York Town Square

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Part 2: Ku Klux Klan display ugliest part of York County, Pa.’s, ‘Good, Bad and Ugly’ exhibit

This scene of a Klansman standing on the steps of York City Hall still evokes anger 14 years after a York Daily Record/Sunday News photographer captured the scene. But such scenes as this were common and accepted around York County – and elsewhere in Pennsylvania – in the 1920s and 1930s. Also of interest: Klan’s presence won’t make York County’s highlight reel and How about a window-shattering ceremony to end icon of York County racism? and Finder of KKK certificate: ‘My first thought was fear … the Ku Klux Klan would have loved us’.

In a recent York Sunday News column, I wrote about York County women of the Ku Klux Klan, donning robes and marching in a parade to a Dallastown church service. That column was pegged to a York County Heritage Trust exhibit showing Klansmen as an “ugly” part of our past.
That story from the 1920s prompted a comment from a colleague.
“One would think, incorrectly, that women would understand that discrimination by the klan against blacks was similar to discrimination against them,” the colleague observed… .

That is particularly true of women, who had just gained the right to vote.
In 1920, a constitutional amendment granted full woman suffrage in all states.
In fact, York County women had to fight hard for the right vote, as evidenced by this piece from my “Never to be Forgotten:”

“In 1914, Anna Dill Gamble agrees to lead the fight to persuade political leaders and other men to support the right of women to vote.
” ‘… I congratulate you all on the fine spirit with which the skirmish line of your forces presses forward. … To me it looks as irresistible as that force of which it was once said, ‘You might as well attempt to dam the Nile with bulrushes,'” Robert Bair of York wrote Gamble.
“The campaign features a county tour of a large Suffrage or Women’s Liberty Bell, designed to inspire support for the cause.
“The day before voters decide the suffrage question in Pennsylvania in 1915, Dr. George W. Bowles, a leader in the black community, introduces Mrs. Paul Lawrence Dunbar at a pro-suffrage rally. Mrs. Dunbar, widow of the noted black poet, argues that women should have the right to vote because they are increasingly working outside the home, paying taxes and want to look “personally after the things that effect their own lives.” Men in the county defeat the suffrage amendment by an 11,284 to 5,103 vote.
” ‘I saw scores of men taken into the polls and voted like sheep,” Gamble commented. “If all these men couldn’t read and write, then the male illiteracy in York must be enormous. They had better let some women in who won’t need so much assistance.’
“The Nile, indeed, could not be dammed, and American women voted for the first time five years later.”

Also of interest:
Part 1: Ku Klux Klan display ugliest part of York County, Pa.’s, ‘Good, Bad and Ugly’ exhibit
For years, KKK has tried to navigate the York County mainstream.
Leonard Pitts speaking in York, Pa.: Sometimes, history hurts.
York, Pa.: ‘It’s a midsize city with an interesting history’.
All York Town Square posts from the start. (Key word search by using “find” on browser.)