“Unswerving Integrity”: The Radical Friendship of Eugene V. Debs and Robert Ingersoll

This post is dedicated to Tom Flynn—freethinker, friend, and keeper of the Ingersoll flame.

On July 22, 1899, Hoosier Eugene Victor Debs, a radical labor organizer and the future socialist party candidate for president, published a tribute to one of his biggest influences and close friends—the orator and freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll. Known as the “Great Agnostic” for his decades-long public critique of organized religion, Ingersoll became the leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought” in the United States, a movement dedicated to secularism that began after the Civil War and ended around World War I. His death on July 21, 1899, at the age of 65, left an irreplaceable void in the hearts of many who saw Ingersoll as the leader of a new rationalist awakening in America.

Eugene V. Debs, 1897. Library of Congress.

In his tribute to Ingersoll, printed in the Terre Haute Gazette and later in the Social Democratic Herald, Debs reflected on their decades-long friendship and the lasting impact the freethinker had on his life. He wrote:

For 23 years it has been my privilege to know Colonel Ingersoll, and the announcement of his sudden death is so touching and shocking to me that I can hardly bring myself to realize the awful calamity. Like thousands of others who personally knew Colonel Ingersoll, I loved him as if he had been my elder brother. He was, without doubt, the most lovable character, the tenderest and greatest soul I have ever known.

He also noted the amount of charity work Ingersoll did, both for organizations and for individuals, such as a woman he aided after the financial collapse of her father and abandonment by her church. “Such incidents of kindness to the distressed and help to the needy,” Debs observed, “might be multiplied indefinitely, for Colonel Ingersoll’s whole life was replete with them and they constitute a religion compared with which all creeds and dogmas become meaningless and empty phrases.”

Robert Ingersoll portraits. Library of Congress.

Later, on January 17, 1900, Debs wrote to Ingersoll’s publisher C.P. Farrell that “I have never loved another mortal as I have loved Robert Ingersoll, and I never shall another.” While this language may seem a bit saccharine for us today, Debs meant every word of it. From his initial meetings with Ingersoll as a young man in Terre Haute, Indiana to the Great Agnostic’s defense of him during the Pullman railroad workers strike of 1894, Eugene Debs always felt a deep kinship with the heretical orator. While they took different spiritual tracks—with Ingersoll a dedicated agnostic and Debs a social-gospel Christian—both saw the importance of caring for others in this life, despite what might come after, and believed in the power of human reason as a vehicle for transcending outmoded superstitions. Debs learned the power of effective oratory from Ingersoll, routinely citing him as one of his biggest rhetorical influences. Ingersoll also had views on labor and capital that went far beyond the traditional liberalism of his day, something that likely played a role in the radicalization of Debs. As such, their unique friendship left a lasting imprint on American life during the turn of the twentieth century.

They first met in the spring of 1878, after Debs invited Ingersoll to give a lecture to the Occidental Literary Club in Terre Haute, an organization that the former helped organize. The Terre Haute Weekly Gazette reported on May 2, 1878 that Ingersoll’s oration the previous evening was on the “religion of the past, present, and future” and noted that “Mr. Ingersoll was introduced by Mr. E. V. Debs, in well chosen and well delivered words.” Years later, in his “Recollections on Ingersoll” (1917), Debs reflected on his first encounter with the legendary orator. In fact, the lecture that Ingersoll gave that evening, according to Debs, was one of his most important, “The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child.” In it, Ingersoll excoriates those who held humanity in the bondage of superstition and called for freedom of intellectual development. As he declared, “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself. Keep your mind open to the influences of nature. Receive new thoughts with hospitality. Let us advance.” Debs was amazed by this speech. Writing decades later, “Never until that night had I heard real oratory; never before had I listened enthralled to such a flow of genuine eloquence.” Ingersoll’s words, which “pleaded for every right and protested against every wrong,” galvanized the budding orator and political activist.

Robert Ingersoll addressing an audience. Peoria Magazine.

Also in 1878, Ingersoll used his considerable speaking talents towards another issue of grave importance: the condition of labor. While it would be too much to say that Ingersoll was a socialist like Debs, he was nevertheless a socially-conscious liberal Republican who understood the inequities between workers and owners in a capitalist society. In a speech entitled “Hard Times and the Way Out,” delivered in Boston, Massachusetts on October 20, 1878, Ingersoll laid out his views on the subject. While he reiterated his belief that “there is no conflict, and can be no conflict, in the United States between capital and labor,” he nevertheless chastised the capitalists who would impugn the dignity and quality of life of their laborers. “The man who wants others to work to such an extent that their lives are burdens, is utterly heartless,” he bellowed to the crowd in Boston. He also called for the use of improved technology to lower the overall workday. Additionally, in a passage that could’ve been composed by Eugene V. Debs decades later, Ingersoll declared:

I sympathize with every honest effort made by the children of labor to improve their condition. That is a poorly governed country in which those who do the most have the least. There is something wrong when men are obliged to beg for leave to toil. We are not yet a civilized people; when we are, pauperism and crime will vanish from our land.

This speech left a lasting impression on Debs, so much so that he quoted it at length in an 1886 article in the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine calling for the eight-hour workday. It is safe to say that Ingersoll’s own progressive views on labor influenced Debs’s own labor advocacy, especially during his time leading the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W).

Eugene V. Debs, 1897. Indiana Memory.

Years later, in 1894, Eugene V. Debs and the American Railway Union (ARU) led a massive labor strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company in the outskirts of Chicago. Approximately 2,000 employees walked off the job in May, demanding an end to the 33 1/3% pay cut they took the year prior. When the strikes escalated into violence, largely due to the aggressive tactics of the Chicago police, the United States Court in Chicago filed an injunction against Debs and the ARU. The injunction claimed that Debs, as head of the ARU, violated federal law by “block[ing] the progress of the United States mails,” the Indianapolis Journal reported. Debs was later arrested for his actions, using legendary civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow for his defense. Some speculated at the time that Robert Ingersoll, himself a lawyer, would defend Debs in court, but that never came to pass. Instead, Ingersoll defended Debs in the court of public opinion, when the press reported his previous treatment for alcoholism in an effort to discredit his cause.

Workers leaving the Pullman Palace Car Works, 1893. Wikimedia Commons.

An article in the July 9, 1894 issue of the Jersey City News reported that Dr. Thomas S. Robertson treated Debs in 1892 for “neurasthenia” and “dipsomania,” terms used in the era to describe anxiety due to spinal cord injury and alcoholism, respectively. To help his friend, Ingersoll had written a letter of introduction for Debs to Dr. Robertson, as he had used the physician’s services before. The article quotes Dr. Robertson at length, who claimed that Debs suffered from exhaustion, which had been exacerbated by drinking, but he had improved in the two years since. When asked if Debs was of sound mind, Dr. Robertson said, “in ordinary times, yes, but he is likely to be carried away by excitement and enthusiasm.” In essence, Debs suffered from what today we might call stress-induced anxiety, which became more pronounced by substance abuse. However, it is important to note that charges of alcoholism were common in this era, and Debs might have exhibited symptoms of it without ever being intoxicated.

Sensing the intention of the press with this story, Ingersoll released a statement to the Philadelphia Observer, later reprinted in the Unionville, Nevada Silver State on August 27, 1894. In it, he stood up for his friend and the causes he fought for. “I have known Mr. Debs for about twelve years,” Ingersoll said, and “I believe, [he] is a perfectly sincere man—very enthusiastic in the cause of labor—and his sympathies are all with the workingman.” When asked about Debs’s drinking, Ingersoll pushed back on the claims, saying “I never met him when he appeared to be under the influence of stimulants. He was always in good health and in full possession of his faculties.” He also commented on the attempts at scandal in the newspapers, adding that his “testimony is important in view of gossip and denunciation that everywhere attend the public mention of the strike leader.” In one of Debs’ darkest hours, when his character and cause came under fire, Ingersoll publicly defended his friend and challenged the claims made against him. Such was the nature of their bond.

Harper’s Weekly, July 14, 1894. Library of Congress.

While Robert Ingersoll certainly influenced Debs on the importance of oratory and the cause of labor, he also left a profound intellectual influence on the future socialist. Early in his life, Debs developed an iconoclastic view of religion, which primed him for a rewarding relationship with Ingersoll. In conversations with Larry Karsner, published in book form in 1922, Debs reflected on the event that made him weary of organized religion. At the age of 15, Debs attended a sermon at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Terre Haute. The priest’s vivid descriptions of hell, with a “thousand demons and devils with horns and bristling tails, clutching pitchforks, steeped in brimstone,” completely soured him on institutionalized Christianity. “I left that church with rich and royal hatred of the priest as a person, and a loathing for the church as an institution,” Debs said, “and I vowed that I would never go inside a church again.” Furthermore, when asked by Karsner if he was a disbeliever at that time, Debs replied, “Oh yes, a strong one.”

He furthered his views on hell in a February 19, 1880 article in the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette. “I do not believe in hell as a place of torment or punishment after death,” he wrote, “. . . the hell of popular conception exists solely in the imagination.” He further argues that while the idea of hell may have served a beneficial function in the past, “as soon, however, as people become good enough to be just and honorable for the simple satisfaction it affords them, and avoid evil for the same reason, then there is no further necessity of hell.” With these words, Debs actually echoed much of what Ingersoll said on the subject in an 1878 lecture. “The idea of a hell,” Ingersoll noted, “was born of revenge and brutality on the one side, and cowardice on the other. In my judgment the American people are too brave, too charitable, too generous, too magnanimous, to believe in the infamous dogma of an eternal hell.”

Robert Ingersoll pamphlet on Hell, 1882. Google Books.

While the doctrine of hell and the strictures of the church left Debs cold, he nevertheless adopted a liberal, nondenominational form of Christianity later in his life, one molded by his exposure to Ingersoll and freethought. In a 1917 article entitled “Jesus the Supreme Leader,” published in the Call Magazine and later reprinted in pamphlet form, Debs shared his thoughts on the prophet from Nazareth. Debs saw Christ not as a distant, ethereal presence, but rather as a revolutionary figure whose own humanity made him divine. “Jesus was not divine because he was less human than his fellow-men,” he wrote, “but for the opposite reason, that he was supremely human, and it is this of which his divinity consists, the fullness and perfection of him as an intellectual, moral and spiritual human being.” He placed Jesus in the same pantheon of transformative figures as abolitionist John Brown, President Abraham Lincoln, and philosopher Karl Marx.

For Debs, Christ’s appeal to “love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” was the same in spirit as Marx’s famous dictum in the Communist Manifesto: “Workers of all countries unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win.” Both statements are about solidarity—of people coming together, helping one another, and fighting for a better world. In this sense, Debs interpreted Christ like many humanists and non-sectarian Christians do today—as a deeply human figure that preached love, peace, and harmony with others.

Eugene V. Debs and Jesus of Nazareth pamphlet. Internet Archive.

While Debs and Ingersoll did not share the exact same views on Christianity, they did share a commitment to secularism, tolerance, freethought, and social justice. Debs would parlay his knowledge from Ingersoll and others into a successful political career, running five times on the socialist party ticket and earning nearly a million votes in 1920 while imprisoned for speaking out against America’s involvement in WWI. As Ingersoll was the leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought,” Debs was the leader of the “Golden Age of American Socialism,” with thousands attending his speeches and joining socialist organizations. Despite their friendship being tragically cut short by Robert Ingersoll’s death in 1899, Debs honored the legacy of the Great Agnostic for the rest of his life. Writing in his “Recollections of Ingersoll” in 1917, Debs said:

He was absolutely true to the highest principles of his exalted character and to the loftiest aspirations of his own unfettered soul. He bore the crudest misrepresentation, the foulest abuse, the vilest calumny, and the most heartless persecution without resentment or complaint. He measured up to his true stature in every hour of trial, he served with fidelity and without compromise to the last hour of his noble life, he paid in full the price of his unswerving integrity to his own soul, and each passing century to come will add fresh luster to his immortal fame.

In studying their lives and their friendship, one might say these words for Robert Green Ingersoll could equally apply to Eugene Victor Debs.

Eugene V. Debs standing by pillar. Indiana Memory.

THH Episode 41: Notre Dame Tackles the Klan

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Notre Dame Tackles the Klan

[Radio clips of Notre Dame football fades in and out]

Nineteen twenty-four was going to be their year. The Notre Dame football team was coming off a well-played 1923 season with just one loss, and they had their sights set on an even bigger goal that year – a perfect season. However, to get there, they faced some stiff competition – rivals like the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who had served up their only loss in 1923, loomed on the horizon. But looming even larger than rival teams was an off-the-field opponent that was in a different class altogether. That year, Notre Dame set out to defeat the Ku Klux Klan in a media crusade the likes of which had never been seen before.

[Radio clips of Notre Dame football]

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

The Ku Klux Klan arrived in the Hoosier State in 1920. By the mid-20s, more than 250,000 men had joined the organization throughout the state, and thousands of women and children had joined auxiliary clubs. While bearing the name, costume, and racist, xenophobic rhetoric of the Reconstruction Era Klan, this iteration of the terrorist organization differed in some key ways.

The Klan of the 1860s and 70s wielded clubs, guns, and nooses, while the Klan of the 1920s mostly wielded political power. The Klan of the mid-19th century terrorized the African American population of the southern United States, while that of the 20th century broadened their animus to include political radicals, feminists, intellectuals, Jews, and, most vociferously, Catholics and immigrants.

One other way in which the Klan of the 1920s differed from its predecessor, especially in Indiana, was just how interwoven it was with respectable society. Klansmen weren’t on the fringes, ostracized by their hatred. Rather, as Indiana University historian James Madison said in his new book, The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland, “The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was as dark as the night and as American as apple pie.”

Nativism and xenophobia were well established in the state before 1920 – Hoosiers were already asking if immigrants could really be American if they maintained traditions from their homeland. Or if Catholics could be loyal Americans while simultaneously being loyal to the Pope. These weren’t ideas introduced by the Klan, but rather they were ideas that paved the way for the Klan to quickly infiltrate society at a deep level.

Because the Klan was such an integral part of the fabric of everyday life in Indiana, there was very little widespread resistance to the organization. However, there were instances of individuals, communities, and religious groups taking a stand against the hatred. Dr. Madison explores some of these instances in his Indiana Magazine of History article titled “The Klan’s Enemies Step up, Slowly.” Various towns and cities around the state passed laws prohibiting the wearing of masks, targeting the white hood and mask worn during Klan events. They denied permits for Klan-affiliated speakers, and restricted public cross burnings and parades. Jewish Hoosiers organized a lecture series on tolerance in an area rife with Klan activity. Newspapers around the Midwest, including the Muncie Post-Democrat, the Chicago-based Tolerance and the Indianapolis Times wrote scathing editorials decrying the Klan’s practices.

It was Catholic Hoosiers who showed the most unified resistance, though – this was likely because they were the primary targets of the Klan’s intolerance. When the Tipton County Fair announced it would be hosting a “Klan Day,” Catholics boycotted the event. When the Knights of Columbus organized a protest against the Klan in Indianapolis, nearly 800 Catholic men attended. And perhaps the state’s most prominent anti-Klan demonstration took place in the town of South Bend in May 1924.

South Bend, home to Catholics of Irish, Polish, and Hungarian origin, as well as the traditionally Catholic University of Notre Dame, was one of the only major cities in Indiana without a Klan presence. The hate group was working hard to change that in the lead-up to the 1924 election using a two-pronged approach. First, Klan leaders worked to legitimize the organization through philanthropic and recreational family activities and to grow its power through infiltrating politics and local law enforcement. Second, they worked to demonize their target groups – in this case, Catholics and immigrants. To that end, the Klan published anti-Catholic, xenophobic propaganda in their widely circulated newspaper, The Fiery Cross, and, as the existing anti-Catholic sentiments of many Hoosiers were being stoked in that way, Klan leadership laid a kind of trap for the Catholic citizens of South Bend. They scheduled a mass Klan meeting, where members from the Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois Klans would gather to spread their hateful rhetoric. The hope was that Catholic students from the nearby University of Notre Dame and South Bend citizens, many of whom were of immigrant origin, would rise up in reaction to the Klan’s presence, giving the Klan the opportunity to paint them as violent, lawless, un-American immigrants in contrast to the peacefully assembled “100% American” Klansmen. The meeting was scheduled for May 17, 1924.

Fearful for the safety of their students and local residents, Notre Dame and South Bend officials worked to stop a potentially violent incident. South Bend Mayor Eli Seebirt refused to grant the Klan a parade permit, although he could not stop their peaceful assembly on public grounds. Notre Dame President Matthew Walsh issued a bulletin, imploring students to stay on campus and ignore the Klan activities in town. He wrote:

Clark reading from Walsh: Similar attempts of the Klan to flaunt its strength have resulted in riotous situations, sometimes in the loss of life. However aggravating the appearance of the Klan may be, remember that lawlessness begets lawlessness. Young blood and thoughtlessness may consider it a duty to show what a real American thinks of the Klan. There is only one duty that presents itself to Notre Dame men, under the circumstances, and that is to ignore whatever demonstration may take place today.

Beckley: Father Walsh was right. “Young blood” could not abide the humiliation of this anti-Catholic hate group taking over the town. The Fiery Cross had hurled insults and false accusations at the students for some time. The propaganda newspaper called them “hoodlums,” claimed that Notre Dame produced “nothing of value,” and blamed the students for crime in the area. As Klan members began arriving in the city on May 17, 1924, South Bend was ready to oppose them.

The South Bend Tribune reported:

Clark reading from Tribune: Trouble started early in the day when Klansmen in full regalia of hoods, masks and robes appeared on street corners in the business section, ostensibly to direct their brethren to the meeting ground, Island park, and giving South Bend its first glimpse of Klansmen in uniform.

Beckley: Not long after Klan members began arriving, young men, assumed to have been Notre Dame students, surrounded the masked intruders. The anti-Klan South Bend residents and students tore off several masks and robes, exposing the identities of “kluxers” who wished to spread their hate anonymously. The Tribune reported that some Klan members were “roughly handled.” The newspaper also reported that the anti-Klan force showed some evidence of organization. They formed a “flying column” that moved in unison “from corner to corner, wherever a white robe appeared.” By 11:30 a.m. students and residents of South Bend had purged the business district of any sign of the Klan.

Meanwhile, Klan leaders continued to lobby city officials for permission to parade, hold meetings in their downtown headquarters, and assemble en masse at Island Park. Just after noon, the group determined to protect South Bend turned their attention to Klan headquarters. This home base was the third floor of a building and was identifiable by the “fiery cross” made of red light bulbs in the window. The students and South Bend residents surrounded the building and focused on removing the glowing red symbol of hate. Several young men “hurled potatoes” at the building, breaking several windows and smashing the light bulbs in the cross. The young men then stormed up the stairs to the Klan den and were stopped by minister and Klan leader Reverend J.H. Horton with a revolver.

The students attempted to convince Klan members to agree not to parade in masks or with weapons. While convincing all parties to ditch the costumes wasn’t easy, they did eventually negotiate a truce. By 3:30 p.m., the protestors had left the headquarters and rallied at a local pool hall.  Here, a student leader spoke to the crowd and urged them to remain peaceful but vigilant in case they were needed by the local police to break up the parade. After all was said and done, despite Klan threats, the city never issued a parade license and the Klan never paraded. Looking at the outcomes of this clash, it may seem as though the Notre Dame students came out on top – they were able to clear much of the city of white-robed Klansmen, the parade had not happened, and they had faced their persecutors head-on, something that’s easy to root for. However, this show of resistance was exactly what they Klan wanted, and they ran with it, painting the students as a “reckless, fight loving gang of Hoodlums” and using the Fiery Cross to spread a narrative of law-abiding Protestant citizens being denied their right to peacefully assemble while being violently attacked by gangs of Catholics and immigrants working together.

Mixing outright lies into their media spin, the Klan newspaper claimed that the students ripped up American flags and attacked women and children. The Klan’s propaganda was picked up by many mainstream newspapers and widely reported. The Notre Dame students may have appeared to win the day, but the reputation of the University of Notre Dame, and the Catholic community as a whole, had been tarnished by the spread of Klan propaganda.

The university needed a way to combat this bad press, and luckily, they had just the thing: the wildly successful Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. Since 1921, Father John O’Hara, the prefect of religion, had been working to link the players’ Catholicism with their success on the gridiron by arranging press coverage of the players attending mass before away games, providing medals of saints for them to wear during games, and writing about “the religious component in Notre Dame’s football success.” In essence, he drew on the idea of sport as a platform for social change, an idea that continues to be used in the 21st century. O’Hara planned to take this strategy up a notch for the 1924 season in an attempt to combat the smear campaign being waged by the Klan.

In order to put this plan into action, though, the Fighting Irish would have to make an even more impressive showing than they had in the 1923 season. This was a tall order, as their only loss that season was a devastating defeat by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a game during which the Fighting Irish were subjected to anti-Catholic insults. This would have to be a year like no other – a perfect, undefeated season.

