klan.” Public disassociation does not dispel an entrenched conviction to sustain the cherished delusion of superiority.

This state is by no stretch of the imagination by itself. America by and large should not be caught dead saying a word about terrorism from abroad until it owns up to the Ku Klux Klan and does something about its still far-reaching doctrine. It’s a doctrine that tells White men, women and children when they glance in a mirror, when they watch television, go see a movie or look at a magazine cover that the world is all about them. Importantly, that everyone who is not them is less-than — less than human. Consider.

In 1965, after mounting protests against the Vietnam War spurred men to burn their draft cards, it swiftly became a crime to burn your draft card. Yet despite literally centuries of hangings, there has never been a federal law against lynching people.

ABC News documents, “At least 4,749 Americans are known to have been lynched during a time when the Senate failed to act on some 200 anti-lynching bills.” The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota earnestly, diligently, even exhaustively informs in a what-you-never-wanted-to-know-about-the-Klan sense.

You get a timeline of how and where the organization made its way into politics, law enforcement, prominent social circles and other venues of power. As well, Hatle’s book walks you through a veritable museum of Klan memorabilia.

It had to, of course, cover the 1920 lynching by a Duluth mob of three circus workers — Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie — all three Black men minding their own business. All it took was the age-old bugaboo about Black men violating the sanctity of White womanhood.

This, by the way, was the subject some years ago of The Last Minstrel Show, a musical Penumbra Theatre Company produced at The Great American History Theatre. The cops and the court in Duluth were in on the crime from the outset, from the arrest to letting the criminals break in and string up Clayton, Jackson and McGhie to the acquittal of four White men and the conviction of three others for nothing more serious than rioting.

Needless to say, a great deal of The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota is disquieting. It is not a coffee table book. A drawback, it waxes interminably academic in dry language.

No two ways about it, though: Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle rattles a very ugly skeleton in progressive Minnesota’s closet.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403. 


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2 Comments on “Minnesota’s history of racial intolerance exposed”

  1. wow, another story of the Klan. The klan have a chapters all over the country. This isn’t new news.

  2. Duluth, Owatonna and St. Cloud compete for Minnesota’s most racist communities

    Among Minnesota’s communities, certainly Duluth is most infamous for its racism. From the pathological lynchings of a Finnish immigrant (1918) and defenseless Black circus workers Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie (1920) to recent psychotic antics against an anti-racism ad champaign, Duluth continues to enhance its racist reputation.

    Fortunately, it was Clyde Bellecourt from the American Indian Movement who aggressively confronted, humiliated and intimidated racist leaders. (“Duluth racism ads drives some into a rage;” Star Tribune, 2/10/2012)

    There was similar addiction to psychotic last place aversion racism in Owatonna, Minnesota (1925), in the form of a klan march by poor whites whose color failed to deliver promised advantages of propaganda.

    Some would argue that St. Cloud was, is and ever shall be Minnesota’s bastion or citadel of racism. From illegal slaves smuggled at night up the Mississippi River (1856-1860) to studies by the University of Minnesota Law School on race-based profiling (2003), to frequently topping the FBI’s hate crimes lists (1998-2008), to the U.S. Department of
    Education’s Civil Rights Division probes on maltreating Black public school students (2010), and the FBI’s investigation of St. Cloud State University’s illegally altered transcripts for Black students to conceal low retention and graduation rates (2013), St. Cloud racism is alive and well. Since talk is cheap, the following 20 citations/references (among hundreds similar) should convince many that “white Cloud” is Minnesota’s most racist community.

    (1) “Sesquicentennial voices: “[St. Cloud] Slaves no longer hidden in history;” St. Cloud Times,12/29/2006; (2) “Another carload of Negroes here: Police chase many of them out of town afterward-whites chased;” St. Cloud Daily Times; 8/9/1916; (3) “Ku Klux Klan now at St. Cloud: Mysterious organization has invaded County seat and has 75 members;” Belgrade Tribune; 1/18/1923; (4) “Incident of racial harassment [Somali student held captive and beaten for 4 hours] leads to conviction of two St. Cloud residents;” University Chronicle, 2/20/1987; (5) “SCSU Black students say riot police [while quelling a white students’ melee, specifically targeted Black students inside a campus building room specifically assigned for their safety by top administrators] were abusive;” St. Cloud Daily Times, 10/21/1988; (6) Two former [Black] students shot to death; University Chronicle, 11/1/1988; (7) “Molotov cocktail used in attack: Another violent incident spurs students to question safety in St. Cloud and at SCSU;” University Chronicle, 11/16/1998; (8) “SASSO/Somali community organization building firebombed;” St. Cloud Times, 11/17/2002; (9) “St. Cloud ranks high on hate crimes list: City was 2nd in state for number of race-based incidents in 2003;” St. Cloud Times, 11/23/2004; (10) “Police identify [Black] man killed in [neighboring] Sauk Rapids shooting;” St. Cloud Times, 3/20/2005; (11) “Is it safe to send our children to St. Cloud?” Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, 2/7/2007; (12) “Reported hate crimes up sharply;” St. Cloud Times, 11/20/2007; (13) “St.Cloud officials dispute dubious [racist] distinction;” Star Tribune, 11/25/2007; (14) SCSU minority student reports ‘Nazi salute;’” Star Tribune, 12/18/07; (15) “Hate group activity flourishes: Movement on rise again, report finds;” St. Cloud Times, 12/21/2007; (16) [Aspen] “Institute to [unilaterally] study area’s race efforts;” St. Cloud Times, 11/30/2008; (17) “Cross found burning in Seberger Park;” St. Cloud Times, 11/3/2009; (18) “St. Cloud Somali-owned markets vandalized,” St. Cloud Times, 7/9/2010; (19) “Whites only? St. Cloud State University has struggled for years to overcome entrenched racism on campus and in the surrounding community;” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 12/9/2011; (20) “At St. Cloud State, feds investigating reports of secret transcript changes;” Associated Press, 7/4/2013

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