From the November 7, 1923 edition of the Ypsilanti Daily Press:
From the April 17, 1924 edition of the Ypsilanti Daily Press:
I’d known, of course, that there was something of a Klan presence in Ypsilanti during this period. It’s one thing to know it in some abstract sense, though, and it’s quite another to visualize men in white robes burning a cross less than a block from where you just tucked your beautiful, little biracial kids into bed. On one hand, it’s incredibly chilling, to know that, less than 100 years ago, this kind of axial intimidation was tolerated in our City. On the other, though, it’s kind of amazing, when you think how far we’ve come in such a relatively short period of time. This isn’t to say that we don’t still have a hell of a lot of work to do – we do – but it’s good to be reminded on occasion that positive change is possible.
Here’s Matt’s take on the articles.
Ypsilanti’s black population dramatically increased in what is now known as the Great Migration (that period between the World Wars when 100s of thousands of African American families moved to northern cities in search of work and less racial restrictions). During this same time, hundreds of thousands of Eastern and Southern European immigrants were arriving for similar reasons; to escape persecution and the chance at betterment.
In response, like many places in the Midwest, a reborn Ku Klux Klan grew dramatically as nativist racists attempted to intimidate blacks (and recent European immigrants) from using their growing numbers to assert political rights, to stop blacks from moving near white neighborhoods or getting employment in white dominated workplaces and to crush any attempt of blacks and whites working together in common, as in unions.
This new Klan, centered not in the South, but in places like Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan (including Ypsilanti and Detroit, where the Klan nearly won the Mayorship in 1924) achieved a remarkable growth in this period and counted their numbers in the hundreds of thousands. These including four Governors, five Senators, two Supreme Court Justices and two future Presidents (Harding and Truman).
Here is evidence of that growth in Ypsilanti. Two articles from from the 20s show Klan activity in Ypsi in the early 1920s; one of their meetings and another on a cross burning by the Ypsilanti High School. This situation continued to get more volatile and a riot and near lynching happened in the City in the 1930s.
When asked why the cross might have been burned on the corner of Washington and Cross, near the old high school, Matt posited two theories. The cross was likely either burned there due to the proximity of Dr. Dickerson’s office (the only black physician in the City at the time), he said, or because black students were increasingly being enrolled in the high school. Those, as he cautioned me, were just guesses, though. He said he hoped to discover more as he continued to read through the local papers of the 1920s and ’30s.
[If you’re at all interested in the history of race in Ypsilanti, I’d highly recommend that you “like” Matt’s South Adams Street page on Facebook. He’s constantly turning up incredible finds.]