Coach Knute Rockne had his work cut out for him, but he came to the 1924 season with a plan – instead of starting his first-string players, he would send in his second-string “shock troops” to tire out their opponents. Then he would send in his best players, still fresh and ready to make up any ground that had been lost and more. The strategy was deployed with great success in the first two games of the season – Lombard College and Wabash College were defeated with a combined score of 74 to zero. The first real test for both the team and the press strategy came on October 25, when the Fighting Irish faced one of their biggest rivals – the Army team.

[Radio coverage from Army game]

In the lead up to the game, alumni living in the city fed Notre Dame-produced press statements to New York newspapers and drummed up support for the Fighting Irish at local Catholic organizations. As 60,000 fans…

Clark with old-time radio effects:  60,000 fans have descended upon the New York City Polo Grounds to watch this match-up …

Beckley: it was clear that the good press had paid off – the New York Times reported that the crowd was the largest ever seen in the city. When the Irish pulled off a relatively tight 13-7 victory, the press raved and reporter Grantland Rice of the New York Herald Tribune delivered one of the most famous lines in sports history, writing about the Notre Dame’s backfield lineup:

Clark reading from Tribune: Outlined against a blue, gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden.

Beckley: The “four horsemen” nickname immediately gained traction. Upon the team’s return, the university arranged to have a photographer shoot a picture of the “horsemen” in uniform on horseback – just another card in the media playbook

One-third of the way through their regular season, the plan was right on track – the team had won some decisive victories and the media coverage was overwhelmingly positive, despite the fact that the Fiery Cross continued to re-hash the events of May 24, smearing the Catholic and immigrant community of South Bend every chance they got. As the season continued, it became clear that this Notre Dame team was a force to be reckoned with – they emerged from their mid-season games with three more decisive victories against Princeton, Georgia Tech, and University of Wisconsin. Their next, and perhaps largest, hurdle still loomed ahead in the form of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who had delivered their only defeat of the 1923 season.

In their last match-up, the Fighting Irish had encountered prejudice and xenophobic epithets from the Nebraska fanbase. This meant that a victory against the Huskers would not only get the Irish one win closer to a perfect season, but the victory of the hardworking and stoic Irish Catholic school over a team with anti-Catholic fans would be symbolic of a larger Catholic victory over prejudice.

This game had been the focus of the entire season for Notre Dame, and when the two teams took the field in South Bend on November 15, the Fighting Irish were out for revenge…

Clark with old time radio effects: …the Fighting Irish are out for revenge. Coach Rockne may be re-thinking his shock troop tactics this game… and the Huskers advance to the four-yard line after the Irish give up a fumble … The crowd goes wild as the first stringers take the field … and the Huskers drive it in for an early touchdown, Huskers lead 6-0 at the end of the first period! The Irish come out strong in the second quarter … the Four Horsemen are putting on a fine show … and we go to the half with the Irish ahead 14-6. … The Irish Eleven are really putting on a show now … Notre Dame 21, Nebraska 6 at the end of the third period … and Layden plunges through the center for a touchdown! … 34-6. The Irish win! The Irish win!!

Beckley: Finally, they had defeated the team that had not only ruined their otherwise perfect 1923 season, but had maligned them with anti-Catholic, anti-Irish slurs as well.

With that win in the books, the Irish swept through the remaining two games on their schedule – against Northwestern and Carnegie Tech – with relative ease, achieving their goal of a perfect season. This perfect record was everything the university administration had hoped for in order to engage their publicity machine and improve the school’s unfairly marred reputation. Giving them an even better opportunity for good press, the team was invited to play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Father O’Hara, who had orchestrated press coverage of the team throughout the season, saw this as an unprecedented public relations opportunity.

Rather than travel to California a week before the game and practice a few times on the Rose Bowl field, the team was put through a grueling three-week schedule of practices, press conferences, public appearances, and daily Mass – all while snaking their way across the country by train. At the same time, the Klan continued to churn out hateful propaganda painting Catholics and immigrants as un-American troublemakers. And major outlets had picked up the narrative, lending credibility to the slanderous claims. This was what these young men, who were already facing the biggest game of their careers, were up against. Not only did they have to be at the top of their game, they also had to be on the moral high ground – they were representatives not only of Notre Dame, but of the larger Catholic and Irish American communities.

Finally, the team arrived in Los Angeles to a train platform crowded with fans – it seemed their press tour was working.

After checking into the hotel, the team went to the Rose Bowl field for practice. Standing in the stadium, the Irish focused on their goal: a Rose Bowl championship. After one more practice, the Fighting Irish returned to their hotel to rest for the night. In the meantime, newspapers across the country reported on the practice, debated who would win the following day, and discussed just how evenly matched the two teams were. The excitement was building. The Chicago Tribune reported:

Clark reading from Tribune: Every arriving train brings more football fans, and the great majority favor Notre Dame to win. Coaches from all sections of the country are here to get a line on the Rockne style of play and see what all expect to be a great exhibition of open football.

Beckley: On the warm and sunny New Year’s Day of 1925, the team attended Mass and took Holy Communion before heading to the Rose Bowl. Over 53,000 fans filled the stands and others sat in trees outside the stadium. The game started at 2:15 p.m. As usual, Coach Rockne started his second string “shock troops…

Clark with old time radio effects: …Coach Rockne has started his second string “shock troops.” That might be a mistake with this Stanford offense … and the Cardinals score first with a field goal – score 3-0 Stanford … And the first string players enter the fray … Even the usually unstoppable Four Horsemen seem to be unable to make a drive against this Stanford line …  Oh! And the Irish get a break as Stanford flubs the punt, placing the Irish on the Stanford 32 yard-line! … The Irish drive it in for their first score of the game – Irish lead 6-3! … Notre Dame full-back Elmer Layden intercepts the pass and runs it back for a 70 yard touchdown!! … Irish lead 13-3 going into the second half!

And the Cardinals fumble the ball – Irishman Edward Huntsinger picks it up and runs it 20 yards for another touchdown!! … Stanford has the ball inside the Notre Dame 1-yard line … and they’re stopped mere inches from the endzone!! Stanford goes for a pass and it’s intercepted by Layden … he’s going, he’s going, he’s gone!!! Layden runs it back for another 70 yard touchdown … And the Irish win the Rose Bowl 27-10! What a way to top off a perfect season!!

Beckley: The season was over, but the public relations machine was still in full force. The team set off on a “victory lap” from California to Indiana on January 2, a 10-day journey where the players met adoring crowds, rubbed shoulders with celebrities, and shook hands with politicians. This was a victory lap for the Notre Dame football squad, yes, but also for Catholicism. After all, what’s more American than football? And here was a group of scholar-athletes demonstrating for the nation that their faith didn’t stand in the way of being American.

Perhaps everyone who had been discriminated against in this era of the Klan was feeling a little Irish in the wake of the Notre Dame victory. Herbert Fleishacker, a prominent Jewish San Francisco banker, wrote in a telegram to the alumni group:

Clark reading telegram: WE IRISH MUST STAND TOGETHER.

Beckley: By the time they arrived back at the university on January 12, the players were completely exhausted, but triumphant. The Fighting Irish had delivered an undefeated season and a national championship to their university. Notre Dame officials, in turn, leveraged the opportunity into a publicity spectacle. Father O’Hara’s plan to use football successes to reform the school’s reputation had worked. Notre Dame historian Robert Burns noted that:

Clark reading from Burns: By playing very hard, but always according to the rules, never complaining or making excuses, and winning, Notre Dame players would show the American public what Catholics and Catholic education was all about.

Beckley: The Klan’s Fiery Cross continued to spread lies about Catholic plots and tales of Notre Dame hoodlums, but the country had just witnessed an extended and public display of honorable play, sportsmanship, and model behavior from these young Catholic men – the American public were largely over the story.

The publicity campaign organized by the University of Notre Dame forever crushed the Klan’s plans for infiltrating South Bend and tainting the school’s reputation. South Bend refused to be baited into further physical confrontations with the Klan, school officials refused to accept the insults hurled at them through Klan propaganda, and the Fighting Irish refused to play the Klan’s game. They played football instead – just one example in a long history of sports being used as a platform for social change and social justice in America.

However, while the Klan was defeated in South Bend, they remained dominant throughout much of Indiana, and their anti-Immigrant views were popular throughout the nation. The same year that this story takes place – 1924 – the Klan’s championing of white supremacist principles yielded real world consequences in the form of the national Immigration Act of 1924, which resulted in a quota system that reduced immigration by 80%. We saw the effects of this legislation most poignantly in the 1930s, when hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, who applied to the United States for immigration visas, were denied entry. Many of those people were later murdered in the Holocaust.

In the 1920s, the Klan claimed to be the sole proprietor of who was “American:” native born, white Protestants were, and foreign-born Catholics were not.  Although today the Klan has lost much of their power, their vision of white supremacy and exclusion still simmers right beneath the surface of American politics, and in some cases boils over. In the 1920s, we allowed hate groups to define who was and wasn’t considered American. Today, as we see hate groups on the rise, we must be vigilant not to let the mistakes of our past be repeated.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. This episode of Talking Hoosier History was adapted from “Integrity on the Gridiron,” three original posts written by IHB historian Jill Weiss Simins for the Indiana History Blog. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thank you to Justin Clark for lending his voice to today’s episode. We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode of Giving Voice, where I’ll be talking with Indiana University historian and author of the new book, The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland, Dr. James Madison. In the meantime, find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Show Notes for Notre Dame Tackles the Klan

Learn about the Indianapolis Times crusade against the Klan with this episode of Talking Hoosier History. 

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part One: Opposition to the Klan at Notre Dame,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-one-notre-dame-opposition-to-the-klan/ 

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Two: Notre Dame’s 1924 Football Team Battles Klan Propaganda,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-two/

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Three: The Notre Dame Publicity Campaign that Crushed the Klan,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-three-the-notre-dame-publicity-campaign-that-crushed-the-klan/

James Madison, “The Klan’s Enemies Step Up, Slowly,” Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 116, No. 2 (June 2020), p. 93-120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/indimagahist.116.2.01?seq=1

Integrity on the Gridiron Part Three: The Notre Dame Publicity Campaign that Crushed the Klan

 

Program, “Stanford vs Notre Dame,” 1925, in David Kiefer, “Stanford 125: The 1920s,” September 10, 2019, accessed gostanford.com.

This is Part Three of a three-part series on the University of Notre Dame’s opposition to the Ku Klux Klan. See Part One for information on the May 1924 riot and Part Two for more about the integrity modeled by the Fighting Irish during the 1924 regular football season.

Indiana’s Ku Klux Klan had a good year in 1924. Its members’ lobbying paid off and their xenophobia was codified into law with the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act). The act established a strict quota system that unfairly targeted immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, in large part because many immigrants from these areas were Catholics. The Klan and other xenophobes charged that Catholic immigrants would always be loyal to the Pope and to Rome, as opposed to the laws of their adopted country, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. The new immigration law would keep out these “undesirable” immigrants. For many xenophobes, including Klan members, this was not enough. The Indiana Klan worked to further block Catholics and immigrants from gaining political power and influence. They did so by working to portray immigrants, Catholics, and Jews as “other,” as alien, as unassimilable, as un-American.[1]

Left: Ku Klux Klan, “Information Sheet,” 1922, Indiana Pamphlet Collection, Indiana State Library, (top page of sheet). Right: Detail from “Information Sheet.”

In Indiana, the Klan circulated “Information Sheets” before elections. These were copies of ballots where the Klan noted candidates who were “Negro” or “Foreign Born,” those who were Catholic or had Catholic family members, and those who refused to respond to inquiries.[2] The Klan newspaper, the Fiery Cross, accused Catholics and immigrants of various wild plots against their fellow Hoosiers and positioned Klan members as the innocent victims of attacks by Catholics. The propaganda mouthpiece dedicated full pages to this “mounting list of Roman Catholic offenses,” which supposedly included such “papist crimes” as “arson, theft, assault and battery, murder, slander, intimidation, breach of contract, disrespect for flag and violation of the immigration law.”[3]

Advertisement, Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan also continued to use the May 1924 incident at South Bend to vilify the city’s immigrant population as “hoodlums” and Notre Dame University as a front for secret, un-American, “papist” activities that would undermine the values of good Protestant Hoosiers. The Fiery Cross distributed a booklet, “The Truth About the Notre Dame Riot” and ran articles and anonymous letters it claimed were penned by neutral, non-Klan member observers of the “foreign rioting”of May. [4] In truth, these “letters” were racist, anti-Catholic propaganda. These strikingly similar letters, signed with pseudonyms like “An American Citizen” and “Observer” referred to Notre Dame students as”anti-American” and “gangsters. [5] The writers claimed that the students were armed with guns and knives, outnumbered Klan members thirty-to-one, beat women unconscious, tore up the American flag, and spilled the blood of all-American Klansmen, “the same true blood shed at Bunker Hill and Argonne.”[6]  While local non-Klan affiliated newspapers reported no such level of violence, no weapons, no women present, and no destruction of the flag, the Klan’s version of events was repeated in mainstream newspapers, tarnishing the university’s reputation.

Notre Dame officials knew that the Klan wanted them to react. The Klan had baited students into conflict in May and had been thriving off the propaganda opportunity ever since. The xenophobic group continued threatening to return to South Bend, even holding large rallies on the edge of town. Instead of responding to the Klan, the university worked to counter the damage done to their reputation by promoting its increasingly-popular football team. By winning games, growing its fan base, publicizing its players as wholesome American boys, and linking the school’s Catholicism with its success on the field, Notre Dame flipped the script on the Klan. Newspapers across the country were now talking about Coach Rockne’s brilliant plays, the unstoppable Four Horseman offensive backfield, the Fighting Irish’s undefeated regular season, and the team’s odds at the upcoming Rose Bowl.[7]

Minneapolis Star, December 26, 1924, 14, accessed Newspapers.com.

The trip to the Rose Bowl presented university leadership with a unique opportunity—a national stage on which to demonstrate that Notre Dame was both proudly Irish Catholic and thoroughly American. Many players were sons of immigrants, improving themselves through education and hard work to achieve success and the American dream. And what could be more American than football? Positive press coverage generated by the Fighting Irish’s undefeated 1924 season convinced President Walsh that mobilizing the full power of the university behind the football team was a winning promotional strategy. According to Notre Dame historian Robert Burns:

When reporters wrote about Rockne’s success or the exploits of the Four Horsemen, they could not do so without also writing about the special religious and academic environment that had made such success and exploits possible. That sort of reporting…was good for Note Dame, for Catholic higher education, and for American Catholics generally in the bigoted climate of 1924. [8]

Walsh gave his blessing to the January 1925 match up between Notre Dame and Stanford at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He then handed over the reigns to Father O’Hara, the school’s “prefect of religion and  unofficial keeper of the institutional conscience.” Father O’Hara turned the train trip to Pasadena into a “public relations spectacular.”[9]

“Mass Celebrated by the Notre Dame Football Team on the Road,” n.d., University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed https://www.nd.edu/stories/whats-in-a-name/.

Father O’Hara planned a three week trip centered around the Rose Bowl game and mobilized Notre Dame alumni and Catholic organizations to set up public events en route. Alumnus and railroad executive Angus D. McDonald arranged for a special train to transport the team, coaches, managers, alumni, and Father O’Hara. The train included a chapel car for Mass, Holy Communion, and confession. Father O’Hara believed that the devoutness demonstrated through daily communion, combined with “the gentlemanly conduct of the team” would win over the American public “while bigotry and prejudice received an abrupt setback.”[10]

“Notre Dame University’s Unbeaten Football Team at Illinois Central Station Chicago en Route to California via New Orleans,” Illinois Central Railroad Company Photograph, December 20, 1924, University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed 125.nd.edu.

On Thursday, December 18, 1924, Rockne drilled his players “on a field covered with ice and in a slow drizzle,” a public display of a steadfast team determined to win in January.[11]  The next day, the special Notre Dame train left for Chicago. The Tennessean reported that “Hundreds of students and townspeople braved zero degree weather” to see them off.[12] When they arrived in Chicago on Saturday, alumni and members of the Knights of Columbus greeted the team and posed for photos. Notre Dame had become increasingly popular among Chicago’s immigrant community, and local newspapers thoroughly covered the team’s arrival in the city, openly rooting for them over the days leading up the Rose Bowl.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the entire Midwest was “pulling for Knute Rockne’s famous ‘Four Horsemen’ to ride rough shod over the Californians.”[13] The newspaper stated that midwesterners had a vested interest in the game’s outcome “because of the intersectional reputation of Notre Dame, the most widely advertised eleven the country has ever known.”[14] The Tribune reported that while normally telegraph offices would be closed on New Year’s Day, they would “remain open to receive the returns.”[15] The paper also encouraged “everybody with a radio, or those who know somebody with a set” to keep “their ears glued to the headpieces” as Tribune radio station WGN would be airing the game.[16] Pasadena hotel companies even beckoned to Chicago-area residents to follow the team out West for the Rose Bowl through newspaper advertisements.[17] In fact, newspapers all across the country reported on the team’s travels from this first stop. By the time the train left Chicago, the Rose Bowl seats were completely sold out.[18]

“A ticket from the 1925 Rose Bowl between Notre Dame and Stanford,” in “The First Bowl Trip, 125 Moments, University of Notre Dame Football, accessed 125.nd.edu.

The Notre Dame train traveled south, stopping briefly in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 21. Here, the team and entourage were again greeted by alumni and Knights of Columbus members, who had set up a special Mass in the team’s honor. They continued on to New Orleans, where locals pulled out all the stops for “a series of entertainments”over a two-day period.[19] The first day Coach Rockne held an hour-long practice at Loyola University stadium, “consisting chiefly of passing and kicking and the execution of several plays,” and the second day the team spent the afternoon in workouts at Holy Cross College.[20] In the evenings, the team was “elaborately entertained.”[21] According to Burns, “The team was a huge favorite of the large local Catholic population, who turned out in large crowds to cheer and follow the players as they enjoyed the city.”[22] They reportedly enjoyed themselves too much and were “so stuffed with oysters and creole food that they could barely run” at practice.[23] Rockne was not happy and threatened to send players home if they didn’t restrain themselves, maintain their physical fitness, and obey his 10:00 p.m. curfew from this point forward.

The team arrived in Houston, Texas, on December 24 to a now-familiar scene as Notre Dame alumni and the local Catholic community greeted them. Several representatives also arrived from nearby St. Edwards College in Austin, including the college president Father Matthew Schumacher and the athletic director Jack Meager, who was also a former Notre Dame player.[24] Rockne drilled the team hard, despite the rain, and they showed improvement from their lackluster practice in New Orleans.[25] Newspapers reported that Rockne made the team run drills on Christmas day. This was likely a short practice, considering the devout Father O’Hara was supervising the trip, dressing up as Santa Claus that day.[26] The players also attended Mass, a private party, and a Knights of Columbus dinner.[27]

“Horsemen in Action,” 1924, in Harry McGuire and Jack Scallan, eds., Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 51, accessed Notre Dame Archives.

With the Rose Bowl game drawing near, Rockne cancelled the team’s scheduled stop in El Paso, and the train headed straight to Tucson, Arizona, to get down to work. Here the team practiced for four straight days in order to adapt to the warmer climate. Again, Rockne was joined by former players, this time at the University of Arizona stadium. One of these players, Edward Madigan, “scouted Stanford for Rockne” and made the coach aware of a “sideline screen pass that the Stanford coach used two or three times a game.”[28] Rockne devised a play to block this pass and taught the players to recognize its set up. This intelligence would greatly impact the results of the Rose Bowl game.

Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1924, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

When the team arrived in Los Angeles on December 31, 1924, several thousand supporters met them at the train station. Commenting on the crowd and the success of Notre Dame’s publicity machine, the Notre Dame Alumnus magazine reported:

Despite the early arrival hour, seven o’clock, the station platform was crowded with alumni, Knights of Columbus, members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (who presented a massive silver football to the team) and various motion picture people anxious to see their rivals in publicity.[29]

At least one hundred of the folks gathered on the platform that day were South Bend, Lafayette, and Chicago-based Notre Dame alumni who had arrived on the “Rockne Special,” a Pullman train chartered by the Notre Dame Club of Chicago, to take them from the Windy City to Los Angeles.[30] The train full of super fans garnered its own round of press coverage with wire services reporting on its stops across the country, where these alumni also stopped for daily Mass and were welcomed by local Catholic organizations.[31]

“Notre Dame Grid Men at Pasadena, California,” January 1, 1925, University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed 125.nd.edu.

