Sunday, September 22, 2019

Henry J. Allen -- A Republican's Fight Against The KKK

Henry Justin Allen was born on September 11th, 1868, in Pittsfield, Pennsylvania. The Allen family left Pennsylvannia to settle in Clay County, Kansas, in the 1870s. He called Wichita, Kansas, his family home until he died on January 17th, 1950.

Allen attended Baker University where he became interested in journalism as a staff member of the Baker Orange. Allen left the university before graduating and in 1891 was hired to manage the Salina Republican. When the newspaper was sold three years later, Allen was able to buy the Manhattan Nationalist. Allen partnered with with Joseph L. Bristow to purchase the Ottawa Herald and the Salina Republican, which became the Salina Journal. Allen served as editor and manager of both newspapers until 1907. Bristow kept the Journal and Allen kept the Herald. Allen sold the Herald the following year to purchase the Wichita Beacon.

To do his part during World War I, he became the head of communications for the American Red Cross in France. While in France, the Republican Party in Kansas nominated Allen as their candidate for governor. So besides being the editor and publisher of the Wichita Beacon, and one of the leaders among Kansas newspapers during that time, he served two terms as Kansas as its 21st Governor from January 13th, 1919, to January 8, 1923. After that, he served Kansas in the U.S. Senate from April 1st, 1929, to November 30, 1930. Poor health forced him to leave the Senate and return to Kansas.

As governor, Henry Allen created the Kansas Court of Industrial Relations to push collective bargaining in an attempt to stop strikes from taking place. While some say that he did so because he was pro-business and pro-management, others agree that he saw business as the creator of jobs and jobs were how people were lifted out of poverty. He also say labor strikes as a way of hurting Americans and causing political division among working Americans of all standing.

We should keep in mind that while strikes have traditionally been used by labor as a weapon in their ongoing battle against management, strikes also have a negative impact on the communities in which they take place. One form of negative impact has to do with the  problem of strikes being violent and costly to the cities and state that they take place in. 

Yes, costly because the state and primarily the city government has to pay for the added security involved in violent strikes. I've always found it ironic that labor unions were supposedly striking to help "workers" -- yet they negatively impacted workers by taking funds away from city resources. Remember, city funds used for more police and fire and medical personnel during a violent strike are funds taken away from other essential services for a city. 

As for the economic impact of strikes, people may lose their jobs if strikes stop the flow of commerce. Also, strikes drive up costs and hurt the poorest among us first. In fact, while it's probably more true for back than then it is today, people went hungry if strikes stopped the flow of food and produce and drove up prices. In the case of a coal strike during that time period, a strike meant people may not have heat for their homes. No coal generating heat meant illness for those trying to fight a Kansas winter. 

Before World War I, the Democrat Party threw its support behind labor unions which openly embraced Communist through the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW members were called "Wobblies." The IWW labor union was founded in 1905 in Chicago. Make no mistake about it, they were Communists. 

As a side note, my grandfather knew a couple of IWW Wobblies who were "outside labor agitators" during the labor problems of the 1920s and 1930s. My grandfather referred to them as "Bomb Throwers." When I asked him about that, he said they were known as "Bomb Throwers" because they stirred up trouble. As "outside labor agitators," many were simply there to cause problems and didn't actually have legitimate grievances. They were there to simply agitate and wanted to stir things up. He said that that was common for Wobblies since they were known for using tactics akin to the Communist Revolution in Russia. Wobblies used tactics described as "revolutionary industrial unionism." That means they were both Socialists and Anarchists.

Governor Allen campaigned for governor on an anti-Klan platform and won. Besides being a staunch Republican who fought for women's rights and oversaw the passage of the Kansas woman's suffrage amendment which was ratified by the Kansas legislature, he called for the ouster of the Ku Klux Klan from Kansas after the KKK stated their plans to hold a parade in Wichita. 

Remember, the Democrat Party supported labor unions and the KKK had been the militant arm of the Democrat Party for more than 50 years by then. To assist the labor unions, the KKK was attempting to intimidate African American in Kansas. More specifically, since Kansas was in the midst of a coal strike which the Democrat Party supported, Allen wanted to stop the Democrat Party from using the KKK to publicly intimidating African American Kansans who were refusing to strike. 

In 1922, Governor Allen instituted action to oust the KKK, stating the KKK "introduced in Kansas the greatest curse that can come to any civilized people." He did so by pulling their charter to operate in Kansas. This set a legal battle into motion, the state of Kansas versus the KKK. And in this battle, Allen put his entire Republican administration in gear to defeat and out the KKK from Kansas by any means possible. Also aligned in that fight were prominent newspaper editors such as one who stated, "The Klan was directing terror at honest law-abiding citizens, Negroes, Jews, and Catholics."

In response to Allen's administration and the newspapers supporting what Governor Allen was doing, the KKK openly campaigned for Democrats seeking office in Kansas. Their Democrat candidates proved unwilling to defend the very people that the KKK was targeting, and the people saw this.

In the Kansas capital, pro-Klan legislators attempted to pass a bill compelling the charter board to grant the KKK a state charter. The bill, which would have taken away the board's powers of investigation and discretion in granting charters, was openly debated in the senate. Thankfully, the bill was defeated by a narrow margin.

Since the legislature was unable to assist the Klan, Democrats appealed by filing with the United States Supreme Court. Democrats knew that as long as the appeal was pending, that the Klan had the right to operate in Kansas. Then on May 25, 1925, the KKK, apparently believing that it had no other alternatives for the time being, made application for a charter to conduct business in Kansas. 

