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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Members parade near Dubuque during a konklave circa 1920. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding.
Members of the KKK during a konklave. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Tombstone (AZ) Museum

KU KLUX KLAN. Known by its initials, K.K.K., the Klan was originally a southern white supremacist organization. It was developed during Reconstruction following the CIVIL WAR to prevent AFRICAN AMERICANS from pursuing civil rights granted ex-slaves in federal legislation. The passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 led to a decline in the movement until after WORLD WAR I when it was revived as anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-African American, anti-foreign, and anti-organized labor.

The beginning of a serious Klan movement in Iowa came in 1920 when a paid recruiter was hired. The Klan supported what they called “clean living” and attacked “dope, bootlegging, graft, night clubs and road houses, violation of the Sabbath, unfair business dealings, sex, marital 'goings-on,' and scandalous behavior." (1) Iowa had a strong Klan presence with "klaverns" established in Anamosa,Creston, Des Moines, Dubuque, Greenfield, Perry, and Vinton among others. (2)

Members are reviewed by another member during a konklave. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

With the rebirth of the movement came the familiar secrecy and white cloaks. Members attended "konklaves" and sang "klodes."


Dubuqueland chapters of the Klan varied from extreme patriotic clubs to fervently anti-Catholic groups. A pamphlet entitled "100 Percent American Songs" was distributed in 1920 by the Dubuque Kounty Klan Kuartette. The following are abbreviations of the songs:

Limited in membership to white Protestant men, the organization's membership peaked nationally in 1925 with an estimated five million members.

In 1923 the Dubuque post of the American Legion went on record opposing the KKK. The members of the post were encouraged to "strive to effect its destruction." This action was in keeping with similar actions taken across the state by other Legion posts. Bills were introduced in the Iowa Legislature to make the KKK illegal and gave the state the authority to dissolve the organization. (3)

The Klan’s peak year in Iowa was in 1924 when the organization influenced many elections across the country, including an Iowa race for the United States Senate. The Klan assisted the campaigns of many school board members, succeeding in electing representatives of their point of view; in 1926 many of them were voted out. (4)

Front of K.K.K. Hero Cross. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding.
Photo courtesy: Tombstone (AZ) Museum
Reverse of medal. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Members of the Tri-K Club parade near Dubuque circa 1920. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Local reaction to the Klan included an attempt in April 1924, to break up a meeting. Several anti-Klan participants were arrested and three were injured. In the same year on August 10th, Tolerance, a Chicago newspaper published the names of twenty-eight Dubuque residents it believed were members of the Dubuque Klan. In response, eight of the men named took out an advertisement in the Telegraph Herald, denying their Klan membership and offering a $5,000 reward to the Chicago paper or anyone who could produce evidence to substantiate the charges or even that any of them had attend a Klan meeting. (5)

In August, 1925 the city council refused to issue the Klan a permit to parade. Several members of the council, however, expressed the view that had the paraders been Dubuquers "that might have been a different matter." (6) A rally, however, was held on a private farm north of the city limits. Actually a district Konklave for Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the meeting was facilitated by railroad fares being reduced one-fourth for those attending the Konklave and DUBUQUE ELECTRIC COMPANY which ran special bus service between the downtown and Peru Road where the meeting was held. Entertainment included community singers and concerts, speakers, and airplane stunts. Negotiations were being held for an entertainer who would "slide down a able with his clothes aflame, representing a human fiery cross." (7)

In August 1926 the women of the Dubuque Klan held a business meeting on Klan property along Peru Road. As part of the meeting a large cross would be illuminated from where it stood on a 40 foot high platform. The sight was said to be be visible from Sageville Road. (8)

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

A "Konklave," held in 1926 on the same eighty-acre "klavern" on Peru Road, was said to have attracted thousands who paid admission. (9) Once again special bus service was provided and food provision was operated by various Protestant churches throughout the city and by several of the most prominent fraternal organizations. (10) The event included a parade, endorsed by the city manager and police chief, and described in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald as to be "one of the most impressive ever staged in the history of the city." (11) The permit was granted on the condition that "the marchers wear no masks and that all placards and banners which they intended to carry through the streets be submitted to the chief of police for approval." (12) Beginning on Peru Road, the path went to West 32nd and down Jackson to 16th Street, west on 16th to Central, south to Fourth and then west to Main. Continuing north on Main to 17th Street, east to Central, north to 24th and then Jackson for the return to Peru Road. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Klan members from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin were expected to attend. (13)

Automobile with KKK sign on the front. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Klan members from Elkader and Maquoketa attended along with the Charles City "Kitchen Kanaries," a musical group. Local participation in the festivities included the Dubuque Ladies Klan Drill Team. Movies of this event were shown on the "Klan Field" along Peru Road following a musical performance of the Klan band. (14)

In 1927 Dubuque County Klan No. 20 as well as the ladies of the Ku Klux Klan announced a picnic for August 27th to be held in Stewart's Grove, west of Dubuque on the Millville Road. The public was invited. This event was chosen rather than the large konklaves that had been held the previous two years. A minister from Chicago was scheduled to give a patriotic and inspirational speech. Several local ministers were also planned to speak to the group. Other entertainment was planned from the Dubuque County Klan ladies drill team which won all prizes for the past two years in state contests. The newly organized Klan ladies drum corps would give their initial performance. Games were provided for the children as well as ball games and horseshoe pitching. (15)

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

By 1927 membership in the Klan had begun to decline although some merchants continued to encourage business with the sign "TWK" (Trade with Klansmen) in their windows. The Klan associated bootlegging and illicit drinking with Catholics and often joined federal agents on raids of stills to further its bigoted philosophies on what it meant to be an American. (16) This activity was associated with Carroll and Audubon counties, however, and not linked to Dubuque.