Rockne, worried about the players getting distracted by all the fanfare, had the team driven immediately to their hotel in Pasadena. Even famous heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey couldn’t convince the coach to let him entertain the players first.[32] But the hotel lobby was just as festive as the train platform. Former football player and Chicago Tribune sportswriter Walter Eckersall wrote:

Again at the hotel the squad was accorded another rousing reception for the lobby had been filled all day with curious personas who continually asked to see the warriors who have brought so much glory to Notre Dame.[33]

After checking into the hotel, the team went to the Rose Bowl for practice. Standing in the stadium, the Irish focused on their goal: an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl championship. Coach Rockne worried that they hadn’t gotten in enough practice time during the trip because of inclement weather, but felt optimistic about the plays they studied and ran in Tucson. The players wore “looks of determination on their faces which indicate they realize the burden of responsibility they are carrying.”[34] The Fighting Irish returned to their hotel at 8:30 p.m. without accepting any local offers of entertainment. Rockne notified the hotel staff: “No incoming calls answered.”[35]

Meanwhile, newspapers across the country reported on the practice, debated who would win the following day, and discussed just how evenly matched the two teams were. And the excitement was building. Eckersall wrote:

Every arriving train brings more football fans, and the great majority favor Notre Dame to win. Coaches from all sections of the country are here to get a line on the Rockne style of play and see what all expect to be a great exhibition of open football. [36]

On the warm and sunny New Year’s Day of 1925, the team attended Mass and took Holy Communion before heading to the Rose Bowl. Over 53,000 fans filled the stands and others sat in trees outside the stadium. The game started at 2:15 p.m. (4:15 for those Midwest fans listening to the WGN Chicago broadcast). [37] As usual, Coach Rockne started his second string “shock troops” so as not to tire his first string, especially under the warm California sun. (See Part One on this famous Rockne’s strategy). The shock troops buckled under the pressure of Stanford’s offense and the Cardinals scored first with a field goal. [38]

Chicago Sunday Tribune, January 11, 1925, 115, accessed Newspapers.com.

Stanford continued to outplay Notre Dame in the first quarter, even after Rockne sent his first string players into the fray. According to Burns, “The Four Horsemen could not mount a sustained drive against the huge but agile Stanford line.”[39] When Stanford kicked a bad punt, placing Notre Dame offense on the Stanford thirty-two yard line, the Irish got their first break. Burns continued: “Seven plays later, [full-back Elmer] Layden scored the first Notre Dame touchdown on a three-yard run early in the second quarter.”[40] The score was 6 to 3, Notre Dame. The Cardinals drove the Irish back hard, quickly putting them on the defensive at the Notre Dame six-yard line. Stanford brought out their trusty sideline screen pass, hoping to breeze by the Irish. This was the moment the Horsemen had trained for in Tucson after receiving the scouting report on the play. Coach Rockne explained:

We were primed for that play. Not only had Layden been instructed to intercept it, but we had two men to take out the safety man and the passer in the event that he did intercept the pass.[41]

Not only did Layden intercept the pass, he then ran seventy yards for a touchdown in one of the most exciting moments of the game. Half-back James Crowly kicked the extra point and Notre Dame led at the half 13 to 3. [42]

Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1925, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

Although Notre Dame led in points, Stanford was outpassing and outrushing the Irish, while shutting down their offense. The game was “hard fought,” physically exhausting, and Notre Dame looked tired at the half.[43] The Notre Dame Alumnus reported:

The boys were obviously feeling the effects of the long trip, the unusual heat of the day, and the hard, but clean, combat of the game . . . It was doubtful if some of the men, particularly the linemen could finish the game.[44]

Stanford missed two field goals early in the third quarter but kept Notre Dame “confined within their own thirty yard line throughout the period.”[45] About halfway through the quarter, Stanford fumbled, and Irishman Edward Huntsinger grabbed the ball. Coach Rockne had almost sent Huntsinger home days earlier in New Orleans for disobeying curfew to buy postcards in the hotel lobby. The Irish were lucky the coach reconsidered, because Huntsinger ran the recovered ball for another touchdown. Crowley again kicked the extra point, and Notre Dame led 20 to 3 at the end of the third.[46]

Des Moines Register, January 2, 1925, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

The crowd was tense when the fourth quarter began, as the score did not reflect how close the game really was.[47] Stanford intercepted a Notre Dame pass, and “in seven running plays” the Cardinals “moved the ball to a fourth down situation inside the Notre Dame one yard line.”[48] Then,“in the final period Stanford made a beautiful march of 60 yards” to put the ball at the Notre Dame one-yard line on the fourth down.[49] Stanford’s quarterback was stopped only a foot, or mere inches (depending on the report), from crossing the “counting mark” for a touchdown.[50] Layden punted back to Stanford’s 48-yard line, and “again the Cardinal[s] started to march down the field.”[51] With two minutes to go, Stanford again attempted their sideline screen pass. Layden anticipated the move, intercepted the play, and ran 60 or 70 yards (depending on reports) for a touchdown. Crowley came through with the extra point, and Notre Dame beat Stanford 27 to 10.[52] Both teams played exceptional football, and the Rose Bowl game was noted for “aggressive playing” but “remarkably clean” sportsmanship.[53]

The stadium roared with Notre Dame fans “jubilant in victory,” but the Fighting Irish were surprisingly stoic.[54] The Notre Dame Alumnus reported:

As 53,000 spectators jostled their way through the crowded tunnels of the Rose Bowl . . . thirty-three tired young lads dropped their football togs [clothing] on a damp cement floor of the dressing room, for the last time in a long season, silent in their contemplation of a hard-earned victory and buoyed up only by the realization that they had acquitted themselves to the credit and price of Notre Dame and Knute Rockne.[55]

Boston Globe, January 2, 1925, 16, accessed Newspapers.com.

The victorious players were so tired, they couldn’t enjoy the dinner and dance held for them back at their hotel that night. But the Fighting Irish would have to muster up a last bit of energy.[56] For while it had been a long trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl title, there was one last but important journey ahead of them: a victory lap across the country and back to South Bend.

On January 2, Hollywood welcomed the victorious Notre Dame team. The Alumnus reported that if there was a famous movie star who did not meet the players that day, it could only have been because the actor was not in town. The Alumnus also noted that “cameras worked overtime” capturing the stars and star players. [57] That night, the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles hosted a dinner dance which “gave the men their first opportunity to really celebrate.”[58] Father O’Hara was proud to report that at all times the players conducted themselves as honorable gentlemen and good Catholics.[59] After all, a large part of why they were on this trip was to reflect positively on the university. Every team member would have been aware of the expectations.

Indianapolis Star, January 9, 1925, 12, accessed Newspapers.com

The next day, January 3, the group arrived in San Francisco. Notre Dame alumni, the Knights of Columbus, and the city’s Irish-American mayor welcomed the Fighting Irish. Perhaps everyone who had been discriminated against in this era of the Klan was feeling a little Irish that day. Herbert Fleishacker, a prominent Jewish San Francisco banker, wrote in a telegram to the alumni group: “WE IRISH MUST STAND TOGETHER.”[60] At the dinner and dance that evening “once again, the players and coaches were charming, properly dressed, and well-behaved.”[61] They attended a special Mass the next morning and spent the day as the guests of some of the city’s most prominent citizens and leaders.[62]

The rest of the trip must have been a whirlwind for the exhausted players. They arrived in Salt Lake City on January 5, where they took historical tours, went to a concert, had dinner, and attended yet another reception. They received a Wild West themed welcome the following day from the local Catholic community of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Irish were provided with “six-gallon hats, stage coaches, a military band and the key to the frontier town.”[63]

“The Fighting Irishmen Notre Dame Cheyenne Wyoming,” January 1, 1925, University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed 125.nd.edu.

On January 6, a crowd of thousands waited on the platform as the team’s train pulled into Denver. Mothers of Notre Dame students and “a remarkably beautiful group of girls” greeted the players, pinning blue and yellow streamers on their coats.[64] The Denver alumni club reported:

Movie cameras were clicking, press photographers were snapping, and over it all sounds the low rumbling roar of the admiring crowd.[65]

The Denver Alumni Club drove the team through the cheering crowd to the Denver Athletic Club for yet another banquet. Two hundred prominent Denver citizens, including the governor of Colorado, attended the gala, where celebrants sang Notre Dame fight songs. Speeches that night focused on the moral strength of the university and on Catholicism as a powerful force in shaping students into upstanding American citizens. The Denver Alumni Club reported that “no one who attended the dinner can ever forget that Notre Dame builds character, manliness and righteousness along with wonderful football elevens.”[66]

Surprisingly, the next stop on the tour, on January 8, was Lincoln, Nebraska, where the team had been accosted by xenophobic and anti-Catholic insults on the gridiron over the previous two seasons. [See parts one and two]. Only now, they arrived in the city of their conquered rivals as national champions. Lincoln “forgot the defeat of November” at the hands of the Irish and treated them with sportsmanship and respect. The Notre Dame players even attended the inauguration of the new Nebraska governor that evening.[67]

Lincoln Journal Star (Nebraska), January 2, 1925, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Notre Dame train pulled into Chicago on January 9. Some players stayed for a few days in the city that had rooted for their victory beside radio sets a week earlier. Others went straight back to South Bend. By January 12, the Fighting Irish had all returned to the university.[68] They were completely exhausted from physical exertion and from continually being on their best behavior. The constant scrutiny of serving as representatives not just of the school, but of Catholics everywhere was a lot of pressure for young students. The Notre Dame Alumnus wrote:

The word ‘banquet’ is an alarm, ‘look pleasant, please’ is an oath and ‘the game’ is an unmentionable now that the men are back on campus — with exams less than two weeks away.[69]

The Fighting Irish had delivered an undefeated season and a national championship to their university. Notre Dame officials, in turn, leveraged the opportunity into a publicity spectacular. Father O’Hara’s plan to use football successes to reform the school’s reputation had worked. Burns noted that “By playing very hard, but always according to the rules, never complaining or making excuses, and winning, Notre Dame players would show the American public what Catholics and Catholic education was all about.”[70] The Fiery Cross continued to blather about Catholic plots and tales of Notre Dame hoodlums, but the country had just witnessed an extended and public display of honorable play, sportsmanship, and model behavior from these young Catholic men. Burns wrote:

For O’Hara and millions of American Catholics throughout the country who believed and felt as he did, and especially for the 300,000 Catholics living in Indiana—11 percent of the population of the state—the performance of the Notre Dame football team in that year gave them all a supreme moment of restored pride and dignity.[71]

The Klan would continue to influence Indiana politics for several years. But other Hoosiers would rise up in opposition like South Bend and Notre Dame. Cities passed anti-mask ordinances to prevent the Klan from marching in their hoods and robes.[72] Prominent citizens founded civic clubs “to fight the Ku Klux Klan.”[73] The Indianapolis Times launched a multi-year “crusade” against the Klan, exposing members’ identities and combating the secret organization’s influence on Indiana politics, and winning a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts. [74] African American voters risked being jailed as “floaters” (someone whose vote was illegally purchased), but came out in record numbers to cast their votes in opposition to Klan-backed candidates.[75] Local Catholic organizations called on politicians to denounce the Klan and include a plank in their official party platforms rejecting “secret political organizations” and supporting “racial and religious liberty.”[76] Indiana attorney Patrick H. O’Donnell led the American Unity League, a powerful Chicago-based Catholic organization that also published the names and addresses of Klan members in its publication Tolerance.[77]

As students of history, we should remember that, in many ways, the Indiana Klan succeeded  in their goals. They were able to elect officials sympathetic to the xenophobic demands for strict immigration quotas, which were enforced for decades. But we should also note that some Hoosiers refused to accept intolerance even when wrapped in the flag.

Daniel Fitzpatrick, “Konsternation in Indiana,” October 7, 1926, accessed State Historical Society of Missouri Digital Collections.

While much of Indiana became Klan territory, the publicity campaign organized by the University of Notre Dame forever crushed the Klan’s plans for infiltrating South Bend and tainting the school’s reputation. South Bend refused to be baited into further physical confrontations with the Klan, school officials refused to accept the insults hurled at them through Klan propaganda, and the Fighting Irish refused to play the Klan’s game. They played football instead. And they played with the honor and dignity imbued  through “the spirit of Notre Dame.”[78]

(Newport, VA) Daily Press, January 2, 1925, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

Notes:

For a thorough examination of the opposition to the Klan by African Americans, Jews, Catholics, lawyers, politicians, labor unions, newspapermen and more see: James H. Madison, “The Klan’s Enemies Step Up, Slowly,” Indiana Magazine of History 116, no. 2 (June 2020): 93-120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/indimagahist.116.2.01.

[1] Jill Weiss Simins, “‘America First’: The Ku Klux Klan Influence on Immigration Policy in the 1920s,” accessed Hoosier State Chronicles Blog.
[2] Indiana Ku Klux Klan, “Information Sheet,” 1922, Indiana Pamphlet Collection, Indiana State Library.
[3] “Tales Need No Adornment,” Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[4] Advertisement, Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.; “High School Boy Writes of Experiences in Notre Dame Riot,” Fiery Cross, July 25, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[5] Ibid.; “May 17 — November 8,” Fiery Cross, November 21, 1924, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Two: Notre Dame’s 1924 Football Team Battles Klan Propaganda,” accessed Indiana History Blog.
[8] Robert E. Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 361.
[9] Ibid., 364-65.
[10] Ibid. Burns quoted from Father O’Hara’s Religious Survey for 1924-25.
[11] “Name N.D. Squad,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1924, 28, accessed Newspapers.com.
[12] “Stanford – Notre Dame Seats All Sold Out,” Tennessean (Nashville), December 21, 1924, 17, accessed Newspapers.com.
[13] “Midwest Anxious for Notre Dame Victory,” Chicago Tribune, December 31, 1924, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.
[14-16] Ibid.
[17] Advertisement, Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1924, 21, accessed Newspapers.com.
[18] “Stanford – Notre Dame Seats All Sold Out,” 17.
[19] “Notre Dame Football Team in New Orleans,” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 23, 1924, 8, accessed Newspapers.com; “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 116-17, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Times (Shreveport, LA), December 23, 1924, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.
[22] Burns, 366.
[23] Ibid.
[24] “Saint Coaches to See Micks,” Austin American (Texas), December 24, 1924, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.
[25] “Notre Dame at Houston,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 25, 1924, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.
[26] “Rockne’s Team Spends Holiday with Practice,” Oakland Tribune, December 25, 1924, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.; “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[27] Burns, 366.
[28] Ibid., 367; “Football,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 106-107, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.
[29] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 17.
[30] “Rockne Special,” South Bend Tribune, December 19, 1924, 30, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Lafayette’s Off for Coast,” Journal and Courier (Lafayette), December 27, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[31] Ibid.; “Notre Dame to Stop Here,” Kansas City Times, December 18, 1924, 17, accessed Newspapers.com.
[32] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.; Walter Eckersall, “53,000 to See N. Dame Battle Stanford Today,” Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1925, 37.
[33-34] Eckersall, 37.
[35] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[36] Eckersall, 37.
[37] “Rose Tournament Throng Sets Record,” Pasadena Evening Post, January 1, 1925, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[38-40] Burns, 368.
[41]“Football,”  Notre Dame Alumnus, 106-07.
[42] Burns, 368.
[43-44] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[45-46] Burns, 368.
[47] “Iowan Stars as Notre Dame Beats Stanford Team,” Des Moines Register, January 2, 1925, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.
[48] Burns, 368.
[49] Ibid.; “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” Chicago Tribune, January 2, 1925, 1, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.
[50] Ibid.
[51] “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” 19.
[52] Burns, 368.
[53] “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” 19.
[54-55] “Football,”  Notre Dame Alumnus, 106.
[56-58] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 116-17.
[59] Burns, 369-70.
[60]  Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993, reprint, 2003), 171.
[61] Burns, 370.
[62-64] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[65] “Local Alumni Clubs,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 115, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.
[66] Ibid.
[67] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[68] Burns, 372.
[69] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[70] Burns, 349.
[71] Ibid.
[72] “Michigan City Passes Anti-Mask Resolution,” Star Press (Muncie, IN), September 8, 1923, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.
[73] “Political Club to Fight Klan in Lake County,” Times (Munster), April 10, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[74] Indiana Historical Bureau, “Indianapolis Times,” 2013, accessed State Historical Marker Text and Notes.
[75] “Many Factions Clash,” Indianapolis Star, May 6, 1925, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[76] “Request Parties to Oppose Klan,” Call-Leader (Elwood, IN), January 29, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[77] “Former Local Man to Fight Ku Klux Klan,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, September 16, 1922, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[78] Jim Langford and Jeremy Langford, The Spirit of Notre Dame (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2005), passim.

Integrity on the Gridiron Part Two: Notre Dame’s 1924 Football Team Battles Klan Propaganda

“Football: Notre Dame (South Bend) by South Shore Line,” 1926, broadside, Indiana State Library Broadside Collection, accessed ISL Digital Collections.

This is Part Two of a three-part series, but also stands alone as a story of the incredible strength of the 1924 Notre Dame football team and the university’s struggle to combat prejudice in the age of the Klan. See Part One for the 1923 Notre Dame football season, context on the political strength of the Klan in Indiana, the May 1924 clashes between Klan members and an alliance of Notre Dame students and South Bend’s Catholic residents of immigrant origin, as well as the ensuing damage to the university’s reputation.

Notre Dame students returned to campus in the fall of 1924 under the looming threat that the Klan would return before the November elections. Just months earlier, in May, the Klan had been able to bait Notre Dame students into a violent confrontation. While initially embarrassing to the Klan, as they were all but driven out of town by students, the Klan’s propaganda machine was able to revise history. Using widely circulated brochures and newspaper articles, the hate group painted the students as an unruly mob of Catholic immigrant hooligans who attacked good Protestant American businessmen assembled peacefully. By fall, local Klansmen still wanted revenge for the previous spring’s humiliation, while state Klan leaders sought to show voters that they needed protection from the “Catholic menace.” Notre Dame University staff and leadership prepared for further violence and worked to rehabilitate the school’s image in the wake of the spring clash between students and Klansmen. The school needed a public relations miracle to combat the Klan’s far reaching propaganda.

University President Father John O’Hara devised a strategy for countering the negative press coverage inflicted on Notre Dame by highlighting one university program that was beyond reproach, not to mention already popular and exciting enough to draw press coverage. Father O’Hara’s inspired strategy was to put the full weight of the university behind championing its successful football team and the respectable, upright, and modest team members. The Fighting Irish football team had finished the 1923 season with only the one loss to Nebraska and a decent amount of newspaper coverage.* Much more was riding on the 1924 football team’s success. The school administration, the student body, alumni, as well as Catholics and immigrants in Indiana and beyond, looked to the Notre Dame players to show the world that they, and people who shared their religion and heritage, were proud, hardworking, dignified, and patriotic. The model team could prove the Klan’s stereotypes about Catholics and immigrants had no resemblance to reality. [1]

Father O’Hara recognized that linking the players’ Catholicism with their success on the gridiron created a strong positive identity for the university. Since at least 1921, he had arranged for press to cover the players, Catholic and non-Catholic together, attending mass before away games. He provided medals of saints for the team to wear during games and distributed his Religious Bulletin, in which he wrote about “the religious component in Notre Dame’s football success,” to alumni, colleagues, and the press. [2] According to Notre Dame football historian Murray Sperber, Father O’Hara conceived of an ambitious outreach plan for the 1924 season as a direct response to the Klan’s propaganda. In fact, O’Hara may have gotten the idea from a 1923 New York Times editorial that sarcastically reported on the reason for the Klan’s rise and extreme anti-Catholicism in Indiana:

There is in Indiana a militant Catholic organization, composed of men specially chosen for strength, courage and resourcefulness. These devoted warriors lead a life of almost monastic asceticism, under stern military discipline. They are constantly engaged in secret drills. They make long cross-country raiding expeditions. They have shown their prowess on many battlefields. Worst of all, they lately fought, and decisively defeated, a detachment of the United States Army. Yet we have not heard of the Indiana Klansmen rising up to exterminate the Notre Dame football team. [3]

This editorial and other similar articles implied that making the football team the symbol of Catholicism at Notre Dame could serve to combat the Klan in the press. In 1924, Father O’Hara created a series of press events to align with the game schedule, hoping to link the school’s proud Catholicism with the excitement of the winning team. [4] Of course, for this strategy to work, the team had to keep winning games.

Hammond Times, October 6, 1922, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Coach Knute Rockne, who had led the Fighting Irish since 1918, had built an almost unstoppable football team by the close of the 1923 season. In six seasons, the team only lost four games. Two of these were tough losses to Nebraska where the players faced anti-Catholic hostilities. [5]  In 1924, with the eyes of the nation on them, the Notre Dame team needed a perfect season. Luckily “the 1924 Notre Dame Machine was bigger and better than ever,” according to the editors of the Official 1924 Football Review. [6]

Harry McGuire and Jack Scallan, eds., Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 24, accessed Notre Dame Archives.

