Indiana has an unfortunate history with the Ku Klux Klan. A hundred years ago it was a real force in this state. While its dominance ended many decades ago, I’m sure Klan or Klan-like groups can still be found in my state’s dark corners.

Actor Adam Driver, who grew up in Mishawaka and stars in the new movie, “BlaKkKlansman,” claims to have been aware of Klan rallies during his childhood here. That would have been during the 1990s. His claim is a surprise to Hoosiers everywhere.

As a lifelong Hoosier, I’m not aware of any overt Klan activity like rallies and cross-burnings. That kind of thing tends to make news.

The Indianapolis Star published a story about Driver’s claim this week and included a brief history of the Klan in Indiana. It’s a good, short read — see it here.


If you’d like to read more, see especially the sordid story of D.C. Stephenson, one-time Grand Dragon who went to prison on rape and murder charges. The Wikipedia article (here) is a good start, but the best account I’ve read of him is in Indiana: An Interpretation, a book by John Bartlow Martin, which you can pick up used on Amazon for pennies (here).

I recommend the Bartlow book also for a compelling telling of the life of Terre Haute socialist Eugene V. Debs, who ran for President and was jailed for his politics. During my Terre Haute days I lived several blocks up the street from his onetime home there. I drove past it every day on my way to work.

The Klan in Indiana


17 thoughts on “The Klan in Indiana

  1. Yes, I saw his statement and chalked it up to hyperbole. (“When I was a kid my neighborhood was so bad that . . . .”)

    In my experience any Klan activity in the state today involves a few isolated cranks and nut jobs and nothing more. Which is pretty amazing considering what a force it was here. The Klan’s implosion in the 1920s was virtually total.

    • I will say that Mishawaka was known for redlining even during my childhood, making it a mighty white place. I gather that people moved there for just that reason.

  2. Lori C. says:

    I was aware of the events that happened in Osceola, when they happened, and I was on the south side of SB at the time. There was a cross burning. And the guy who owns the farm is definitely nuts.

    FWIW, After my neighbor died, and her house sold, the people who moved in were cleaning the basement and found a hidden cabinet and the cabinet contained a trove of Klan stuff that belonged to her husband. (I never met him, he died before we moved in.) So it just might be bigger than any of us think. She didn’t show any outward signs that she was racist, but my neighborhood is still mostly white, so who knows.

    • So it was a guy on his own farm? While I condemn cross burnings anywhere this one would be worse if it were on public property or in someone else’s front yard.

      I think the disaffected and people of little power flock to fringe groups like the Klan because it makes them feel powerful.

  3. I remember seeing a klan rally on the courthouse lawn here in Bartholomew County, Columbus when I was a kid in the 90s And then again one other time when I was in high school around 2000 when everyone feared the “y2k bug” but never again.

  4. A hundred years ago, the Klan’s racist views were widely held. President Woodrow Wilson (a former Princeton University historian) held a screening of “Birth of a Nation” (1915) at the White House. Indiana was in the mainstream. As for Mr. Driver, well, every drama needs a villain. if you don’t have a villain, then you often make one up. Maybe you even believe in it. Hollywood has decided that we are the villains, then they’re surprised when we take offense and their ticket sales tank.

  5. Heide says:

    As the article in the Indianapolis Star said — repeatedly — “This is a lot to unpack.” Great reporting and analysis, Jim. (And a great book review too on Amazon!)

      • Heide says:

        Congratulations on having been a top 500 Amazon reviewer, Jim! [Heide bows deferentially.] Isn’t it crazy to run across one’s digital footprints so many years later? I don’t know if it’s eerie or comforting to think that I’ll still be recommending the Victorinox Classic tomato knives decades after I’m dead. :)

  6. analogphotobug says:

    Not a surprise…….Southern Indiana and Southern Ohio (I grew up in Cincinnati) have bad reputations. There is an active Klan meeting site near Lebanon, OH along Interstate-71. You can see it from the highway.

    • It just makes me feel hopeless that this stuff still has any sort of hold. But as my mom always says, we’re always only about two steps away from savagery as a nation.

  7. Richard Scholl says:

    For more about D.C. Stephenson “Murder in Irvington” by Robert Fangmeier is a good source with details about Irvington at the time.

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