1930 meeting notice. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

The only organization in the 1920s that openly disapproved of the Klan in Dubuque was the AMERICAN LEGION. Its stand "disapproving of the Ku Klux Klan" and urging its members to strive to effect its destruction," was reported in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald in 1923. (17) In Des Moines, the Legion worked for the passage of the Yenter Anti-Mask Bill as an amendment to the Iowa Constitution. The bill made it a misdemeanor for any person wearing a mask in order to "prowl, travel, ride, or walk within the state to the disturbance of the people or to the intimidation of any person." (18)

In December 1965 Theodore Richards ELLSWORTH accompanied his friend and Saturday Evening Post writer Stewart Alsop and photographer Ollie Atkins on a reporting assignment inside the Klan in North Carolina. Ellsworth was suspected of being an F.B.I. agent until his showed a newspaper clipping of his war record and said his wife was a Goldwater delegate to the Republican convention. Ellsworth found klan membership was usually passed down from father to son and disguised by reference to belonging to an "improvement society" or "sporting group." (19)

Perhaps the best known aspect of Klan activity is cross burning. On three occasions between 1923-1924, crosses were burned on the bluffs at the bluffs at the north end of Dubuque. An out-of-town group of Klansmen were also said to have burned a cross on KELLY'S BLUFF. During the 1926 Konklave rally, two crosses were burned. (20) The flaming cross again appeared in Dubuque on October 23, 1989, when a charred cross inscribed with "KKK lives" was found in the burned remains of a garage belonging to an officer of the Dubuque NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (N.A.A.C.P.). One of the results was the formation of CURE.

When the city council in May 1990 adopted an plan to attract 100 black families in hopes of adding diversity to the city of 58,000 people, a backlash of fear and intolerance erupted. Five crosses were burned around town between September and November. During the first week of November, uniformed police officers stood guard at DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL after racial fights broke out. Racial epithets were scrawled on buildings across town, some proclaiming "the New KKK." There was no evidence, however, that the Klan was really organized in Dubuque. A chapter of the NAACP had been organized in Dubuque in 1989 and was able to rally public opinion against such actions. (21)

[On November 30, 1991 an estimated two hundred people attended a rally with Thomas Robb, a national leader of the KKK, following ten cross burnings in the city. The local chapter of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) held a counter rally to protest the cross burnings and Robb's visit. (22)

In 2015 the Anti-Defamation League listed Iowa as "being notable for active or growing Klan chapters." In the same year, however, the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed only Ames as a city in Iowa in which the KKK was known to operate. (23)



1. "The Story of the Ku Klux Klan in America and Iowa," Iowa Pathways, Online: http://www.iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath.cfm?ounid=ob_000303

2. Neymeyer, Robert. "The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s in the Midwest and West: A Review Essay,: The Annals of Iowa, Vol. 51, Number 6 (Fall, 1992), p. 631

3. "Local Legion Opens War on Ku Klux Klan," The Telegraph Herald, February 13, 1923, p. 1

4. Chaichian, Mohammad A. White Racism on the Western Frontier: Dynamics of Race and Class in Dubuque, Iowa (180-2000), Trenton, NJ.: Africa World Press, Inc., 2006, p. 121

5. "$5,000 Reward to the Public" (personal advertisement), Telegraph Herald, Aug. 8, 1924, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=djFFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hbsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4849,712611&dq=kkk+dubuque&hl=en

6. "Klan's Petition for Parade Denied," Telegraph Herald, Aug. 25, 1925, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=DCBFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OLsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=7000,360075&dq=kkk+dubuque&hl=en

7. Chaichian, p. 123

8. "Klan Women Plan Meeting Tonight," Telegraph Herald, August 31, 1926, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=4jRFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=krsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3071,379826&dq=kkk+dubuque&hl=en

9. Chaichian, p. 124

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., p. 126

12. "Knights of Klan Coming Saturday," Telegraph Herald, Aug. 27, 1926, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=0TJFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=j7sMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3605,6850377&dq=kkk+dubuque&hl=en

13. "Klan Parades Shown in Movies," Telegraph Herald, Sept. 19, 1926, p. 11. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=8jRFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=krsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6802,2710721&dq=kkk+dubuque&hl=en

14. "Klan Picnic to be Held Saturday," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Aug. 21, 1927, P. 7. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=B5BFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1bwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6080,474093&dq=kkk+dubuque&hl=en

15. Burns, Douglas. "Ku Klux Klan Played Role in Prohibition Fights," Political Mercury, Online: http://www.dmcityview.com/political-mercury/2014/09/03/ku-klux-klan-played-role-in-iowa-prohibition-fights/

16. Wilkerson, Isabel. "Seeking a Racial Mix, Dubuque Finds Tension," New York Times, Nov. 3, 1991. Online: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/03/us/seeking-a-racial-mix-dubuque-finds-tension.html

17. Chaichian, p. 131

18. Ibid.

19. Stowell, John. "A Dubuquer Inside the KKK," Telegraph Herald, January 1, 1966, p. 20

20. Chaichian, p. 127

21. "The Story of the Ku Klux Klan..."

22. "Klan Leader Attracts 200 in Dubuque," Akron Beacon Journal, Dec. 1, 1991. Online: http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=AK&s_site=ohio&p_multi=AK&p_theme=realcities&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EB62D7930A248B6&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM

23. Dimon, Laura. "The Complete List of American Cities Where the KKK Is Known to Operate," News.Mic Online: http://mic.com/articles/87585/the-complete-list-of-american-cities-where-the-kkk-is-known-to-operate