The season opened October 4, 1924 with a home game against Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois. Coach Rockne employed a brilliant opening strategy. He started his secondary unit, called the “shock troops” who would “take the brunt of the fight” during the opening game and “wear down the opposition.” [7] Rockne then put in his main players, who most coaches would have started. This strategy meant that their opponents, in this case Lombard, would think they were holding their own against the Fighting Irish. Then the eleven regulars would show them the full force of the team. While the Chicago Sunday Tribune reported that Lombard “outplayed the second team Rockne started,” aka the “shock troops,” Notre Dame decisively beat the Illinois team 40-0. [8]

South Bend Tribune, October 12, 1924, 12, accessed Newspapers.com

On October 11, the Irish defeated Wabash College just as handily, winning 34-0. The South Bend Tribune reported, “Notre Dame took the game easily and without much apparent effort . . . The Irish were never forced for a touchdown by that old spirit known as a fight.” [9] While Notre Dame was clearly the better team, the Tribune criticized them for being “crude and lumbering” and the play “slow and listless.” In fact, the local paper was fairly pessimistic about the upcoming games, noting that the Irish “may crumple” in the following week’s game against Army or “give way” to Northwestern. The game against Army would decide if Rockne’s 1924 team was as good as the previous season’s hype foretold. [10]

While the Fighting Irish prepared for the battle against Army, Notre Dame officials readied for another kind of clash. The Klan had declared their intention to return to South Bend 200,000 strong on October 18 – the same date as the upcoming game. They also claimed to have the support of local officials. The Fiery Cross reported:

Chief of Police Lane and Mayor Siebert have promised their support to the demonstration and the procession will be escorted by a squadron of police on motorcycles, lest their be a repetition of last May’s attack on Klansmen by Roman Catholic Notre Dame students. [11]

Fiery Cross, October 10, 1924, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Notre Dame officials had no way to know if the Klan gathering was to be believed or if it was just Klan propaganda. What President Walsh did know was that he couldn’t trust city officials to protect his students. If the Klan descended on South Bend, Notre Dame would stand alone. As October 18 neared, Walsh noticed that the city was not making preparations to host a large gathering. Walsh also heard from Republican insiders that the state party was trying to quiet these kind of Klan demonstrations and distance itself (in public but not behind closed doors) from the Klan in order to not lose voters before the November election.

Drawing on this information, Walsh predicted that the rally would not happen. In fact, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Clyde Walb had forced the Klan to cancel the meeting by threatening to close the party headquarters. This would have left Republican state candidates, including those supported by the Klan, to fend for themselves for promotion and organization right before the election. [12] But the Fiery Cross continued to promote the rally, using the event to repeat their version of the clash earlier that spring. The Fiery Cross reminded its sympathetic readers:

Last May, when the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan attempted to hold a peaceful demonstration in this city, they were set upon — along with other Protestants — by Roman Catholic students from Notre Dame. They were beaten, kicked, and cursed, the women were called vile names and the American flag was trampled under foot. [13]

This was of course not what had happened (see Part One), but through continued repetition, the Klan convinced many people of their biased version of the story. Despite the Fiery Cross‘s claim that 200,000 Klansmen would take over South Bend “from morning to midnight,” they ceded to the political pressure and called off the rally. [14] Notre Dame officials and supporters must have breathed a sigh of relief. They could now return their focus to the upcoming game and all the hopes that rested on this win.

“The Squad” in Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 8, accessed Notre Dame Archives.

The sports media’s hype was intense leading up to the October 18th Notre Dame – Army game that would take place in New York. This press coverage was owed in part to the East Coast alumni. Several graduates were in the city drumming up support for their alma mater by feeding Notre Dame-produced press statements to New York newspapers and proselytizing at Catholic social organizations like the Marquette Club. Another factor, likely more influential, was Rockne’s decision to hire a New York Times writer for an exorbitant sum. This all but guaranteed a round of good press for the Irish. [15] All they had to do was win.

“Running the Army Ends,” in Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 28, accessed Notre Dame Archives.

The New York Times reported that the 60,000 person crowd that gathered at the New York City Polo Grounds was the largest ever in that city. The reporter raved about “Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame football machine, 1924 model” and their “speed, power, and precision.” [16] He gave special notice to the backfield, referring to their “poetry of motion.” Writing for the New York Herald Tribune, reporter Grantland Rice went further in praising the backfield of Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, and Elmer Layden.  In a passage described by Sperber as perhaps the most famous in sports history, Grantland wrote:

Outlined against a blue, gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden. [17]

Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “Each kiss flamed with danger!” New York Public Library Digital Collections.

In fact, this famous line came from Notre Dame’s own publicity machine. George Strickler, a press assistant employed by the university had just seen Rex Ingram’s new movie, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Strickler mused that the Notre Dame backfield recalled “those ethereal figures charging through the clouds.” [18] Rice took the idea and made it his lead. The article quickly found a life of its own. The catchy lead was picked up by other newspapers and the nickname stuck. Strickler was delighted with the press coverage and determined to make the most of it. He called the university and arranged to have a photographer shoot a picture of the “horsemen” upon their return — on horseback, of course.

“Four Horsemen Are Ready for Gallop to Coast,” Minneapolis Daily Star, December 11, 1924, 10, Newspapers.com
Princeton-Notre Dame football program, October 25, 1924, Princeton University Archives, accessed https://princetonarchives.tumblr.com.

With more attention on them than ever before, the Fighting Irish still had most of their season ahead of them. When they faced the Princeton Tigers on October 25, 1924, it seemed like they might not survive the increased scrutiny. Despite the previous year’s upset, Princeton was favored to win as the Tigers defensive line was much improved. When the game kicked off before 45,000 spectators, Coach Rockne again started his substitutes. At one point in the first quarter, Princeton nearly scored, with the second-string Irish stopping the Tigers at the three-yard line. The game quickly shifted in Notre Dame’s favor when the starters entered the fray. The Four Horseman again stole the show. The New York Times reported that “the darting thrusts of Notre Dame’s lightning backfield were more than Princeton could handle today.” Left half-back James Crowley scored two touchdowns for a 12-0 Notre Dame win. [19] But all was not smooth sailing for the Irish, as quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, who was responsible for the most yards gained that game, was injured. Notre Dame was down one horseman as they returned to South Bend.

Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 34, accessed Notre Dame Archives.

On November 1 Notre Dame faced Georgia Tech for their homecoming game at Cartier Field. By now, Coach Rockne’s method of tiring out the opposing team while holding back his best players had been published in newspapers across the country. Perhaps recognizing that their best chance at scoring was against the second string starters in the first quarter, the Georgia Tech Golden Tornado team came out strong. The Chicago Tribune reported:

Georgia Tech took advantage of the Notre Dame seconds early in the first period, and [full back Douglas] Wycoff promptly ran through the bewildered Rockmen for 40 yards, placing the ball on Notre Dame’s 35 yard line. [20]

Georgia Tech “place-kicked” for three points and the second-string Irish struggled through the first quarter. While Rockne’s strategy was no longer a surprise, it was still effective. When the varsity Irish started the second quarter they were unstoppable, even without the injured Stuhldreher. The other three horsemen led the team to a 34-3 victory with several substitutes also making important contributions. [21] Next, the Irish were ready to take on their first Big Ten team.

Notre Dame faced the Wisconsin University Badgers on November 8th before a crowd of 40,000. While it was an away game for the Irish, it didn’t feel like it to the players. The game was the main attraction for an annual student trip, and so the blue and gold section in the stands was full. The Notre Dame marching band came as well and marched out onto the field playing fight songs. The first quarter saw Rockne’s second-string starters equally matched with the starting Badgers and the quarter ended 3-3, but the tide quickly turned in favor of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame Official 1924 Football Review reported on the start of the second quarter:

Then came the call, and the entire first team burst onto the field while the Notre Dame stands went into an uproar. Then the fun began. [22]

1924 Football Review, accessed Notre Dame Archives.

With all four horsemen in the game, the Badgers didn’t stand a chance. “They simply galloped over the foe,” the Chicago Tribune reported. [23] The score was 17-3 at the half and 31-3 within the first ten minutes of the third quarter. Rockne called in his varsity players and gave some third stringers and rookies the chance to play. The Tribune joked that “no one in the press stand could call them by name” and that Coach Rockne probably could not either. [24] In the final quarter, Rockne put back in his starting “shock troops” who brought the final score to 38-3 for a sweeping Notre Dame win. The students in the stands threw their hats and rushed onto the field to follow their marching band, snaking across the gridiron while singing and dancing. The Chicago Tribune spotted some “well-known Chicago men of Celtic origin out there romping with the students.” [25] Notre Dame was becoming the beloved team of people with Irish heritage across the country. Thus, it was even more important that they beat Nebraska.

The Klan had not forgotten about South Bend. On November 8, while the Fighting Irish celebrated their win over Wisconsin, 1,800 Klansmen and women “from Chicago and from a number of Indiana cities,” gathered just outside the city limits. [26] Between six and seven o’clock they paraded through the streets of South Bend, a quick clip compared to other Klan parades and events. There was little reaction to their presence and the South Bend Tribune reported that “few people were on the streets.” [27] It’s not clear why there was no response from students. Perhaps they simply didn’t have advance notice of the parade, and when the event happened quickly, they didn’t have time to form a response. Maybe they simply refused to be baited into further confrontations. Either way, the Klan had surely succeeded in reminding the Irish Catholic students that the threat of violence still loomed.

The Fiery Cross claimed that the Klan held yet another South Bend parade on November 11, just days after the quiet, uneventful rally of a few days earlier. The newspaper claimed that thirty-five thousand members from across the Midwest gathered and paraded through the city, purportedly “one of the biggest Ku Klux Klan demonstrations ever held in this section of the country.” [28] The Fiery Cross again claimed that the Klan had the cooperation of the mayor and the police chief. No other newspaper reported on the event. The Klan newspaper’s claims are dubious. A crowd this large would surely have drawn at least passing comment from the South Bend Tribune. It seems more likely that this was hype generated by their propaganda machine after the turnout for the rally on the 8th was reported by the South Bend Tribune to have been small. Whether the Klan gathered that day or whether this was just more propaganda, Notre Dame students and officials certainly felt the continued threat. For now, however, the Notre Dame players and their supporters had their eye on a different kind of opponent, albeit one with anti-Catholic prejudices of their own.

The last time they faced the Cornhuskers, the 1923 Fighting Irish team encountered prejudice and xenophobic epithets from Nebraska fans. The university was also still facing public backlash and disapproval from the violent confrontation with the Klan the previous May, as well as the Klan’s ongoing propaganda campaign. In an attempt to remedy their school’s reputation, the 1924 Notre Dame football players had handled themselves with dignity throughout the season, serving as examples of upstanding Catholic American citizens and scholars. But they still needed to beat Nebraska for two reasons. One, the symbolic victory of the hardworking and stoic Irish Catholic school over a team with anti-Catholic fans would be significant to their Irish Catholic supporters in an era dominated by the Klan. Two, to revenge their only loss of the previous season and make 1924 an undefeated perfect season would give them the public platform they needed to further improve the reputation of Notre Dame.

“Football: Notre Dame (South Bend) by South Shore Line,” 1926, broadside, Indiana State Library Broadside Collection, accessed ISL Digital Collections.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish faced the Nebraska Cornhuskers November 15, 1924 at home in South Bend. Notre Dame supporters packed the stands at the recently enlarged Cartier Field while overflow fans stood on the sidelines or even sat on the fences. The local newspaper estimated the crowd at 26,000 people, the largest to date. [29] Recognizing the increasing popularity of the Notre Dame team to those in the wider area, the WGN radio station in Chicago delivered a live broadcast of the game. [30] Likewise, the South Shore interurban line, which ran between South Bend and Chicago, created large color posters of Notre Dame football players in action to advertise their service. [31]

Photograph from Notre Dame Archives, accessed “This Day in History: Irish Topple A Nemesis,” Department of Athletics, University of Notre Dame, https://125.nd.edu/moments/this-day-in-history-irish-topple-a-nemesis/.

Football fans had a beautiful day for the game, which was “easily the headliner” of Midwestern match ups that week, according to the Lincoln Star. [32] The newspaper reported: “A glorious November sun was shining through golden haze and the tang of frost was in the air.” [33] Photographs from game day show supporters well-bundled in hats and coats.

This game had been the focus of the entire season for Notre Dame. The players’ had written slogans on their dressing room lockers such as: “Get the Cornhuskers” and “Remember the last two defeats” (losses in 1922 and 1923). [34] A Lincoln newspaper complained that “Rockne has pointed his team for Nebraska and doesn’t mind telling the world about it.” One reporter stated simply: “They hope to taste revenge.” [35]

The players took the field at 2:00 and it was clear almost immediately that Rockne’s shock troops would not be able to handle the Cornhuskers. The second stringers fumbled early, got penalized for being offsides, and Nebraska pushed through to the four-yard line. Not taking any chances, Coach Rockne swapped the troops for his first-stringers. But it was Nebraska’s ball and they were able to drive through the remaining yards for a touchdown. [36] That touchdown would be Nebraska’s last of the game.

Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, accessed Note Dame Archives.

The Irish thoroughly outplayed the Cornhuskers with much of the credit going to the Four Horsemen. The South Bend Tribune reported:

First it was Miller circling around the ends for notable gains, then it was Crowley, and then there was Layden splitting the line with the speed and momentum of a cannon ball. Then to top it off there was Stuhldreher to carry the ball or to toss the pigskin with deadly accuracy into the hands of his waiting backs. They were all there, they were all stars and together they make Notre Dame the greatest eleven in football history. [37]

Harry McGuire and Jack Scallon, eds., Official 1924 Football Review,

In the end, Notre Dame beat Nebraska 34-6, but even that score did not reflect how well the Irish played. The Tribune reported, “Twenty-three first downs for Notre Dame gave the fans some idea of the complete swamping the western players received.” [38] The most significant aspect of the win for the Fighting Irish though was symbolic. They had finally overcome a rival who had not only ruined their otherwise perfect 1923 season, but had insulted them with anti-Catholic, anti-Irish slurs as well. The Tribune summarized the feeling that day for the victors:

There may be games with more sensational playing, with more artistic foot-ball handling, but none, past or future, will ever appeal to the heart of Notre Dame men as this game which witnessed Rockne erasing the memory of two years defeat, but trouncing the huge Cornhusker squad soundly, without apology. [39]

Rockne reveled in both the football win and the symbolic victory of besting a team whose fans had personally humiliated his players. Rockne said, “Nebraska, as usual, was the dirtiest team we played, and after the game, a few of their players even called me a few choice epithets.” [40] The next game would have symbolic undertones as well. Catholic Notre Dame would face Methodist Northwestern.

Chicago Tribune, November 23, 1924, 25, Newspapers.com

For the November 22 Notre Dame – Northwestern match up, Rockne manged to move the game from Northwestern’s hometown of Evanston, Illinois, to Chicago. As the Irish middle class grew in Chicago, so did support for Notre Dame football in the city. Over 45,000 people bought tickets, the majority of them Notre Dame fans. [41] The game played that day at Grant Park (soon to be called Soldier Field) was the most difficult of the season. Northwestern held the lines against the Horsemen for much of the game and their halfback, All-American Ralph “Moon” Baker “threatened for a time to act as presiding host at an Irish wake,” according to one Chicago reporter. [42] After Northwestern almost immediately scored three points, fans began chanting for the Horsemen, and Rockne put in his first stringers. But Northwestern scored another three, giving them six points and leaving Notre Dame scoreless. The Irish rallied soon after and began to arduously shift the game in their favor. Stuhldreher ran for a touchdown in the second with Crowley’s field goal giving the Irish a one point advantage by the half. After a scoreless third quarter, Layden ran 45 yards for a touchdown in the fourth. Notre Dame won 13-6 against a tough Northwestern team. [43]

“Camera’s Eye Catches Thrilling Plays in Carnegie-Notre Dame Game,” Pittsburgh Sunday Post, November 30, 1924, 26, 26, Newspapers.com.

Notre Dame played their last game of the regular season against Carnegie Tech on November 29, 1924. Tech played well, scoring three touchdowns – two against the shock troops but one against the regulars, minus one Horseman (Bernard Livergood and William Cerney filled in for Elmer Layden who was injured). Even so, Notre Dame dominated the contest with their passing game drawing note in the press. The Fighting Irish beat Carnegie Tech 40-19, and closed the season undefeated in nine games. [44] This perfect record was everything the university administration had hoped for in order to engage their publicity machine and improve the school’s marred reputation. A trip to the Rose Bowl gave them the opportunity to set their plan into action. On New Year’s Day 1925, Notre Dame would play the Stanford University Indians, a game that’s long remembered in the history of this classic Fighting Irish Team. More significantly, the several week tour by rail of the Midwest and West masterminded by Father O’Hara forever repaired the university’s reputation. According to Notre Dame historian Robert E. Burns:

O’Hara saw the Rose Bowl invitation as an almost providential opportunity to counter the extremely negative Klan-inspired image of Notre Dame . . . [and] might well turn out to be the most successful advertising campaign for the spiritual ideals and practices of American Catholicism yet undertaken in this century. [45]

The Klan continued their propaganda campaign into December, through the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl. As they prepared for the big game, the Fighting Irish faced anti-Catholic vitriol and hatred that the Klan had helped to make socially acceptable. Nonetheless, the Notre Dame football team would establish themselves not only as the greatest players in the country, but also as patriotic Americans, many the sons of Irish immigrants, and as proud Catholics.

Check back for Integrity on the Gridiron Part Three.

Notes

*The University of Notre Dame did not officially accept the name “Fighting Irish” for their athletic teams until 1925, but newspapers had been using it for quite a while beforehand.

[1] Robert E. Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999) 347-48.
[2] Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993, reprint, 2003), 157-158.
[3] “Where the Klan Fails,” New York Times, November 1, 1923, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.
[4] Sperber, 157-58.
[5] Burns, 348.
[6] Harry McGuire and Jack Scallan, eds., Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 24, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[7] Ibid., 17.
[8] “Notre Dame Too Husky; Lombard Loses by 40 to 0,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, October 4, 1924, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[9] Notre Dame Defeats Wabash, 34-0,” South Bend Tribune, October 12, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[10] Ibid.
[11] “Expect 200,000 at Gathering: South Bend To Be Host to Klansmen,” Fiery Cross, October 10, 1924, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[12] Burns, 342-44.
[13] “Prepare for Large Gathering: South Bend Ready for Many Visitors from Four States,” Fiery Cross, October 17, 1924, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[14] Ibid.

[15] Sperber, 164.
[16] “Notre Dame Eleven Defeats Army, 13-7; 60,000 Attend Game,” New York Times, October 19, 1924, 118, accessed TimesMachine.
[17] Sperber, 178-79.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Notre Dame Sweeps Princeton to Defeat,” New York Times, October 26, 1924, 116, accessed TimesMachine.
[20] “Notre Dame Is 34-3 Victor Over Golden Tornado,” Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1924 reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Official 1924 Football Review, 36, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[23] James Crusinberry, Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1924, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] “Klansmen in Parade,” South Bend Tribune, November 9, 1924, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.
[27] Ibid.
[28] “No Violence of Any Sort Mars Parade,” Fiery Cross, November 14, 1924, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[29] Kenneth S. Conn, “Notre Dame Soars Over Corn-Fed Nebraska,” South Bend Tribune, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 39, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[30] “N. Dame Stakes National Title on Tilt Today,” Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1924, 17, Newspapers.com.
[31] “Football: Notre Dame (South Bend) by South Shore Line,” 1926, broadside, Indiana State Library Broadside Collection, accessed ISL Digital Collections.
[32] Edward C. Derr, “Nebraska – Notre Dame Classic Dominates Interest,” Lincoln Journal Star, November 14, 1924, 16, Newspapers.com.
[33] Cy Sherman, “Nebraska Battles Notre Dame: Cornhuskers Clash with Irish Eleven,” Lincoln Star, November 15, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com.
[34] Jim Lefebvre, Loyal Sons: The Story of The Four Horsemen and Notre Dame Football’s 1924 Champions, excerpt reprinted in “This Day in History: Irish Topple A Nemesis,” Department of Athletics, University of Notre Dame, https://125.nd.edu/moments/this-day-in-history-irish-topple-a-nemesis/.
[35] Edward C. Derr, “Nebraska – Notre Dame Classic Dominates Interest,” Lincoln Journal Star, November 14, 1924, 16, Newspapers.com.
[36] Cy Sherman, “Nebraska Battles Notre Dame: Cornhuskers Clash with Irish Eleven,” Lincoln Star, November 15, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com.
[37] Kenneth S. Conn, “Notre Dame Soars Over Corn-Fed Nebraska,” South Bend Tribune, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 39, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Sperber, 167.
[41] Ibid., 167-68.
[42] Jimmy Corcoran, “Notre Dame is Forced to the Limit,” newspaper not cited, November 22, 1924, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 41, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[43] Ibid.; “Game By Quarters,” South Bend Tribune, November 23, 1924, 14, Newspapers.com.
[44] Warren W. Brown, “Notre Dame Gallops Over Carnegie Tech,” Chicago Herald Examiner, reprinted in Official 1924 Football Review, 43, accessed Notre Dame Archives.
[45] Burns, 369.