On June 3, the application was turned down because the Klan claimed to be "mystic". Since Kansas statutes made no provisions for "mystic" corporations, the Klan filed another application, this time applying as a "fraternal" organization. 

On July 1, the charter board members turned down the Klan's request. One charter board member stated, the scheme of the organization and its paramount purpose is to stir up religious hatred and racial prejudice, create dissension, discord, and ill feelings in every community of the state."

Then the KKK did the unthinkable. The Klan decided to run pro-Klan Republican candidates in the 1926 Republican primary for attorney general and secretary of state in an effort to legalize itself in Kansas and obtain a state charter. When the primary returns were in, it became instantly clear that the KKK was finished in Kansas. Their scheme didn't work and anti-Klan Republican Assistant Attorney General William A. Smith was nominated for Attorney General and anti-Klan Republicans Frank J. Ryan once again received the nomination for Secretary of State.

On February 28, 1927, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the KKK's appeal on the grounds that a question of federal law was not involved in the ouster Suit. With all legal avenues were now exhausted, the KKK was legally ousted from Kansas.

The failure of the Klan to influence the primary election of 1926 was viewed by many as another indication of the KKK's waning strength. Governor Allen's Wichita Beacon wrote that "the outstanding feature of Tuesday's primary election was the final elimination of the Ku Klux Klan as a factor in Kansas politics. . . . The voters of Kansas were ever ready to take the anti-Klan side where ever the issue seemed to be acute." Allen viewed the election as closing a chapter in Kansas politics, stating the election gave notice "that hereafter there will be no religious or racial issue in Kansas politics."

Henry J. Allen was bothered by the Klan's intimidation of African Americans during that labor disputes. Just prior to the filing of their ouster,  it's said that he toured the state Kansas explaining why he was taking the actions that he was. In one particular speech that he gave on October 28, 1922, in Coffeyville, it is obvious that he clearly understood the nature of the KKK and how they are threat to American beliefs in freedom and equality.

He stated, "The KKK has introduced in Kansas the greatest curse that can come to any civilized people. The curse that arises out of the unrestrained passions of men governed by religious and racial hatred." Speaking of Klansmen, he also asked this, "if Klansmen stand for Christianity and the protection of womanhood, as they claim, then why do they have to be masked to stand for that?"

Governor Allen governor argued, "In a democracy, we must have a love of liberty, and this love must extend to the liberty of others." 

What became known as the Schierlman Atrocity convinced him that the KKK did not stand for liberty. That was when the governor became more determined to rid Kansas of the KKK. 

On October 3rd, 1922, Theodore Schierlman, the Catholic mayor of Liberty, Kansas, was kidnapped and flogged by 15 Klansmen because he had criticized the KKK. Mayor Schierlman also angered the KKK when he refused the KKK the use of a hall in Liberty. That same hall was used that summer by a Republican district judgeship candidate who made a speech denouncing the KKK. 

Upon hearing of the kidnapping and flogging of Mayor Schierlman, Governor Allen stated, "Kansas has never tolerated the idea that any group may take the law into its own hands and she is not going to tolerate it now." It was that incident which was the spark that led him to ordering the Kansas state Attorney General to investigate the flogging, and flatly stated that Klan activities such as that would not be permitted in Kansas. 

Allen believed that such acts of violence and intimidation would only undermine the authority of law, stating that if Kansas "allowed such to take place, then we allow the beginning of a feud that is racial and religious, we justify the establishment of a quarrel that leads to group formation, make civil war upon each other in the name of racial and religious bigotry. We teach to our young men and young women the dangerous doctrine that violence and hatred are justifiable, that mob law is consistent with freedom, that lawlessness is to be met by lawlessness, and that self appointed guardians of other people's rights may set themselves above the sacred duty of constitutional authority."

It is interesting to note that for all of his efforts to rid Kansas of such a menace, Republicans lost the governorship in 1922. And while it should be noted that Henry Allen did not seek a third term, people believe that the Democrat victory in Kansas in 1922 was the result of his stand against the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1929, former-Governor Henry Allen was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate which lasted a little over a year from April of 1929 to November of 1930. He was later defeated in his attempt to win the election for that seat. But that didn't stop him from working for Republican causes as he served from 1928 to 1932 as director of publicity for the Republican National Committee. 

His health started giving him problems in his 70s. Then at the age of 81, on January 17, 1950, in his beloved Wichita, Henry J. Allen died following a cerebral thrombosis. He is buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Wichita. For his efforts as a newspaperman, he was posthumously inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame two years after his death. His legacy is that of a Republican defeating the KKK in Kansas.

Post Script:

Since it didn't take long for some people to start calling me all sorts of names after I posted this, let's lay our cards on the table. This story should not surprise any student of history since it's well known that the Republican Party was formed as an anti-Slavery party in 1854.

Since then, Republicans have fought Democrats over their starting the Civil War in their effort to keep their beloved slavery alive and well. Using anti-Ku Klux Klan legislation in the 1870s, Republicans fought the Democrat Party's creation of the Ku Klux Klan and other militant groups designed to terrorize freed blacks and Republicans.

Over the years, Republicans have fought the Democrat's creation of Jim Crow laws and Segregation. Even in the 1960s, Republicans like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. watched as Democrats used an 83 hour Senate Filibuster to try to stop the 1964 Civil Rights Act from passing. In the 1980s, it was Republicans who challenged Democrats to pass the Equal Right Amendment for women. But Democrats shot down the ERA when they had complete control of Congress.

I'm not making any of this up. This is just real history.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Henry Allen was a brave man. I hope they make his story into a movie.


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