Larry Vodenik, local historian with the Perry Historical Preservation Commission, spoke last week to the Perry Lions Club about Ku Klux Klan activities in Perry during the 1920s.
Vodenik said Perry was the center of the Klan’s activity in the Midwest at that time because Perry had a Catholic Church and a relatively large black population, and the KKK was prejudiced against these two groups.
According to Wikipedia, the KKK of the 1920s “preached ‘One Hundred Percent Americanism’ and demanded the purification of politics, calling for strict morality and better enforcement of prohibition. Its official rhetoric focused on the threat of the Catholic Church, using anti-Catholicism and nativism. Its appeal was directed exclusively at white Protestants. Some local groups took part in attacks on private houses and carried out other violent activities. The violent episodes were generally in the South.”
Vodenik told the Perry Lions that the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Walter Schnell, was a Perry native.
He said a large conclave of 6,000 people convened in 1923 at the Tri-County Fairgrounds, now the site of Hy-Vee and Shopko in Perry. A parade was held, several bands played and 650 Klansmen wearing white robes and riding horseback were in the parade.
By 1925, however, the Klan began losing popularity for several reasons, and the official organization soon disbanded in Perry, Vodenik said.
Vodenik said more information can be found in the book, “A Town Called Perry,” by Marg Paterson, and photographs can be seen in the archive of the Fullhart Charitable Trust website, www.fcctrust.com.