How Indiana’s Religious Institutions Kept the Faith During the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Indianapolis woman wearing a mask during the Spanish Flu epidemic, November 27, 1918, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

For many Hoosiers across the state, this week marks the sixth week that they’ve been asked to stay at home to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the many schools, businesses, libraries, and other enterprises that have been impacted, so too have Indiana’s religious institutions. During this stretch, Christians could not come together as parishioners to celebrate Holy Week as they have for centuries past. Jews had to find alternative ways to observe Passover. And last week, with the start of Ramadan, Muslims could not gather in mosques or with family to mark the month of spiritual rejuvenation as they traditionally would.

Beyond adjusting to holiday commemorations is the general desire among worshipers to practice their religion and attend daily or weekly services together as normal. Most religious leaders across the state have made the difficult, but necessary decision to help comply with social distancing orders in an effort to do their part and protect their followers and other Hoosiers.

Muncie Evening Press, October 7, 1918, p. 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

Historical records show us that this is not the first time Indiana’s religious institutions have faced such circumstances. When the Spanish Influenza pandemic hit Indiana in the fall of 1918, U.S. public health service officials mandated a statewide quarantine here and in most other states. The order, put in place by October 6th, called for the immediate closure of “all schools, churches, theaters, amusements of all kinds, and to put a ban on all public meetings and gatherings.”[1] In a previous Indiana History Blog post, IHB historian Nicole Poletika examined how Hoosiers coped with the quarantine in a number of ways. Here, we take a more in-depth look at how the order directly impacted Indiana’s religious institutions and believers in late 1918.

As we’ve seen today, Hoosiers have not let the stay-at-home order prevent them from finding creative ways to come together, celebrate, and in some cases mourn. While technological advancements might afford us more opportunities to “see” one another and connect virtually now, religious leaders in 1918 also found many ways to help keep the faith among their followers as the number of influenza cases grew.

South Bend Tribune, October 12, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

Many used the local press to stay connected with members, give each other hope, and encourage the continued practice of their religion. Through the newspapers, they shared scripture readings, offered Bible school lessons, and encouraged their followers and anyone else interested to worship as individuals or together as a family. In mid-October 1918, A.F. Mitchell, chairman of the press committee of the Ministerial Association, issued the following statement to city church members in Richmond, which was published by the Palladium Item on October 12, 1918: [2]

On account of the ban laid upon congregational assemblies there will be no public services of the churches until after October 20. During this period of time there should be no cessation in Bible study or worship. The home is still fundamental and the basis of all good government. . . Let the home then be true to its highest privilege and around the family altar keep the home fires burning adding even a brighter glow while the churches are closed.

Rev. G.P. Fisher published a similar statement in the Culver Citizen a few days later, urging all families to continue to pray at the stated hours of services.[3] When the statewide ban was extended to the end of October, First Presbyterian Church in Rushville implored members to “make [Sunday] a day of prayer and meditation in their homes” and the pastor offered an outline of readings to unite the congregation despite their physical isolation.[4]

Muncie Evening Press, October 19, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

Some newspapers went a step farther and dedicated larger portions of their publications to celebrating Sunday morning services. In a series the Indianapolis Star named “Worship with the Star,” the paper featured a full page that included opening and closing hymns, a scripture lesson, and sermons.[5] The Muncie Press responded similarly in their October 19, 1918 issue, presenting sermons from the pastors of First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church, and High Street M.E. Church.[6]

Indianapolis Star, October 13, 1918, p. 30, accessed Newspapers.com.

Religious leaders sought other ways to maintain contact with their members and keep services going during the influenza pandemic. Today, during the present COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen a trend among a number of churches across the country to offer “drive-in” services. Some worshipers have also celebrated services on their front lawns in an effort to comply with social distancing regulations. In 1918, some church leaders actively proposed and, in some cases held, open air services, believing that “brief religious services in well ventilated churches” could be held “without in any serious sense compromising the health of the community.”[7]

Local health boards across the state discouraged this practice. On October 13, 1918, a policeman had to be dispatched to the Adelbert Polish Catholic Church in South Bend when the pastor of the church offered one such service.[8] Similarly, in Evansville, the local health officer denied granting permission to the Assumption Church to hold open air services at Bosse Field in mid-October, stating that “even a gathering in the open air might prove dangerous.”[9] As conditions seemed to improve in early November and the ban was lifted, many churches held open air services with the approval of their local boards of health.[10]

Fort Wayne Journal, November 13, 1918, p. 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

Rev. F.E. Smith of Jackson Street Christian Church in Muncie came up with one of the more creative ways of safely “getting around the flu order.” Working with the Central Union Telephone Company, Rev. Smith arranged to hold services by having members of the church call in and listen by phone, our modern equivalent to following services online or watching them broadcast on television.[11]

Muncie Evening Press, October 12, 1918, p. 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

As the flu pandemic went on, worshipers and religious leaders alike wondered what the lasting impact might be once buildings began to reopen and gatherings were again permitted. A cartoon in the Fort Wayne Sentinel offered one view, with different families seated apart from one another in church and everyone required to wear masks upon entry to help contain the spread of germs.[12]

Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 16, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

As new outbreaks of the flu occurred in late November and December, health authorities across the state strongly urged all people attending churches or theaters, or visiting stores to wear regulation masks.[13] Some churches curtailed services, while others closed again for a few weeks under new bans. In December, board of health officials in some areas ordered churches to keep their services to one hour in length and “instructed [pastors] to devote fifteen minutes of that hour to the subject of ventilation in the homes and business houses as a preventative of influenza.”[14]

Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, December 6, 1918, p. 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Like businesses across the state, religious institutions also had to deal with the financial strains imposed by the pandemic. Several weeks of missed weekly offerings left heavy burdens on some churches. Many religious leaders looked for ways to continue collections as their buildings remained closed, with some publicizing specific hours whereby members could safely drop off their offerings.[15]

Temple Beth-El, South Bend, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Temple Beth-El.

Pastors and rabbis also sought ways to help those more directly afflicted by influenza. In mid-October 1918, Rabbi Julius A. Leibert of Temple Beth-El in South Bend offered the city the “use of the temple as an improvised concentration hospital where cases of influenza could be taken.”[16] Local board of health members discussed the plan with other leading health experts and declined the offer, fearing that concentrating larger numbers of people at the temple at that time would increase the mortality rate. Other actions were taken elsewhere in the state as the pandemic continued. For example, as the number of influenza cases grew in Tipton County in December, leaders at Elwood’s First Christian Church converted the building into a temporary hospital to help offer aid to those afflicted.[17]

First Christian Church, Elwood, Indiana, ca. 1908. Photo courtesy of Indiana Memory.

Though pressure to end the state’s COVID-19 quarantine has increased in the last few weeks, it remains unclear when businesses, cultural institutions, and religious buildings will reopen and what guidelines will be enacted when they do. The 1918 influenza pandemic offers us examples of how religious leaders and worshipers handled closures and bans on gatherings in the past and how they continued to safely practice their faith and serve the community in the midst of a crisis.

Notes:

*All newspaper articles were accessed via Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.

[1] “Closing of All Public Places is State Order,” Muncie Evening Press, October 7, 1918, 1, 8.; “No Public Assemblages,” Princeton Daily Clarion, October 7, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] “Keep Church Work Going, City Urged,” Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN), October 12, 1918, 5.

[3] “Preacher to People,” Culver Citizen, October 16, 1918, 4.

[4] “With the Churches,” Daily Republican, October 26, 1918, 3.

[5] “Worship with the Star,” Indianapolis Star, October 12, 1918, 1.; “The Star’s Sunday Morning Services,” Indianapolis Star, October 13, 1918, 30.

[6] “Go to Church Sunday with the Muncie Press,” Muncie Evening Press, October 19, 1918, 2.

[7] “Urges Open Air Church Service,” South Bend News-Times, October 13, 1918, 3.

[8] “Polish Priest Holds Open Air Service in Defiance of Health Order,” South Bend News-Times, October 14, 1918, 3.

[9] “The Influenza is Decreasing Reports Show,” Evansville Press, October 17, 1918, 6.

[10] “Hold Services in Open Air,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, November 9, 1918, 1.; [Untitled], Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, November 10, 1918, 2.; “Celebrated Masses in Open-Air Sunday,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, November 13, 1918, 6.

[11] “Church Services by Phone to Get Around ‘Flu’ Order,” Muncie Star Press, October 12, 1918.; “And Don’t Forget to Put Baby to Sleep,” Muncie Evening Press, October 12, 1918, 8.

[12] “Church Services Might be Resumed Under Conditions Represented Below,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 16, 1918.

[13] “The Need of Precaution,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, November 20, 1918, 7.; “Flu Mask Order Stands; Option is Permissible,” Indianapolis Star, November 24, 1918, 1.; “Must Wear Flu Masks,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, December 3, 1918, 1.; “Epidemic Fought by Wearing Masks,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, December 6, 1918, 1.

[14] “Ban is Lifted as to Churches,” Columbus Republic, December 17, 1918, 4.; “Health Board Rapped for Closing Churches During the Epidemic of Flu,” Columbus Republic, December 25, 1918, 3.

[15] “Pastors Need Support While Flu Ban is On,” Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1918, 9.; “Church Needs,” Indianapolis News, October 26, 1918, 6.

[16] “Board of Health Rejects Temple Beth-El Offer,” South Bend News-Times, October 20, 1918, 2.

[17] “Condition Serious at Elwood,” Tipton Daily Tribune, December 13, 1918, 1.; First Christian Church, Elwood, Indiana, photograph, ca. 1908, accessed Indiana Memory.

THH Episode 25: Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Transcript of Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Jill Weiss Simins

Voice actor reading from newspaper: The town of Andrews [Indiana] . . . is much disturbed over the result of several spiritualistic séances, which have been held there by a medium named Johnson.

The first séance was held last Saturday night. At the meeting the terrible wreck at Keller’s station some years ago was called up. The five men killed in that wreck, including Trainmaster Wilcox, were talked to, and the noise made by the fated train, the puffing of the engine and the crash of the wreck were plainly reproduced. Those who were present in the room were terribly frightened, so realistic was the scene. A second séance was held at the residence of Robert Hart, with twenty people present. At this séance there were the customary exhibitions of tambourine playing, bell ringing, etc. While the bell was ringing someone requested that it be thrown, and it was hurled across the room with great violence, breaking a lamp chimney in its flight. After the séance was over the medium requested his audience never again to ask the spirits to throw anything, because that was one thing they always did when commanded.

Beckley: Scenes such as this, described in the July 11, 1893 issue of the Indianapolis News, were more common place in the Hoosier state than you might imagine at this time. By the late 19th century, American Spiritualism had swept the nation, including Indiana. And if you look past the spectacle described in that article – the tambourine playing, bell ringing, and flying furniture – you can glimpse the complexities surrounding Spiritualist beliefs. That story, like so many stories in Spiritualism, begins with tragedy. Five local men were killed in a dreadful accident, and here were their neighbors and friends still trying to find closure by calling them back from the dead. In this episode, we’ll explore a movement that meant different things to different people. For some, a night of entertainment. For others, a coping mechanism for unbearable grief.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Beckley: American Spiritualism, as opposed to spiritualism in the general sense of the word, was a religious movement based in the belief that not only do spirits exist, but they’re able and willing to communicate with the living through mediums. The root of the movement can be traced to the spring of 1848 when the Fox family began to hear knocking noises coming from the walls of their Hydesville, New York home. As the knockings continued, two of the Fox children, Margaret and Catherine, discovered that they could communicate with what they had come to believe was a spirit. Soon, the sisters took this new-found talent to nearby Rochester, New York, where they met prominent Quaker abolitionists Isaac and Amy Post.

In turn, the Posts introduced the young women and their ability to communicate with spirits to their prominent Quaker, Abolitionist, and Methodist friends. Through this network, Spiritualist beliefs were introduced into the highly mobile upper crust of East Coast society. This, alongside the accessible nature of the new movement which replaced the hierarchy and specialized facilities of other religions with a more informal structure, allowed Spiritualism to spread rapidly. Just months after the initial rappings were heard in Hydesville, there were thousands of so called “spirit circles” communicating with sprits in drawing rooms and kitchens up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Spirit circles, or séances, were a part of Spiritualism from the very beginning. Early séances conducted by the Fox sisters were described by historian David Chapman.

Voice actor reading from Chapman: Séances would begin with a prayer, while the party sat around a wooden table in a darkened room. If a spirit made its presence felt, participants could ask it yes-or-no questions, or the spirit might ‘call for the alphabet’ by knocking five times in rapid succession. If this happened someone would recite the alphabet until a knock was heard on a particular letter. This would be repeated until words and sentences were spelled out. The spirits had to be treated with great respect, or else they might refuse to participate.

Beckley: Soon, public demonstrations where hundreds of people gathered to witness the Fox sisters communicating with the spirits were organized.

[Eerie music]

Beckley: This is yet another factor in the rapid dissemination of American Spiritualism – each and every person who attended a séance or public demonstration was able to go back to their home town and hold a similar circle in their own home, with their own friends, who could in turn repeat the pattern, spreading the movement even further.

In this way, Spiritualism quickly reached the Midwest. By the mid-1850s, less than a decade after the Fox Sisters first made contact with the spirits in upstate New York, Spiritualism was fairly widespread in Indiana. It’s hard to estimate the number of practitioners since there was no formal system of reporting, but one historian claims that by the 1860s, 90% of Angola, Indiana residents were practicing Spiritualists. Of course, that’s an extreme case and the rest of the state was by no means majority-Spiritualist, but it shows how deeply the new religion had permeated Hoosier society. To get an idea of what at least some Indiana spirit circles were like, let’s look at Charles Cathcart, a judge and ex-congressman turned spiritualist.

[Music box music]

Beckley: Originally a skeptic, Cathcart attended his first spirit circle at the home of Mr. Poston of La Porte County, Indiana, with the goal of exposing the fraud he was sure was taking place there. The séances held at this particular circle were much different from those held by the Fox sisters which I described earlier – you see this a lot in Spiritualism since there was no official church structure and practitioners were able to just kind of make things up as they went along. The Poston circle, styled after circles held in Ohio, was a lively affair, similar to that described in the newspaper article at the top of the show.

[Dramatic music]

Beckley: Cathcart arrived to the séance armed with a homemade device that, when deployed, would light up the room in a flash. The lights were put out and the show started with a spirit referred to as “old king” taking up a bass drum. Cathcart deployed his flash device and described what he saw next in the Spiritual Telegraph, a New York-based spiritualist newspaper.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: What a picture for an artist! . . . [I] witnessed the stick beating the drum as if handled from above, and no mortal nearer than about eight feet of it! After striking a few blows by itself, in the light, the stick rose yet higher and leisurely, a curve in the air, gingerly fell on the shoulder of Miss Poston.

Beckley: With this shocking turn of events, Cathcart was a convert. He started his own spirit circle, also in LaPorte County, which was attended by many of his affluent acquaintances. Unsurprisingly, given the theatrical nature of his first encounter with Spiritualism, Cathcart’s own circles were quite showy with flying furniture, disembodied voices, and a veritable ensemble of spirits playing everything from a triangle to the guitar.  Obviously, this strain of Spiritualism is much closer to entertainment than to the expression of grief it was for many others. This included May Wright Sewall, who is better known as Indiana’s preeminent suffragist.

In 1895, Sewall’s husband and work partner, Theodore Lovett Sewall died. In the wake of his death, she wrote:

Voice actor reading from Sewall: Unlike many bereaved, I did not seek to forget my sorrow or him whose removal had caused it; on the contrary, I strove to keep the memory of him always present in my own mind.

Beckley: This reluctance to “move on” or forget is prevalent in many who eventually find themselves face to face with a medium, attempting to contact the dead. So it was with Sewall. In August 1897, after delivering a suffrage speech at Lily Dale, one of the largest Spiritualist camps in the country, a series of misfortunes stranded her in the camp for several days. During that time, she met with a medium, a meeting which she describes in her book Neither Dead Nor Sleeping.

Voice actor reading from Sewall: In that sitting, quite contrary to my own expectations, and equally so to any conscious desire, I received letters written upon slates which I had carefully selected from a high pile of apparently quite new and empty ones, had carefully sponged off, tied together with my own handkerchief, and held in my own hands, no other hand touching them. These letters, when read later in my room. . . were found to contain perfectly coherent, intelligent and characteristic replies to questions which I had written upon bits of paper that had not passed out of my hands.

Beckley: From that first experience, Sewall began visiting mediums on a regular basis and kept in regular communication with her deceased husband for the remaining two decades of her life. This was a something she did not share publicly. Neither Dead Nor Sleeping wasn’t published until July, 1920, twenty-three years after she first made contact with her deceased husband. In it, she revealed her Spiritualist beliefs and experiences and laid out her reasons for that belief.

The book was fairly well received, being heralded as an exceptionally logical exploration of the practice of Spiritualism, if a surprising subject for a woman of Sewall’s esteemed reputation to write on. But just two months after its release, with the revelation of Sewall’s convictions still fresh in the minds of Americans, Sewall died in Indianapolis. Her death following so close on the heels of Neither Dead Nor Sleeping resulted in the majority of her obituaries giving an inordinate amount of weight to that part of her life, leaving some of her very impressive accomplishments in the shadows.

Of course, Sewall wasn’t the only prominent Hoosier Spiritualist. Long before Neither Dead Nor Sleeping revealed May Wright Sewall as a convert, Dr. John and Mary Westerfield of Anderson, Indiana, were introduced to the movement. This introduction would eventually lead to the establishment of what would become one of the nation’s most prominent Spiritualist centers.

In 1855, John’s and Mary’s only son, John Jr. died at the age of fourteen. The couple, who organized lectures on various topics of a scientific and pseudo-scientific nature, were already familiar with the idea of Spiritualism. So, perhaps it was natural that they turned to the comfort offered by mediums in their grief. Over the next months, many of those who had attended their lecture series also converted to Spiritualism and this small group began to advocate for a state-wide organization of Spiritualists.

[Music]

Beckley: Alongside this effort to organize, the Westerfields also began searching for a location for a Spiritualist camp, where believers could congregate and commune.

[Music]

Beckley: From these efforts, the Indiana Association of Spiritualists was founded in the late 1880s, and in 1890, thirty acres of land was purchased in Chesterfield, Indiana where their Spiritualist camp – Camp Chesterfield – was established.

If you’re imagining a small, backwoods operation, you’re mistaken. When the camp opened, there was a dining hall, lodging house, two séance rooms, a few small cottages, and a tent auditorium structure that seated 500 people. By 1895, an office building, Bazaar building, stables, a grocery store, an ice cream parlor, and a wooden auditorium building had been added to the site, showing a phenomenal amount of growth.

This was far from the last growth spurt that the camp experienced. Under the leadership of Mable Riffle, the camp reached its zenith in the 1920s. Two fully furnished hotels were constructed, as well as a chapel, several more cottages, and a decorative outdoor area. By 1927, the six week season at Champ Chesterfield was drawing an average of 20,000 people. Some of these visitors came seeking the thrill of communing with the spirits and others looking to reach deceased loved ones during a time a grief, illustrated by the increase in attendance in the wake of both World War I and World War II.

Throughout its history, Camp Chesterfield hosted mediums with a wide variety of different Spiritualistic abilities. These included materializing mediumship, a phenomena where a medium summons the physical form of a spirit, and spirit photography, in which the forms of dead loved ones can be seen in the presence of their living family members. And also slate writing, or writing done without the aid of human hands – usually on a slate using chalk.

Yet, not everyone who experienced these supposedly otherworldly happenings were convinced by their experiences at the camp.

[Music]

Beckley: In 1925, at the height of its popularity, reporter Virginia Swain attended the camp and participated in several séances, which seem to have quite missed the mark on all accounts. The first of a long series of articles written about her time there starts.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: I have met a brother whom I had never heard of before. Nevertheless he died in my arms six months ago – he told me so himself!

Beckley: She goes on to detail a long list of almost laughably bad readings she received at the camp, but even more damaging than the bad press – she reported the perceived fraud to the police and on the very same day her first article ran, news of a mass arrest of 14 mediums was reported. The charges were dropped just weeks later, but the exposé and the arrests left a wake of soured public sentiment in its wake.

In 1960, scandal arose once again when Tom O’Neill, editor of the popular Spiritualist magazine the Psychic Observer and researcher Dr. Andriga Puharrich uncovered fraud while trying to capture the first motion pictures of the materialization of a spirit. With the full knowledge and permission of the mediums conducting the séance, the two men took an infrared camera into the séance room. Looking through the lens of the camera, they saw that what in the dark had looked to be wispy figures emerging from nowhere were actually workers of the camp entering the séance room from a hidden door.

When these findings, and the images captured during the séance, were published in the Psychic Observer under the headline “Fraud Uncovered at Chesterfield Spiritualism Camp,” something rather surprising happened. It was O’Neill, rather than the camp, that came under fire, with droves of advertisers dropping their support for the magazine, eventually leading to its demise. I suppose that’s a clear demonstration of just how deeply adherents to Spiritualism hold their beliefs.

