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In over 30 years of active researching and collecting, this is the only photograph of the KKK in Santa Cruz I've ever seen. Ben Lomond realtor Ronnie Trubek found it on e-bay and bought it from a collector in the United Kingdom. It was taken on July 4, 1927 looking north on Pacific Avenue, and very clear in the foreground is a float consisting of a mock-up school house with the slogans "One School," "One Law," and "One Flag." Walking alongside is a group of men dressed in K.K.K. regalia with the fronts of their hoods up, exposing their faces. The KKK was quite active in Santa Cruz County in the 1920s, with one of their campaigns was against the Roman Catholic Church. They opposed Catholic hospitals and parochial schools, thus the slogans on the model school house.
Photo Credit: With permission of the Ronnie Trubek collection.

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Secret History

Snakes in the Garden

The History of Racism and the KKK in Santa
Cruz County

In 1922, Ku Klux Klan organizers came into Santa Cruz County and began to tap into the anti-foreign sentiment that was sweeping across the country. Roman Catholics and Jews were the targets of this campaign of fear and intimidation, and burning crosses punctuated the night sky. Local communities struggled to balance free speech guarantees against the obvious hateful and racist message the Klan espoused. What was the Klan doing here in Paradise? And where does all this fit in the history of Santa Cruz County?

The KKK in the Monterey Bay Region in the 1920s

Rebirth 1915

The Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan was re-born on Thanksgiving night, 1915 in Atlanta Georgia. Hoping to catch hold of the popular groundswell that was sure to come with the opening of D.W. Griffith's movie, Birth of a Nation, the new KKK's founder, William J. Simmon's gave birth to an oddly-skewed fraternal organization based loosely on the original Klan. Fueled by anti-immigrant fears following World War I, the KKK membership grew until it reached an estimated 4,000,000 members by 1924.

The secret charter of the Klan Klavern #105 officially founded in Watsonville on December 22, 1926. The Klan was organized throughout the Monterey Bay Region in the 1920s.

The KKK in the 1920s was very much anti-Catholic and opposed the immigration of Roman Catholic Southern Europeans. The caricature of "Rome" as a priest or monk with tonsure was a common one used by the Kl

Anti-Catholic, Anti-Semitic

The primary targets of the 1920s Klan was Jews and Catholics, and the organization eventually reached the region targeting primarily the Catholic church, Catholic hospitals, bootlegging and any other potential threat to the basic, Protestant family and its values.

Regional Klaverns

It is difficult to know just how many Klansmen there were in the region during this period as it was a secret society and did not publicize its membership. However, there was at least one Klavern in Watsonville, one in Santa Cruz, and several in Live Oak. There was an effort made to organize a Klavern in Monterey, but it seems to have been thwarted by the local police chief. And, I've seen evidence of a Klavern in Hollister. Periodic reports of cross burnings appear in the local and regional newspapers during the 1920s, and there were several large public recruiting meetings in the region during this time.

Klan winds down

Nationally, the KKK began to run out of steam in the late 1920s because of several large scandals, and by the 30s, the Klan is no longer active in the region.

However, the themes of racism and prejudice continue to be prevalent in the region, bursting forth against the Filipinos in the early 1930s, the Dust Bown refugees during the mid-1930s, and the Japanese in the early 1940s. Anti-immigrant sentiments are frequently voiced, this time against people coming from Mexico and Latin America. Anti-immigration agitators continue to play on fears that are very similar to those that existed in the region in the 1920s.

Special Lecture – Thursday, May 3, 2012
Snakes in Paradise: The Cycles of Racism in Santa Cruz County and the Ku Klux Klan

Where: Ben Lomond Hall, 9370 Mill St., Ben Lomond
When: 6:00 PM
Cost: $20 for students and members of the San Lorenzo Valley Museum; $25 for non members.
For further information and tickets click here: www.slvmuseum.com
For a pdf flyer for the event click here:

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