From the Author’s Collection
In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan experienced a revival and made its presence felt in communities all over the country. This group, shown here in Lakeland, Florida in the 1970s, was typical of the marches conducted by the robed and masked bigots. Madera was not immune from the contagion that infected the nation as today’s Coate Tales shows.
Everything on Yosemite Avenue came to a standstill. Shoppers stood mesmerized, and drivers pulled their vehicles to the side. Something of a stir was being created right before their eyes. Madera’s Ku Klux Klan Klavern was marching down main street.
It was 7:30 on that night of Oct. 27, 1924, when 42 robed and hooded Klansmen and 7 women in full Klan regalia began their march to the First Baptist Church. They were headed there to attend the farewell sermon of Rev. G.W. South and to give him a monetary gift in recognition of his services.
The marchers paraded to B Street and back before proceeding to the church. At the head of the procession were three children each of which was six or seven years of age. Walking beside them was one Klansman who carried the American flag. Although all but the children were robed and hooded, no one wore a mask.
While such a spectacle would be unthinkable today, it was not uncommon during the 1920s in Madera — nor for the rest of the country or that matter. The “Roaring Twenties” provided the stage for illegal booze and bedsheets in America, and Madera was no exception.
There were picnics, parades and patriotic speeches galore in Madera and its environs. On May 16, 1927, some 150 members and friends of the Ku Klux Klan of Raymond and Madera gathered for services and a picnic in a hall at the Fresno River Crossing. The services were held in the morning and in the afternoon talks were given by Rev. Carroll of Lodi, Rev. D. D. Priest of Madera, and a Mrs. Rogers of Fresno. Vocal solos were sung by the preacher.
The Baptist Church wasn’t the only congregation visited by the Klan in Madera during its heyday. On June 15, 1925, a group of Klansmen attended services at the Centenary Methodist Church to hear a sermon on Americanism from Rev. Smith and to give him a purse of appreciation. Everyone gathered in the basement for refreshments at the conclusion of the service.
There was never any doubt that the Klan existed in Madera, nor was there any ambiguity about the principles on which they claimed to stand. This was made perfectly clear in a letter a Klan leader wrote to the Madera Tribune and was published on Jan. 8, 1924. The author was M. B. Haver, who claimed to be the “Kleagle of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux, Klan, Inc. Realm of California.”
Haver’s letter stretched from the first page to the last page of the paper. In it he listed the guiding principles of the Klan in Madera. Among them were the following: Supremacy of the White Race in America; Protection of our pure American Womanhood; Stringent limitation of foreign immigration; and adherence to the tenets of the Protestant Christian Religion.
Haver closed his lengthy missive by addressing the Klan regalia.
“In conclusion, I wish to make a few remarks about the Klansman’s pure white regalia, about which there has been so much written and spoken. White is a symbol of Purity, and the hood is a symbol of secrecy. These are never used by Klansmen for any other purposes than those of initiation, funeral services or authorized parades. Klansmen are not all fools, and they certainly would be if they donned the pure white on a dark night (or any kind of night, for that matter) and sallied forth on a criminal mission, thus making of themselves the most conspicuous targets for all kinds and conditions of men.
"The one and only thing secret about the Klan is its membership and there is the rub; the criminal is extremely anxious to lift the hood In order that their vicious practices may not be interfered with, for they know that ‘the Eye of the Unknown hath seen and Doth Constantly observe’ their evil doings, and crooks of all descriptions will use any and every means to destroy that which is GOOD, that which is RIGHT; so, most assuredly, they must lift the veil of secrecy before they are detected by the unknown, and properly dealt with BY DUE PROCESS OF LAW in order to boycott the Klansman or get his Job.
"However, the great heart of America is RIGHT and already five and one-half millions of Real American Men and Women have answered the call of the Fiery Cross and solemnly dedicated themselves to the services of God, their Homes, their Country, each other, and to Humanity — Not for Self but for Others.”
So it was; while Madera was expanding from a village into a town, it experienced some growing pains, just like the rest of the country. Part of that pain came from learning how to deal with the xenophobic racism that was so blatantly displayed by the Klan.
It took a while, but the bedsheets were ultimately consigned to the garbage dumps. All that remained was to transform the thinking that gave rise to such bigotry in the first place.