Perhaps the worst blow to the camp came in 1976, when medium Lamar Keene wrote his exposé The Psychic Mafia, in which he laid bare allegations of widespread fraud throughout the camp. According to his claims, there were rooms full of tens of thousands of notecards with information on every person who had ever had a reading at the camp. He told stories of stealing, pickpocketing, and more, all in the name of a good spiritualist reading.

But, of course, even this exposé didn’t spell the end for Champ Chesterfield, which is now considered to be the longest continually active Spiritualist camp in the nation. The camp, like Spiritualism itself, has persisted through scandal, bad press, and more. Today, the camp is a mixture of American Spiritualism, with several resident mediums available for readings, New Age Spiritualism, with meditation retreats and Tai Chi classes, and a training center for up and coming Spiritualist leaders.

Even outside of historical camps like Chesterfield, of which there are a handful left scattered across the country, we still hear the echoes of Spiritualism in modern America. Take, for instance, mediums such as TLC’s “Long Island Medium,” Theresa Caputo, or if you’re a 90s kid like me, Sylvia Brown. Like the Fox sisters in the mid-1800s, these women mix entertainment with amateur grief counseling, helping people through difficult times by giving them the chance to communicate with lost loved ones. Or, if one wants to be cynical about it, using people’s grief for financial gain and personal fame.

But that’s what makes Spiritualism such a wonderfully complex topic. It can be a coping mechanism. It can be entertainment. It has film-flam men and sincere practitioners. Some people feel genuinely helped, and others feel helplessly duped. And we didn’t even get to this, but it was led, in large, by women and had close ties with both the abolition and women’s suffrage movements. But many of its practitioners, like May Wright Sewall, were tarnished by their association with it. Spiritualism is often used as an entry point into ghost stories and ghastly tales, something to be trotted out for Halloween and then put back into the closet with the paper skeletons on November 1, but that paints a much more one dimensional picture of it than in reality. Join us in two weeks when we dig further into this topic with Ball State University professor Rachel Smith, who studies the intersection of Spiritualism and feminism.

[THH theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thank you to Justin Clark and Dr. Michella Marino of IHB for lending their voices to today’s episode. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to Subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for Listening.

Show Notes for Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Braude, Ann, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Britten, Emma Hardinge, Modern American Spiritualism, New York: MDCCCLXX,

Chapin, David, “Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane, and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity, Amhurst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004.

Keene, M. Lamar, The Psychic Mafia, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1997.

Sewall, May Wright, Neither Dead Nor Sleeping, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1920.

Newspapers

                “Events in Hoosierdom,” Indianapolis News, July 11, 1893, 6.

“Mediums Under Bond After Raid,” Muncie Evening Press, August 24, 1925, 1.

Websites

                “Camp Chesterfield: A Spiritual Center of Light,” campchesterfield.net.

 

Integrity on the Gridiron Part One: Opposition to the Klan at Notre Dame

“Football Notre Dame (South Bend) by South Shore Line,” 1926, broadside, Indiana State Library Broadsides Collection, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

The history of the traditionally Irish-Catholic University of Notre Dame located in South Bend, Indiana, has paralleled the larger story of Catholic immigrants making their way in the United States.  Starting as a persecuted minority, Irish Catholics integrated into the fabric of the American tapestry over the twentieth century. [1] The challenges and threats posed to Notre Dame in the 1920s, mirrored those periling Indiana, the United States, and in many ways, democracy. As Americans reacted to shifts in U.S. demographics brought by immigration and urbanization, those threats to equality and justice included rising nationalism, animosity toward Jews and Catholics, discrimination against immigrants and refugees, and even violence against those not considered “100% American.” No group represented these prejudices as completely as the Ku Klux Klan. While the Klan had gained political power and legitimacy in Indiana by the early 1920s, it had yet to find a foothold in South Bend or larger St. Joseph County. The Klan was determined to change that. [2]

“Main Building, Notre Dame,” ca. 1900s, Michiana Memory Digital Collection, St. Joseph County Public Library accessed https://michianamemory.sjcpl.org/digital/collection/p16827coll7/id/124.

University of Notre Dame leaders and officials understood that the only way to combat the xenophobia and anti-Catholicism of the Ku Klux Klan, while maintaining the school’s integrity, was to not play the Klan’s game. So the school chose another – football. During the 1920s, renowned coach Knute Rockne led Notre Dame’s football team to greatness. But these athletes fought for more than trophies. They played for the respect of a country poisoned by the bigoted, anti-Catholic rhetoric of the Klan. They played to give pride to thousands of Catholics enduring mistreatment and discrimination as the Klan rose to political power.

By 1923, the young scholars writing for the Notre Dame Daily, the student newspaper, expressed concern over the rise of the Klan. Several students had also given speeches on “the Klan” and “Americanism.” The Klan’s use of patriotic imagery particularly bothered the young scholars. In one Notre Dame Daily op-ed, for example, the writer condemned the Klan’s appropriation of the American flag in its propaganda while simultaneously “placing limitations upon the equality, the liberty, and the opportunity for which it has always stood.” [3]

“Class Orators Awarded Place,” Notre Dame Daily, May 20, 1923, 1, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.

This was not only a philosophical stand. For the students of predominately Catholic and of Irish immigrant origin, the Ku Klux Klan posed a real threat to their futures. The Indiana Klan was openly encouraging discrimination against immigrants, especially Catholics. The hate-filled rhetoric they spewed through their newspaper, the Fiery Cross, as well as speeches and parades, created an atmosphere of fear and danger for Hoosiers of the Catholic faith or immigrant origin. The Klan encouraged their membership not to do business with immigrants, worked to close Catholic schools, and most destructively, elected officials sympathetic to their racist position and lobbied them to impose immigration quotas. [Learn more about the Klan’s influence on immigration policy here.] While the 1920s Klan was a hate group, it was not an extremist group. That is, its xenophobia, racism, anti-Catholicism, and antisemitism were the prevailing views of many white, Protestant, American-born Midwesterners. In other words, the students of Notre Dame had to worry about facing such prejudice whenever they left campus – even for a football game. [4]

Fiery Cross, March 16, 1923, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

By 1923, Notre Dame football had made great strides towards becoming one of the most prestigious athletic programs in the country. University President Father Matthew Walsh had recently added Princeton to the team’s schedule and moved the Army game to New York [from West Point] where many more Notre Dame alumni could attend. Father Walsh also hoped that the large number of Irish Catholic New Yorkers would make the team their own. These were also significant strides towards creating enough revenue to build a legitimate football stadium at Notre Dame, thus attracting more opponents from more prestigious teams. More importantly, the team was almost unstoppable. [5]

(Muncie) Star Press, October 18, 1923, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

By the time they met Army in October 1923, the Notre Dame players were in peak physical condition and coming off of several Midwestern wins. They quickly wore out Army’s defense, winning 13-0 in front of 30,000 people. [6] Notre Dame’s gridiron battle with Princeton on the Ivy League team’s home turf was even more important. According to Notre Dame football historian Murray Sperber:

The game allowed the Fighting Irish* to symbolically battle their most entrenched antagonists, the Protestant Yankees, embodied by snooty Princeton . . . A large part of Notre Dame’s subsequent football fame, and the fervent support of huge numbers of middle class and poor Catholics for the Fighting Irish, resulted from these clashes with – and triumphs over – opponents claiming superiority in class and wealth. [7]

Example of Gridgraph. “Michigan Stadium Story: The First ‘Broadcast of a UM Football Game,” Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

On October 20, the Irish beat the Princeton Tigers handily, 17-0, as Notre Dame students back home watched on the Gridgraph and celebrated in town. [More on “Football Game Watches” here.] The returning players were greeted by their fellow students with a celebration around a blazing bonfire. The students cheered, a band played and speakers, including President Walsh and an Indiana senator Robert Proctor extolled the team. [8]

Caption from Notre Dame Archives: Football Game Day – Notre Dame vs. Army, 1915/1106 Students and fans gathered outside of Jimmie & Goat’s Cigar Store getting a wired play-by-play report of the game, updated on a chalkboard on the street.

Notre Dame continued their winning streak, beating Georgia Tech 35-7 and Purdue 34-7 over the following two weeks. [9] On November 10, the Irish faced the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. Unfortunately, the Nebraska team attracted a group of “rabidly anti-Catholic Lincoln fans.” [10] In fact, the Daily Nebraskan, in trying to stir up Cornhusker fans before the big game, wrote that there was a rising “loyalty to Nebraska which bodes ill for the conquering ‘Micks’ from the Hoosier State.” Mick was a derogatory term for an Irishman. The Nebraska newspaper concluded: “LET’S SETTLE THE IRISH QUESTION!”[11]

“Nine Teams Stand as Undefeated Elevens of the Country,” [Oshkosh, WI] Daily Northwestern, October 29, 1923, 10, accessed Newspapers.com
Nebraska crushed Notre Dame 14-7. After this game, the Irish would go on to beat Butler University, Carnegie Melon, and University of St. Louis. The Nebraska game proved not only to be Notre Dame’s only loss of the season, but a mortifying experience for the players who were subjected to bigoted vitriol from some Nebraska fans. In an editorial in the Notre Dame Daily, a student newspaperman wrote about the game and especially the fan reaction. He wrote that when the “whistle blew in far-off Nebraka,” the eleven players on the field couldn’t believe what had happened: The undefeated Irish had lost to the Cornhuskers. In the Notre Dame gym there was silence. He wrote, “Little lights stopped flickering on the Gridgraph” and “two thousand hearts near burst.” The worst part for the players was not the loss, but the jibes from the stands. The editorial concluded:

But, beaten and bruised, stung even by the insults of your hosts, you came off that field with more glory in defeat than many another team has found in victory. [12]

To their credit, Nebraska students, coaches, and administrators condemned the anti-Catholic behavior and issued public and sincere apologies. Nebraska football coach and athletic director Fred T. Dawson wrote the Notre Dame Daily editor: “We are all mortified indeed to learn that the members of the Notre Dame team felt that Nebraska was lacking in the courtesies usually extended to the visiting teams.” Dawson assured the South Bend students that the “many people” heard making “remarks to the Notre Dame team as it withdrew from the field” were in no way connected to the university. He concluded, “our student body and alumni had nothing in their hearts but friendship for Notre Dame.” [13] The Notre Dame Daily graciously accepted Nebraska’s explanation and apology. [14] They had bigger problems at home.

“Attendance at Husker-Irish Battle Shatters Valley Records,” Lincoln State Journal, November 11, 1923, 9, accessed Newspapers.com

By the spring of 1924, the Klan was thoroughly integrated into Indiana communities and politics.  South Bend was an exception. In addition to the Irish Catholic students at the university, St. Joseph County had become home to a large number of Catholic immigrants born in Hungary and Poland.  Notre Dame historian Robert E. Burns explained that to the Klan, South Bend was their “biggest unsolved problem.” [15]  Klan leader D.C. Stephenson worked to change that, sending in Klan speakers and increasing anti-Catholic propaganda in the widely-circulated Fiery Cross newspaper. He created a plan that was a sort of two-sided coin. On one side, he attempted to legitimize and normalize the hate organization through philanthropic actions and grow its power through politics and law enforcement groups. On the other side, he worked to demonize minority groups such as immigrants and Catholics. [16]

W. A. Smith, “Ku Klux Klan Group Photo,” 1922, photograph, W. A. Smith Photographs Collection, Ball State University Archives and Special Collections, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

He did not have to work very hard. Burns explained:

The Klan did not invent anti-Catholicism . . . Throughout the nineteenth century anti-Catholicism had been both endemic and respectable in American society. Protestant ministers inspired their congregations with it, and politicians captured votes by employing it. [17]

“Ku Klux Klan Picnic, Freeport, Indiana,” circa 1919, photograph, Mary Ann Overman Collection, accessed The Indiana Album.

The Klan successfully used anti-Catholicism as a driving principle because Hoosiers already accepted it. Stephenson hoped that a large Klan rally in South Bend would be the match that lit the powder keg of prejudice. If he could bait a reaction from Notre Dame’s Catholic students and St. Joseph County’s Catholic residents, he could paint them as violent, lawless, un-American immigrants in contrast to his peaceably assembled 100% American Klansmen. This might convince Hoosiers to vote for Klan members or Klan-friendly candidates. On May 17, 1924, just three days before the Indiana Republican Convention, the Ku Klux Klan would hold a mass meeting for its Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois members in South Bend. [18]

Fearful for the safety of their students and local residents, Notre Dame and South Bend officials worked to stop a potentially violent incident. South Bend Mayor Eli Seebirt refused to grant the Klan a parade permit, although he could not stop their peaceful assembly on public grounds.[19] President Walsh issued a bulletin imploring students to stay on campus and ignore the Klan activities in town. He wrote:

Similar attempts of the Klan to flaunt its strength have resulted in riotous situations, sometimes in the loss of life. However aggravating the appearance of the Klan may be, remember that lawlessness begets lawlessness. Young blood and thoughtlessness may consider it a duty to show what a real American thinks of the Klan. There is only one duty that presents itself to Notre Dame men, under the circumstances, and that is to ignore whatever demonstration may take place today. [20]

“Ku Klux Klan at Main Street Interurban Terminal,” 1926, photograph, Allen County Public Library, accessed Allen County Community Album.

Father Walsh was right. “Young blood” could not abide the humiliation of this anti-Catholic hate group taking over the town. The Fiery Cross had hurled insults and false accusations at the students. The propaganda newspaper called them “hoodlums,” claimed that Notre Dame produced “nothing of value,” and blamed students for crime in the area.[21] As Klan members began arriving in the city on May 17, 1924, South Bend was ready to oppose them.

The South Bend Tribune reported:

Trouble started early in the day when klansmen in full regalia of hoods, masks and robes appeared on street corners in the business section, ostensibly to direct their brethren to the meeting ground, Island park, and giving South Bend its first glimpse of klansmen in uniform. [22]

Not long after Klan members began arriving, “automobiles crowded with young men, many of whom are said to have been Notre Dame students” surrounded the masked intruders. The anti-Klan South Bend residents and students tore off several masks and robes, exposing the identities of “kluxers” who wished to spread their hate anonymously. The Tribune reported that some Klan members were “roughly handled.” The newspaper also reported that the anti-Klan force showed evidence of organization. They formed a “flying column” that moved in unison “from corner to corner, wherever a white robe appeared.” By 11:30 a.m. students and residents of South Bend had purged the business district of any sign of the Klan. [23]

“South Bend Ku Klux Klan Headquarters,” July 4, 1924, photograph, General photograph collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

Meanwhile, Klan leaders continued to lobby city officials for permission to parade, hold meetings in their downtown headquarters, and assemble en masse at Island Park. Just after noon, the group determined to protect South Bend turned their attention to Klan headquarters. This home base was the third floor of a building identifiable by the “fiery cross” made of red light bulbs. The students and South Bend residents surrounded the building and stopped cars of arriving Klansmen. Again, the Tribune reported that some were “roughly handled.” The anti-Klan crowd focused on removing the glowing red symbol of hate. Several young men “hurled potatoes” at the building, breaking several windows and smashing the light bulbs on the electric cross. The young men then stormed up the stairs to the Klan den and were stopped by minister and Klan leader Reverend J.H. Horton with a revolver. [24]

The students attempted to convince Klan members to agree not to parade in masks or with weapons. While convincing all parties to ditch the costumes wasn’t easy, they did eventually negotiate a truce. By 3:30 p.m., “five hundred students and others unsympathetic with the klan” had left the headquarters and rallied at a local pool hall.  Here, a student leader spoke to the crowd and urged them to remain peaceful but on vigilant standby in case they were needed by the local police to break up the parade. After all, despite Klan threats, the city never issued a parade license. The plan was to reconvene at 6:30 p.m. at a bridge, preventing the Klan members from entering the parade grounds. In the end, no parade was held. Stephenson blamed the heavy rain for the cancellation in order to save face with his followers, but the actual reason was more sinister. [25]

Stephenson knew that he had been handed the ideal fuel for his propaganda machine. Using a combination of half truths and blatant lies, he could present an image of Notre Dame students as a “reckless, fight-loving gang of hoodlums.” [26]  The story that Stephenson crafted for the press was one where law-abiding Protestant citizens were denied their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and were then violently attacked by gangs of Catholic students and immigrant hooligans working together. They claimed that the students ripped up American flags and attacked women and children. [27] The story picked up traction and was widely reported in various forms. In the eyes of many outsiders, Notre Dame’s reputation was tarnished. Unfortunately, they would have to survive one more run-in with the Klan before they could begin to repair it. [28]

The press they garnered from the clash in South Bend had been just what Stephenson ordered. He figured one more incident, just before the opening of the Indiana Republican Convention, would convince stakeholders of the importance of electing Klan candidates in the face of this Catholic “threat.” Local Klan leaders just wanted revenge for the embarrassing episode. [29] Only two days later, on Monday, May 19, the Klan set a trap for Notre Dame students. Around 7:00 p.m. the lighted cross at Klan headquarters was turned back on and students began hearing rumors of an amassing of Klan members in downtown South Bend. The South Bend Tribune reported, “Approximately 500 persons, said to have been mostly Notre Dame students, opposed to the klan . . . started a march south toward the klan headquarters.” [30] Meanwhile, Klan members armed with clubs and stones spread out and waited. When the students arrived just after 9:00 p.m., the Klan ambushed them. The police tried to break up the scene, but added to the violence. By the time university leadership arrived around 10:00 p.m., they met several protesters with minor injuries. The students were regrouping and planning their next move; more violence seemed imminent. Climbing on top of a Civil War monument, and speaking over the din, Father Walsh somehow convinced the Notre Dame men to return to campus. The only major injury sustained was to the university’s reputation. [31]

Some secondary sources have claimed that it was the Notre Dame football team that led the flying columns and threw the potatoes that broke the lit-up cross. These sources claim that that the football team were leaders in these violent incidences. [32] While it is possible that the players were present at the events, no primary sources confirm this tale or even mention the players. It’s a good story, but likely just that.

“Football Team Photo: Starting Team in Formation,” 1923, Item: GBBY-57g199, Bagby Negatives, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.

But there is a better story here. It’s the story of how the 1924 Notre Dame football team stood tall before a country tainted by prejudice as model Catholics and American citizens of immigrant heritage. It’s the story of how they polished and restored the prestige and honor of their university. It’s the story of how one team established the legacy of Notre Dame football and fought their way to the Rose Bowl.

This is the end of Part One of this two-part series. See Part Two to learn about the historic 1924 Notre Dame football season, the university’s media campaign to restore its image, and the players victory on the gridiron and over its xenophobic, anti-Catholic detractors. 

Notes and Sources

*The University of Notre Dame did not officially accept the name “Fighting Irish” for their athletic teams until 1925. I have felt free to use it here as students, alumni, and newspapers had been using “Fighting Irish” at least since  1917.

Further Reading:
Robert E. Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999); Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993, reprint, 2003)

Notes:
[1]Robert E. Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), ix.
[2] “For What Purpose?” Huntington Press, October 1, 1922, 1, Newspapers.com. This editorial decries the Klan trying to establish itself in South Bend, noting the city’s history of tolerance around the university.[3]“Class Orators Awarded Place,” Notre Dame Daily, May 20, 1923, 1, University of Notre Dame Archives;“Washington’s Birthday,” Notre Dame Daily, February 21, 1924, 2, University of Notre Dame Archives.
[4] Jill Weiss Simins, “‘America First:’ The Ku Klux Klan Influence on Immigration Policy in the 1920s,” Indiana History Blog.
[5] Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993, reprint, 2003), 138-139.
[6] “Surprises in Indiana Foot Ball Results,” Greencastle Herald, October 15, 1923, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.
[7] Sperber, 147-8.
[8] “Irish Victory Is Celebrated,” Notre Dame Daily, October 23, 1923, Notre Dame Archives; Sperber, 148-9.
[9] Thomas Coman, “Rockmen Conquer Georgia Tech, 35-7,” Notre Dame Daily, October 28, 1923, 1, Notre Dame Archives; Thomas Coman, “Irish Gridders Beat Purdue, 34-7, Notre Dame Daily, 1, Notre Dame Archives.
[10] Sperber, 149.
“It Shall Be Done,” Daily Nebraskan in “What They Say,” Notre Dame Daily, November 10, 1923, 2, Notre Dame Archives.
[12] “To Those Who Can Read,” Notre Dame Daily, November 17, 1923, 2, Notre Dame Archives.
[13] “Letter Box,” Notre Dame Daily, November 27, 1923, 2, Notre Dame Archives.
[14] “Settled,” Notre Dame Daily, December 15, 1923, 2, Notre Dame Archives.
[15] Burns, 278.
[16] Ibid., 265-280, 302.
[17] Ibid., 267-9. Burns also explains the reasoning Klansmen and others employed to justify their anti-Catholic prejudice.
[18] Ibid., 303-5.
[19] “Heads, Not Fists,” Notre Dame Daily, May 17, 1924, 2, Notre Dame Archives.
[20] “Yesterday’s Bulletin,” Notre Dame Daily, May 18, 1924, 2, Notre Dame Archives.
[21] “Notre Dame Students Stage a Riot,” Fiery Cross, March 16, 1923, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.
[22-25] “Klan Display in South Bend Proves Failure,” South Bend Tribune, May 18, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com.
Based on first-hand descriptions in the article, its clear that the South Bend Tribune reporter was on the scene during the May 17 event. Thus, this article proves the most reliable of the many that ran in newspapers throughout the country. The Tribune‘s report, unlike many later reports in other papers, was untainted by subsequent Klan propaganda. Thus the descriptions of the event in this post are drawn from this article only, though others were consulted.
[26] “Arrogance of Notre Dame Students Gone,” Fiery Cross, June 13, 1924, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Burns, 314-316.
[29] Ibid.
[30] “Mayor Seebirt Moves Toward Peace in Klan War,” South Bend Tribune, May 20, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com.
[31] Ibid.
[32] In his 2004 book Notre Dame vs. the Klan, Todd Tucker tells a fictionalized version of the May 17 incident using a composite student character. [Tucker named this fictional character named Bill Foohey after an actual Notre Dame student who appeared in a photograph wearing one of the confiscated Klan robes, but left no further record of his involvement]. In Tucker’s version of the incident, Notre Dame quarterback Harry Stuhldreher threw a potato in a “perfect arc” to hit the “lone red bulb” remaining in the cross at Klan headquarters. Stuhldreher hit it and the crowd cheered like it was a football game. Tucker wrote in his author’s note at the beginning of the book that he had “taken a great liberty” in the creation of Foohey and that he had “extrapolated historical events to bring out the drama of the situation.” However, several other sources have now repeated Tucker’s version as factual as opposed to fictionalized. For a thoroughly researched, factual account of events, see Chapter 9 of Robert Burn’s Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934.

