Traverse City Record-Eagle

Record-Eagle 150th Anniversary

February 1, 2009

Ku Klux Klan terrorizes TC in 1924

KKK cross burnings, explosions rock city

Black History Month has special significance, since it begins fewer than two weeks after the nation's historic inauguration of its first black president, Barack Obama.

But there are parts of that history that Traverse City, like the rest of the nation, would rather forget. The city never had a large black population, but it did not escape a visit from the Ku Klux Klan during a frightening night of downtown explosions and cross burnings on Aug. 9, 1924.

Traverse City has never seen anything like that night of terror. Buildings shook. Store windows cracked and shattered. Houses as far away as 16th Street quaked, the Record-Eagle reported.

And though outside agitators were blamed, some local people may have been involved.

It started about 8 p.m. after three explosions went off across the river from the Lyric Theatre, where the State is today.

The crowd at the Lyric all but stampeded toward the door as women and children screamed. Panicked shoppers spilled out of downtown stores. City police phones jangled with alarm.

A large cross burned on the north side of the Boardman River near Cass Street. About 50 smaller burning crosses appeared almost simultaneously at the centers of intersections across the city. Each was crudely nailed together and swathed in oil-soaked rags. Sparks flew when several cars struck them. A city fire truck raced through town to douse flames.

Then, a "touring car" with four men, robed and hooded, though not masked, slowly trolled down Front Street carrying a sign surrounded by red flares blazing three letters: KKK.

Copies of the Ku Klux Klan newspaper, "The Fiery Cross," later were found downtown, and police determined that at least two cars were involved in planting and lighting the crosses.

Klan leaders called the explosions and flaming crosses a recruiting gimmick, but it was more than that. The 1920s was a reactionary time in the United States. The Klan had risen again, starting in 1915, widening its anti-black focus to Jews, Catholics and immigrants, particularly those from southeastern Europe. Its membership was strongest in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

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