History Unfolded Part 8: The “Jewish Badge” and the “Threatening Calamity”

The Holocaust did not start with gas chambers. It started with stereotyping and hateful words, escalated to stigmatization and discrimination, and culminated in genocide, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). Thus the September 1941 order forcing Jews in Germany and occupied territories to wear a yellow star sewn onto their clothes, marked an important shift in the state-sponsored persecution of Jews. The bright yellow star with mock Hebrew lettering clearly identified Jews, marking them for discrimination, violence, and eventually, deportation to concentration camps.

USHMM caption: “A yellow star of David marked with the German word for Jew (Jude) worn by Fritz Glueckstein,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Fritz Gluckstein, accessed https://www.ushmm.org/learn/timeline-of-events/1939-1941/jewish-badge-decreed.

But what did this mean to the average American at the time? The  USHMM is seeking to discover just that through their History Unfolded Project (find out how you can contribute). And at Hoosier State Chronicles, we are using the freely accessible digitized Indiana newspapers to try and determine what Hoosier knew about the Holocaust and how they responded or did not.

In 1939, even before the general order, German authorities in occupied Poland required Jews to wear a blue Star of David sewn on a white armband. By the summer of 1941, Nazis required Jews to wear a yellow star badge in areas of the German-invaded Soviet Union. Indiana newspapers reported widely on the imposition of the badge and the worsening of conditions for Jews in occupied territories.* In July 1941, newspapers published in Munster, Valparaiso, Kokomo, and South Bend, Indiana, ran a lengthy United Press (UP) article by Jack Fleischer, a war correspondent based in Germany, who would later be interred by the Nazis for six months.

USHMM caption: White armband with a Star of David embroidered in blue thread, worn by Dina Offman from 1939 until 1941 while in the ghetto in Stopnica, Poland.

Fleischer reported from Krakow, Poland (which he spelled Cracow). He described taking a tour for foreign correspondents given by General Karl Frank, a high-ranking SS officer who would be executed after the war for his leadership in several massacres in Czechoslovakia. Frank showed off his “beautiful 14th century castle headquarters” and boasted of the improvements in the area since the Nazi occupation. According to Frank, “German experts” were “teaching Polish farmers modern agricultural methods” and had conscripted Polish laborers who were at work “repairing streets and public buildings,” as well as dredging a river and building parks.

Photograph of Jack Fleischer by Jean Graffic for NEA News Service reproduced in the Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, June 14, 1942, 6, accessed Newspapers.com. When this photo was taken secretly, Fleischer was being held at Bad Nauheim by German Authorities.

Fleischer also reported that he “drove through Cracow’s ghetto several times.” Fleischer wrote that Jews could leave the ghetto during the day to work, but were required to return at night. He continued: “They are required to wear white arm bands bearing the star of David.” He learned that the Jewish population of Krakow “which was 70,000 before the occupation, now is 11,000.” Most were transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto. A year later, German police and SS would begin deportations from Warsaw to the Treblinka killing center. The star badge played an important role in such deportations. According to the USHMM:

When Nazi officials implemented the Jewish badge between 1939 and 1945, they did so in an intensified, systematic manner, as a prelude to deporting Jews to ghettos and killing centers in German-occupied eastern Europe. 

By September 1941, the badge had been implemented systematically throughout the Greater German Reich. Many Indiana newspapers reported the story. The Kokomo Tribune ran a UP report on September 6 under the headline “Oppression”:

Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Berlin secret police, today ordered all Jews over six years of age to wear the star of David in yellow on their coats together with the inscription “Jew” in black.

The following day, the (Richmond) Palladium-Item ran an International News Service report (INS) and the Indianapolis Star ran an Associate Press (AP) report, both from Berlin, providing more information. These wire services noted that the badge was required to be large, “the size of the palm of their hand,” and worn on the left side. The paper reported that, starting September 19, Jews would not be allowed to leave their districts without police permission. The report concluded by noting that this decree was ordered just days before Rosh Hashanah, a time of introspection for Jews, but also a celebration of the year completed. At any other time, most Jews in Berlin would have been preparing prayers and baking challah.

USHMM caption: “Elsa Eisner Wearing the Compulsory Jewish Badge in Prague,” Elsa Eisner, marked with a Jewish badge, walks down a street in Prague. She, her mother, twin sister and other members of the family were deported to Auschwitz in July 1942. Prague, Czechoslovakia, ca. 1941. Accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

Also on September 7, the South Bend Tribune ran a more extensive UP article, reiterating most of the information given by the other newspapers and adding more alarming details. This article reported that German authorities had already “banned exit permission from Germany.” The UP reported that the decree was accompanied by severe penalties, large fines and imprisonment, for failure to wear the badge. The writer concluded that the order was “the sharpest official measure against Jews since those introduced following the anti-Semitic outbreaks of November 9, 1938,” referring to Kistallnacht.

The (Indianapolis) Jewish Post ran an editorial by Rabbi Saul E. White on September 19, which attempted to comfort American Jews by explaining to them why the antisemitism that had manifested in Europe could never take root in the United States. He argued that (1) the U.S. lacked respected antisemitic writers or historians that could influence the nation’s thinking; (2) no political party espoused antisemitism as part of their platform; (3) there was no repressed minority seeking a scapegoat for problems because the Roosevelt administration had rescued the economy; (4) no churches were sympathetic to antisemitism; and (5) the U. S. was built on religious freedom and racial tolerance.

Meanwhile, newspapers and radio broadcasts carried the vitriolic antisemitic messages of Father Charles Coughlin who defended Nazi violence against Jews and gave a platform to Charles Lindbergh who blamed Jews for conspiring to bring the U.S. into the war. Many members of the U.S. State Department and several  congressman worked to block Jewish refugees from seeking safety in the United States. Respected organizations such as the American Legion actively worked to keep Jewish refugees out, even children. African Americans struggled for basic civil rights, while the U.S. government would soon begin imprisoning its own citizens of Japanese descent in concentration camps.

Rabbi White encouraged his readers not to worry and even chided Jewish activists who combatted antisemitism with education, as well as those who shared reports of the tragedies occurring in Europe with increasing regularity. Rabbi White sarcastically rebuked those Jewish activists who “have turned amateur detectives and go about with an air of knowing it all and occasionally hint at a threatening calamity.” Rabbi White would later become an important force in fighting antisemitism and an active participant in the civil rights movement. However, it is clear from his 1941 column that despite the extensive coverage in newspapers, many American Jewish newspaper readers had no idea that the “threatening calamity” had already arrived.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, October 31, 1941, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles. [Mogen-Davids translates to Shield of David.]
On September 21, the South Bend Tribune ran a UP story showing that a glimmer of humanity remained in Berlin. The UP reported that a silent protest had broke out in response to “the new rigid anti-Jewish laws” requiring Jews to wear the star badge. According to the article, non-Jewish Germans “were seen on the streets of Berlin today approaching Jewish acquaintances and ostentatiously shaking hands with them.” This expression of solidarity was “an obvious gesture of sympathy.”

According to the USHMM:

This response was widespread enough that the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment felt compelled to issue pamphlets instructing Germans on how they should respond when encountering neighbors wearing the yellow star.

The Nazi propaganda machine also responded to criticism of the new restrictions with false reports blaming the United States for the new law. These manufactured stories were especially well-covered in Indiana newspapers through AP and UP reports and dispatches received directly from war correspondents. On September 26, the Indianapolis News, Kokomo Tribune, (Richmond) Palladium-Item, South Bend Tribune, and the (Columbus) Republic all reported on the propaganda reports, sometimes on their front pages. The AP relayed reports from Americans in Berlin of “a story going the rounds of the German capital that every German national in the United States has been compelled to wear the swastika, leading to orders that Jews in Germany must wear a yellow Star of David on their left breasts.” American newspaper offices reported that they were receiving “frequent inquiries as to whether the rumor is based on fact” and Americans in Berlin were trying to dispel the rumor as nonsense. Of course, it wasn’t nonsense, it was propaganda. However, the AP reported, “Official [Reich] press officers said the government had nothing to do with the story and insisted they knew nothing about it.” Nonetheless, it was working. According to an AP story published by the Richmond Palladium, the average Berliner believed the rumor. The AP reported, “Whoever launched this whispering campaign a few days ago did a good job of it. It is all over Berlin and people are repeating it everywhere.”

USHMM caption: German Jewish adults and children wearing compulsory Jewish badges are lined up against a building. Weser, Germany, 1941–43. Accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

By October, the (Indianapolis) Jewish Post published a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that German authorities were increasing their antisemitic propaganda output. The JTA wrote that “the Nazi press throughout the Reich is conducting violent anti-Jewish propaganda to back up Hitler’s manifesto to his army that ‘the Jews and only Jews’ are to be blamed for the German soldiers killed on the Eastern front.” However, the JTA also reported that the enforcement of the star badge was having as unintended effect. The article stated:

The change of mood among the German people towards the Jews is reported to be the result of the introduction of the yellow Mogen David [Shield of David] for the Jews in the Reich. This anti-Jewish measure has, according to the report, had an opposite effect than that desired. It has provoked sympathy for the Jews instead of hatred.

According to the report, Christian ministers were especially given pause, pondering publicly: “Who knows? We Christians might soon find ourselves wearing the cross where Jews now wear the yellow star.” This reflection resembles the famous quotation by Martin Niemöller which is part of the USHMM’s permanent exhibition:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

On October 3, 1941, the (Indianapolis) Jewish Post shared a report from Amsterdam via Stockholm, that “Nazi authorities in Holland have issued an order compelling all Jews there to wear a yellow Star of David over their heart” and that the accompanying  restrictions imposed on Jews in Germany prohibiting travel and instilling a curfew would also apply in Holland.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, October 3, 1941, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Nazi propaganda machine was at work in Holland as well. German occupying authorities ordered the showing of the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, a horribly antisemitic piece of Nazi propaganda and a pet project of Joseph Goebbels. But also at work was a quiet resistance. The (Indianapolis) Jewish Post reported:

Demonstrating their contempt for the anti-Jewish propaganda which the Nazis are conducting in the Netherlands, crowds of Hollanders flock to the theaters where the Nazi anti-Jewish film “The Eternal Jew” is being shown under orders from Berlin, and sit through the entire performance with their backs to the screen.

USHMM caption: Jews from the Lodz ghetto are loaded onto freight trains for deportation to the Chelmno killing center. Lodz, Poland, 1942–44. Accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

According to the USHMM, the badge was systematically enforced throughout Belgium and the Netherlands by the spring of 1942 and in occupied France by June. In each place the badge was introduced, deportations to ghettos and then killing centers soon followed. The badge was only a piece of cloth. But the intent was to mark Jews as different, less than human, and designate them for deportation and murder. The Nazi imposition of the star badge serves as a reminder that we must confront antisemitism and other forms of hate on contact. According to the USHMM:

More than 70 years after the Holocaust, the horrors of Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Darfur are sobering reminders that preventing future genocides and mass atrocities remains an enormous challenge. Yet genocide is not the inevitable result of ancient hatreds or irrational leaders. As we learn more about the risk factors, warning signs, and triggering events that have led to it in the past, we are also learning ways to prevent it in the future.

The USHMM website has tools for preventing genocide and confronting hate and antisemitism today, including the Early Warning Project: https://earlywarningproject.ushmm.org/

Further Reading:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Jewish Badge: During the Nazi Era,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/jewish-badge-during-the-nazi-era.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Nazi Propaganda,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/nazi-propaganda.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Ghettos,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/ghettos.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Deportation,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/deportations.

*Note: Researchers for the History Unfolded project found no Indiana newspaper coverage on the imposition of the star badge in the Hancock Democrat or in the Greenfield Daily Reporter.

**Note: For more on the U.S. and Hoosier response to Jewish refugees seeking asylum, see past posts:

Jill Weiss Simins, “History Unfolded Part 7: Child Refugees, Hoosier Resistance,” Indiana History Blog.

Jill Weiss Simins, “History Unfolded Part 6: The Abandoned Refugees of the St. Louis,” Indiana History Blog.

Jill Weiss Simins, “History Unfolded Part 5: Jewish Refugees, Hoosier Rescue,” Indiana History Blog.

History Unfolded Part 7: Child Refugees, Hoosier Resistance

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, December 2, 1938, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Children under eighteen years of age make up more than half of the approximately 22 million people seeking refuge today. [1] We read statistics like this often, and sometimes our empathy for such human devastation of can get lost in the numbers. The problems can feel remote, foreign, and unrelated to our own daily struggles. And that is precisely how many Americans felt just before the outbreak of WWII, as the number of people applying for refuge in the United States multiplied. In 1938, 125,000 asylum seekers applied for the 27,000 visas under the restrictive U.S. quota system. By 1939, that number increased to over 300,000. [2] A Fortune magazine poll from the summer of 1938, showed that 67% of Americans thought “we should try to keep them out.” Only 5% thought the U.S. government should raise the quotas to allow more people asylum. [3]

Fortune, July 1938, reprinted in Ishaan Thardoor, “What Americans Though of Jewish Refugees on the Eve of World War II,” Washington Post, November 17, 2015, accessed Washington Post.

Again, the staggering statistics can be numbing. But even at our most ambivalent, the stories of children fleeing persecution seem to break through our indifference and stir us to act. For example, in 1938, British citizens lobbied their government to act on behalf on  children fleeing Austria and Germany after the Anschluss and Kristallnacht. They agreed to fund the transportation, care, and education of these children and infants. These rescue missions, known as Kindertransport, saved ten thousand children from annihilation.

“Kindertransport,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

Despite the prevailing attitudes towards immigrants in the United States, some hoped their fellow Americans would make an exception for child refugees. Hope came in 1939, in the form of the Wagner-Rogers Bill that aimed to bring 20,000 children escaping Nazi Germany to the United States. Hoosiers both supported and opposed refugee immigration and the bill. Looking through Indiana newspapers for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum‘s History Unfolded project, we can see what Hoosiers knew about the issue, how they aided, and how they failed these small asylum seekers. (Find out how you can participate in the History Unfolded Project which helps the USHMM determine what Americans knew about the Holocaust.)

USHMM caption: Jewish refugee children, part of a Children’s Transport (Kindertransport) from Germany, upon arrival in Harwich. Great Britain, December 12, 1938, Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library Limited, accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

The Wagner-Rogers Bill

(Richmond) Palladium-Item, May 22, 1958, 11, accessed Newspapers.com

Clarence Pickett, an Earlham College professor and leader of Quaker relief organization American Friends Service Committee, led the drafting of the bill in December 1938. Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) and Representative Edith Nourse Rogers (R-MA) introduced this legislation in both the House and Senate on February 9, 1939. The bill would allow 20,000 children under the age of fourteen to immigrate to the United States (10,000 in 1939 and that same amount in 1940) outside of the established quota. While the bill did not specify that these were Jewish children, “the realities of the refugee crisis in Europe made this an obvious and understood fact. [4] The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) quoted Senator Wagner:

The admission of a handful of unfortunate people means little in the economic life of 120 million people, but it means a great deal for us and the world as a symbol of the strength of democratic convictions and our common faith.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, June 2, 1939, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Support for the bill came from unlikely places. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) both supported the legislation, specifying that the children were not a threat to American jobs, an oft-cited fear for those with anti-immigration sentiments. In fact, Pickett argued, they would become consumers, helping the economy. The U.S. Department of Labor agreed, and offered to place the children via their Children’s Bureau.  Leaders from all of these organizations testified before the House Immigration Committee in support of the bill. The (Indianapolis) Jewish Post reported via the JTA that John Brophy, National Director of the CIO “told the committee  that organized labor had no fears of an undue influx of refugees resulting from the Wagner-Rogers Bill.” Eleanor Roosevelt also spoke in favor of the bill, allowing herself to be quoted on a heated political issue for the first time in her six years as first lady, according to the USHMM. She told UP reporters:

I hope very much it will pass. It seems to be a wise way to do a humanitarian thing.

“The Conscience of the American People”

At the same time in Indiana, several notable Hoosiers were at work on grassroots campaigns to rescue German-Jewish children. Prominent Jewish civic leader Sarah Wolf Goodman and the leadership of the (Indianapolis) Jewish Post, among others, raised money to bring refugees to the United States. We examined these efforts thoroughly in post 5 of this series “Jewish Refugees, Hoosier Rescue.” But these were small-scale operations. The sweeping action needed had to come from the federal government.

History Unfolded Post 5: “Jewish Refugees, Hoosier Rescue,” Hoosier State Chronicles Blog.
(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, July 28, 1939, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On December 16, 1938 Jewish Post Editor Gabriel M. Cohen made a passionate argument for congressional action. Cohen stated that protests against the Nazi perpetrators and prayers for the victims were not enough. It was time for “immediate relief.” Cohen noted that President Roosevelt was not seeking to extend the quota system, but that maybe it was not up to the president to lead the way on this issue. Cohen continued:

USHMM caption: A Jewish refugee girl from Vienna, Austria, upon arrival in Harwich after her arrival in England on a Kindertransport. United Kingdom, December 12, 1938, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

Possibly such a demand cannot at this time come from the President. It can and should come, however, from the conscience of the American people.

He noted especially the responsibility of communities and leaders of faith. He expressed his confidence in American Jews to take a leading role in the care of these children

We are certain that there are thousands of Jewish families in the United States, who, in the face of the present crisis, will gladly take refugee children into their homes and provide them with food and shelter as long as necessary.

Cohen’s prediction was correct. The JTA reported that at an April 1939 joint committee hearing for the bill, attorney Wilbur Large presented 1,400 letters from citizens around the country offering to adopt a refugee child. In fact, the AP reported that Paul Belsser, head of the Child Welfare League of America testified that there were more than enough homes for the children with twelve applications coming in for every child adopted in America.

Marcus Blechman,, Photograph of Helen Hayes, 1945, Henrietta Alice Metcalf Performing Arts Photographic Collection, Special Collections Research Center, University of Kentucky, https://exploreuk.uky.edu/catalog/xt7gxd0qsz74_205_1/

Hollywood actress Helen Hayes offered to adopt a refugee child herself. Hayes told the committee that her grandmother, who had nine children, lived by the motto, “There is always room for one more.” Then, joking aside, Hayes addressed the lawmakers:

There is room in my family for one more. I beg you to let them in.

One senator “heckled” her, according to the Logansport Pharos-Tribune, asking sarcastically, “Do you mean to say you’d adopt a child unseen?” Hayes replied sharply, “I never saw my own child until it was delivered!”

“A Stand Against A Haven”

In his plea for congressional action, Cohen also anticipated and refuted opposing arguments. Echoing Pickett, the Jewish Post editor wrote:

Whatever economic objections and fears of increased unemployment Congress may have with regard to enlarging the existing immigration quota, there can be no such objections to the admission of children.

Also like Pickett, Cohen argued that the children would first be consumers before they would be job seekers. He continued, “Their presence in the community would stimulate business.”

USHMM caption: Children aboard the President Harding look at the Statue of Liberty as they pull into New York harbor. They were brought to the United States by Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus. New York, United States, June 1939, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Steve Pressman, accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

Again, Cohen’s predictions were correct. The bill’s opposition focused on the “economic dangers” of increasing immigration just as the country was climbing out of the Great Depression. Senator Robert R. Reynolds (D-NC) argued that the children would grow up and “undoubtedly keep our own children from jobs and work that they are rightfully entitled to.” Reynolds pledged to “filibuster the plan to death,” according to the Associated Press (AP).

Meanwhile, in Indiana, members of the American Legion‘s Subcommittee on Immigration gathered in Indianapolis to begin a series of meetings on the bill and establish the official position of the national organization. According to a May 3 AP article via the Kokomo Tribune :

Some members of the immigration committee were reported to be favoring the admission of the children for humanitarian purposes while others were opposing it on the grounds American children would suffer by the influx of additional foreigners.

By May 5, 1939, the American Legion made its decision to oppose the bill and adopted a report of their official position. Announcing their decision from their Indianapolis headquarters, American Legion Chairman Jeremiah Cross called the bill “class legislation” because it “would benefit persecuted minorities in only one country.” According to the International News Service via the Hammond Times, Cross claimed that accepting the children would “break up homes and thus be contrary to the American tradition of preserving home life.” National Commander Stephen Chadwick stated that there were too many children at home that needed assistance. Chadwick continued:

We should solve this problem at home before extending a helping hand to foreign nations.

The local Franklin, Indiana, American Legion chapter encouraged the legionnaires gathered at Indianapolis to go further in denying asylum. The Edinburg Daily Courier and Franklin Evening Star reported that the district recommended “a ten-year curtailment of all immigration into the United States” on top of opposing the bill. At the final session of their meetings on immigration, American Legion director Homer L. Chaillaux announced that the powerful organization would indeed back a policy of “curtailed immigration for 10 years to solve the unemployment problem” and “halt the flow of undesirable aliens into this country.” The Evening Star reported that the Legion also reiterated that they were taking “a stand against a haven for thousands of German refugee children seeking admittance to this country, on the grounds that entrance of the children would clear the way for a increased number of parents and close relatives.”

USHMM caption: Soon after liberation, surviving children of the Auschwitz camp walk out of the children’s barracks. Poland, after January 27, 1945, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Lydia Chagoll, accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

The anti-immigration position of the American Legion and other organizations (such as the Daughters of the American Revolution) was translated into policy. The Senate Committee on Immigration proposed admitting the children but counting them against the quota. Senator Reynolds proposed the children be admitted in exchange for an end to all quota immigration for five years. This is exactly what leaders of organizations dedicated to rescue feared. James G. McDonald, chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee (and a former Indiana University professor who has been covered in detail in our History Unfolded series post 4 and post 5)  predicted this response and the death of the bill. Assistant Secretary of State George S. Messersmith recommended to McDonald that his advisory committee not attempt to intervene, as any effort to expand the quota would result in a cutting of the quotas instead. Congress was eager for the chance to respond to American anti-immigration sentiment. McDonald worked behind the scenes to put pressure on President Roosevelt to intervene, but the president declined to act or comment on the issue. McDonald wrote despairingly in a private letter that the settlement of refugees was “dependent upon the attitude of governments which are little influenced by humanitarian factors.” [5]

USHMM caption: A child wears the compulsory Jewish badge. The “Z” stands for the word “Jew” (Zidov) in Croatian. Yugoslavia, ca. 1941, accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

The amendments added by the legislation’s opponents, nullified its intent, and Senator Wagner withdrew his bill on July 1, 1939. The Jewish Post reported that antisemitic groups and publications praised Senator Reynolds. The newspaper also reported on Reynold’s founding of the Vindicators Association, which was “an ultra-nationalist, isolationist, nativist, anti-Semitic, and anti-communist” group, according to the North Carolina History Project. The Post reported via correspondent:

Speaking of refugees, Senator Bob Reynolds, of North Carolina, who sees the overthrow of the republic if 20,000 refugee children are allowed to enter this country in the space of two years, has just opened a new headquarters for his organization, The Vindicators, here in Washington. It’s right behind the Supreme Court Building, and cost $20,000.

The New York Times and other national publications also condemned Reynold’s extreme anti-immigration stance and linked him to antisemitic groups. But the senator continued to advocate for isolationism. The Congressional Record reported his 1941 address to the Senate:

I wish to say — and I say it without the slightest hesitation — that if I had my way about it at this hour, I would today build a wall about the United States so high and so secure that not a single alien or foreign refugee from any country upon the face of this earth could possibly scale or ascend it.

USHMM caption: This photograph taken soon after liberation shows young camp survivors from Buchenwald’s “Children’s Block 66″—a special barracks for children. Germany, after April 11, 1945, Federation Nationale des Deportes et Internes Resistants et Patriots, accessed Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM.

Private citizens and charitable organizations continued their rescue efforts (and this series will continue to share the stories of such notable Hoosiers.) However, the immigration quotas remained in effect, denying asylum to those fleeing Nazi persecution. As we reflect this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, remember the 1.5 million children who were killed by Germans and collaborators — not as “unwanted aliens” and not as statistics — but as boys, girls, and even infants who deserved a future. And we can’t help but regret that Cohen’s appeal in the Jewish Post to “Save the Children” went unanswered. In it, he concluded:

Tens of thousands of innocent children are now exposed to a life of torture or to a slow painful death . . . America must do its share. Let us open our gates to their outstretched hands.

Learn more about the  History Unfolded project and about issues facing Refugees Today through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Notes

  1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Refugees Today,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/refugees-today.
  2. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Refugees” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/refugees.
  3. Poll: , Fortune, July 1938, reprinted in Ishaan Thardoor, “What Americans Though of Jewish Refugees on the Eve of World War II,” Washington Post, November 17, 2015, accessed https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/11/17/what-americans-thought-of-jewish-refugees-on-the-eve-of-world-war-ii/?utm_term=.2a6a6f677323.
  4. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,” Wagner-Rogers Bill,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/wagner-rogers-bill.
  5. Richard Breitman, Barbara McDonald Stewart, and Severin Hochberg, eds., Refugees and Rescue: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1935-1945 (Indianapolis and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Published in Association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington D.C., 2009), 160-161.

Walking with Dr. King: The Civil Rights Legacy of Rabbi Maurice Davis

Last Sunday I went for a walk . . . I did not walk alone.

With these simple words Rabbi Maurice Davis described his 1965 trip to Selma to the readers of the (Indianapolis) Jewish Post. Rabbi Davis’s “walk” was a protest led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. against institutional racism, voter suppression, and violence against African Americans. When King asked civil rights leaders from around the country to join him in Alabama, Davis had no question that it was his duty to join the demonstration of solidarity. Davis had long worked for civil rights through both secular and faith-based channels. He advocated for community action in his sermons to the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. He led several civic action councils that combated segregation, racist policies, and poverty. And he extended his appeal for civil rights to the entire city through a regular newspaper column and a television show. Mostly, however, Rabbi Davis marched at Selma “because it was right.”

Jewish Post, January 20, 1956, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

“You Were a Spark for Us”

Maurice Davis was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1921. Census records show that his Russian-born father Jacob managed a garage while his mother Sadie cared for five children. They did well for themselves and were able to send Maurice first to Brown University in 1939 and then to the University of Cincinnati where he received his B.A. in 1945. He then received his Master of Hebrew Letters from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. After serving several different congregations as a student rabbi, he became rabbi of Adath Israel in Lexington, Kentucky in 1951. By this point he was already active in the local civil rights movement and joined the Kentucky Commission Against Segregation.

Sketch of current home of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation at 6501 North Meridian Street, accessed https://ihcindy.org/who_we_are/history

Rabbi Maurice Davis became the spiritual leader of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation (IHC) in March 1956, in time to celebrate the centennial of its founding in 1856. Over 600 families made up the large congregation which was in the process of planning their new temple at 64th and Meridian, which still houses the IHC today (a move from their earlier location at the Market Street Temple.) As the ninth Rabbi serving the IHC, Davis continued to advance the forward-thinking Reform Judaism of his predecessors, according to the Jewish Post. In his first year, he attracted eighty new congregants, and  temple brotherhood president Herman Logan wrote in the congregational bulletin:

You were a spark for us which turned into a flame when a new brotherhood was beginning.

It was an auspicious start for the young rabbi.

“Something Less Than Welcome”

While the IHC welcomed Rabbi Davis, his wife Marion, and their sons Jay and Michael, some other Hoosiers made the Davis family feel “something less than welcome.” In 1959, the Jewish Post reported that Rabbi Davis’s son Jay was denied entry to the Riviera Club‘s swimming pool at 5640 North Illinois Street. The Rabbi told his congregation that Jay unfortunately learned first about the club’s “wonderful slide” and then its anti-Semitic policies. Jay summarized the situation as only a child could, stating: “Gee whiz, dad, it isn’t fair.” The Rabbi then had to explain the difference between legal segregation and social segregation to his son. The rabbi told his congregation that while many people think segregation in the private sphere “has no meaning” and should be tolerated, it does have meaning to the people it affects. And in this case, the meaning was that a nine-year-old boy was made to feel inferior to his peers.

Jewish Post, January 1, 1958, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Jewish Post pursued the story, reporting on a survey of five “exclusive” Indianapolis clubs. Each club, including the Riviera Club, claimed not to discriminate against Jews. Some of the club chairmen and presidents even claimed they had Jewish members. However, when the Jewish Post interviewed the club managers, they reported that they knew of no Jewish members. Others in the club leadership claimed no Jews had applied for membership or that they did not keep track of religious affiliation. From the perspective of the Post, none gave a straight answer.

Jewish Post, July 17, 1959, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
Jewish Post, July 29, 1960, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Rabbi Davis did not only respond to discrimination when it was personal. He believed that it was his responsibility, and that of all religious leaders, to work for moral justice. Not all of his Jewish colleagues agreed. In response to a 1960 Indianapolis Times poll of religious leaders (reported by the Jewish Post), two of Indianapolis’s leading rabbis (Congregation B’nai Torah and Shara Tefila) reported that clergy should keep out of politics. Rabbi Davis, on the other hand, said it was the responsibility of the synagogue to help inform members on political issues, to encourage them to be active participants in government, and “to speak up whenever morality or ethics are involved in politics.”

Jewish Post, October 13, 1961, 15, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Rabbi Davis not only advocated for equality for Jews, but all people facing oppression. He encouraged Jews to look beyond their own community and work to end discrimination everywhere. He stated, “A decent and sensitive America is good for all Americans and we must help her be so” (more here). Indianapolis’s African American community took note. In 1960, the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP named Davis its “honorary chairman” and the Indianapolis Recorder reported regularly on his efforts to fight segregation and inequality. As president of the Indianapolis Human Relations Council, Davis worked to end racist mortgage and loan policies that denied fair housing to African Americans and created segregated neighborhoods (more here). He conducted personal investigations of restaurants and other establishments which had reputations for discriminating against African Americans and reported his findings in the Jewish Post (more here). By 1962, he had a regular column giving his views on issues of the day and often advocating for civil rights.

Jewish Post, July 27, 1962, 13, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

His columns were  often fiery calls to action. For example, in September 1963, he responded to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Alabama where four African American children were killed “while putting on their choir robes.” Rabbi Davis, however, blamed not just the bomber and not just the racism and negligence of the governor and police chief, but “every American citizen who participates in prejudice or fails to oppose it.” His powerful arguments against injustice were often shaped by the legacy of the holocaust. He continued:

Segregation and discrimination, lead to bombing and lynching as surely as anti-Semitism leads to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. And any man who walks that path, has not the right to be amazed where it leads. We who know the end of the road, must say this openly, and believe this implicitly, and practice it publicly. And privately. And always.

Not long after his article on the bombing, Rabbi Maurice Davis received a bomb threat of his own.

“My Name Was One of Them”

Photograph of John Lewis, Hosea William, Albert Turner and Bob Mants Leading Marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Records Group 406, accessed National Archives Catalog.

By 1965, the civil rights movement had reached its “political and emotional peak” with three marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the suppression of African American votes and the recent killing of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson (more here: International Civil Rights Center and Museum). On March 7, the protesters led by John Lewis began a peaceful march, but were soon stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma by state troopers and Dallas County police who were waiting for them. In an incident remembered as “Bloody Sunday,” police violently attacked the unarmed demonstrators with clubs and tear gas. Police beat Lewis unconscious. On March 9, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. flew to Selma and called for others to join him. That day, a larger group followed King back to the bridge to kneel in prayer, but dared go no further as a federal judge had issued a restraining order against the march. Many were disappointed that King did not attempt to march on toward Montgomery. Others, however, credit his concession with expediting the passage of the Voting Rights Act.*

Hammond Times, March 8, 1965, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

The night of the second march to the bridge a group of white men killed Unitarian minister James Reeb who had traveled to Selma from Boston to join King. Related protests erupted across the country and King called for a third march. On Sunday, March 21, civil rights leaders and supporters from around the country arrived in Selma to march over the infamous bridge to Montgomery. Rabbi Maurice Davis would march in the front lines.

When the Indianapolis Star reported that Rabbi Davis and David H. Goldstein (of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council) had left for Selma, the newspaper estimated that these Hoosiers would join around 300 people. Instead, Davis reported that they joined thousands at Brown Chapel Methodist Church for a ceremony before the march. Davis described their arrival at the church:

As we approached Selma we saw the Army begin to position itself. Jeeps and trucks filled with soldiers, hospital units, and communications experts clustered along the way . . . The road leading to the church was lined with National Guardsmen, recently federalized.

While President Johnson ordered National Guard protection for the marchers to avoid a repeat of “Bloody Sunday” and its ensuing protests, the atmosphere was still tense. Davis and Goldstein met with some other rabbis after the service who had arrived before them. These rabbis told them that they were unable to buy a meal or place to stay, the reason being the Selma residents insisted on giving the activists whatever they needed.

Davis and Goldstein also looked to find out from the other rabbis where they could get yarmulkes, as a shipment was supposed to have recently arrived. Organizers wanted Jewish demonstrators from all branches of the faith to be as clearly visible as those of other faiths to show their support and numbers. They told Davis, “It is our answer to the clerical collar.” However, Davis and Goldstein had trouble finding one. They soon learned why.

Two days earlier, five rabbis were jailed for taking part in demonstrations. After holding Sabbath behind bars Friday, they announced they would hold a  service in front of the Brown Chapel after their release on Saturday. According to the Jewish Post, “Over 600 Negroes and whites, Jewish and non-Jews joined in the impromptu havdalah services for one of the most unique of its kind in history.” According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, those in attendance, regardless of their faith, donned yarmulkes “in respectful emulation of rabbis who participated in demonstrations.” In Selma, they became known as “freedom caps.” Davis reported that “all the Civil Rights workers wanted to wear them . . . That is where all the yarmelkes went!”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Daily News Bulletin, March 23, 1965, accessed Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Dr. King entered the chapel at 10:45 a.m. Sunday. Davis was asked if he would represent the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. When he agreed, he was pulled up onto the platform next to King during the latter’s “magic” sermon. Davis explained:

Nothing but the word “magic” can quite describe what it is he does to so many. When King speaks, you are not an audience. You are participants. And when he finished we were ready to march.

Photo Courtesy of the Jewish Post Archive. Rabbi Davis can be seen just behind King and to his left.

The thousands of demonstrators were organized into rows with the first three rows chosen by Dr. King. Davis stated:

Before the march began a list of 20 names were read to accompany Rev. King in the first three rows, and my name was one of them. I marched proudly at the front . . .

He continued:

On the street we formed three rows of 8, locked our arms together, and started to march. Behind us the thousands began to follow.

Richmond Palladium-Item, March 22, 1965, 14, accessed Newspapers.com.

When they arrived at the infamous bridge they paused to remember those who came before them and were attacked. They continued onto the highway. The road was lined with armed National Guardsmen and five helicopters circled the group. State troopers were taking pictures of the marchers. Davis explained:

This is an Alabama form of intimidation. I kept remembering that these were the same state troopers who two weeks earlier had ridden mercilessly into a defenseless mass of people . . . We kept on marching.

The marchers passed people who “waved, wept, prayed, and shouted out words of encouragement” and others, “whites who taunted, jeered, cursed” or “stood with stark amazement at this incredible sight.” At one point they passed a car painted with hateful signs “taunting even the death of Reverend Reed.” Other signs read “Dirty communist clergy go home” and “integrationist scum stay away.”

Rabbi Davis marched for twelve hours without sitting down or eating. Unfortunately, Davis did not get to finish the march. Instead, he was called to fly to Cincinnati that night to be with his father-in-law who had been admitted to the hospital with a serious illness. When Daivs finally returned to Indianapolis, he was welcomed with a threatening phone call.

“It’ll be too late when it goes off.”

When Rabbi Davis answered his phone Monday night at 11:00, an anonymous man asked if he was “the rabbi who went to Selma.” When Davis answered affirmatively, the voice continued: “Let me check this list again . . . You are No. 2 in Indianapolis.” The implication was that Davis was the second on a hit list of activists. Davis told the caller he was calling the police, but the man replied: “It won’t do any good to call the police . . . it’ll be too late when it goes off.”

Jewish Post, March 26, 1965, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Police searched the house and found nothing.  But the calls continued. On Tuesday, Davis took the phone off the hook at 2 A.M. so the family could sleep. Letters arrived as well full of “unbelievable filth, ugly statements,” and intimate knowledge of his larger civil rights work.

Davis stated vaguely that he was required to take “protective measures” to protect his family. The rabbi did not expound at the time, but later his children recalled that they had a “babysitter” who carried a .45-caliber revolver under his jacket. From his statements to the press, it seems the rabbi was most hurt that the threats were possibly coming from fellow Hoosiers. He told the Jewish Post:

Monday night my life was threatened. Not in Selma. Not in Montgomery. Not in Atlanta. In Indianapolis.

“The Time Has Come to Worship with Our Lives”

Like King, Davis did not dwell on the darkness of humanity but used it as a chance to shine a light of hope on the potential of his fellow man. Just days after the threats on his family, the Jewish Post published a section of a sermon in which Davis explained why he felt called to join King in Selma. Davis stated that many people had asked him why he went. And he had trouble at first finding the right words. He liked the Christian term of “witnessing,” that is, seeing God in an event. He also liked the Hebrew term that Rabbi Abraham Herschel, who was also at Selma used: “kiddush ha-Shem,” that is, sanctifying God’s name. But in his personable manner, he ended up giving a simpler explanation to the Post:

I know now what I was doing in Selma, Alabama. I was worshiping God. I was doing it on U.S. 80, along with 6,000 others who were doing precisely the same thing, in 6,000 different ways.

Jewish Post, April 16, 1965, 27, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

He called others to join him. He referred to injustices that needed to still be overcome in order to unite all of humanity as a “brotherhood postponed” and tasked his followers with making sure that while such unity is delayed, it is not destroyed. The way to achieve justice was not only to pray in the traditional way, but also with actions. He wrote:

Brotherhood postponed. The time has come, and it has been a long time coming. The time has come to worship with our lives as with our lips, in the streets as in the sanctuaries. And we who dare to call God, God, must begin to learn the challenge which that word contains. “One God over all” has to mean “one brotherhood over all.”

Muncie Evening Press, April 28, 1965, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

Rabbi Davis continued to work for civil rights in Indianapolis. He was again named honorary chairman of the NAACP. He served as a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights and on the board of the United Negro College Fund. He was president of the Indianapolis Council of Human Relations and organized the Community Action Against Poverty (sponsored by the City of Indianapolis and the President’s Commission on Equal Opportunity).

Jewish Post, January 22, 1986, 14, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

He never forgot his march with King. In 1986, he reflected in the pages of the Jewish Post about a first for the country:

You hear a song, or sniff an aroma, and all of a sudden you are miles and years away . . . It happens, too, with birthdays. January 20 was a very special day. The first national observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. I hear them say the words, pronounce the name, and in the twinkling of an eye I am suddenly in Selma, Alabama with some 80,000 other people; Jews, and Protestants, and Catholics, and atheists, and agnostics . . . We were there because of a man whom we admired as much as we loved, and whom he loved as much as we admired. We were there because he was there. And he was there because it was right.

Notes:

The impetus for this story came from Jennie Cohen, Publisher, Jewish Post & Opinion.

Sources for Davis’s report of the march:

Rabbi Maurice Davis, “Rabbi Heschel Finds The Right Word For It,” (Indianapolis) Jewish Post, April 2, 1965, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Rabbi Maurice Davis, “Rabbi Davis Tells Why He Went to Selma,”(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, April 16, 1965, 22, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Other sources are linked within the text.

*For more on the disappointment of some civil rights activists with King’s role in the Selma to Montgomery marches see: Deborah Gray White, Mia Bay, and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., eds., Freedom on My Mind: A HIstory of African Americans with Documents (Boston and New York: Bedford/St.Martin’s 2013), 675-6.