A fascinating talk with the heroic anti-klan fighter, veteran activist Stanley J. Clarke on the political economy of the Klan in Oklahoma done with fellow former wobbly Harrison George. A Klan not at all dissimilar from today’s far right.
‘Simon Legree on the Night Shift: The Klan in Oklahoma’ by Harrison George from The Liberator. Vol. 7 No. 3. March, 1924.
HE DIDN’T look as though he belonged in a Chicago office. Over six feet tall, raw-boned, tawny-faced and with wide black Stetson hat set over straight dark hair, his own introduction was unnecessary to tell that he was from the Southwest. He had a certain air of resolution, due possibly to an ancestry more natural and noble than that of the Mayflower- the American Indian. For twenty-five years he crusaded for the old Socialist Party; he served time with the I. W. W. for having helped the Wobblies fight the Copper Trust in Arizona during the war. Having spent three years in prison with him, I could understand his action in taking to the soap-box on the streets of the cities of Oklahoma during a condition of civil war and attacking the Ku Klux Klan before crowds made up of armed partisans of the “Invisible Empire.” His name is Stanley J. Clarke, and he was telling us about the Klan in Oklahoma …
“Fred Miller of the Open-Shop Division of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and leader of the Klan, has just denounced the Organizer for the Workers Party, J. E. Snyder, and myself as trying to ‘bring a soviet government by organizing against the Klan.’ The Klan is the great immediate issue in Oklahoma. While it is true that the great social question is economic-and I have said so for twenty-five years- yet when there is a fellow waiting around the corner for me, with a mask on his face, a pot of tar and a black-snake whip, that fellow is an issue…!
“But of course ‘ideas do not fall from heaven,’ and the Klan beneath its obscure and varied immediate causes, has economic roots which are too complex to discuss briefly. ‘White supremacy’ doesn’t want Negroes exterminated, but Negro labor intimidated; and as to the foreign-born, the Klan agrees with the Wall Street Journal which said-‘We must keep the alien down-not out.’
“Klan economics in Oklahoma has two sides, however. The one which has furnished the sensational fight between the Governor that was J. C. Walton and the Klan, was in reality a fight between two capitalist groups over oil land leases from the state. I’ll explain that before I take up the more important side of the Klan.
“Out of popular sight, but a factor in oil and politics is the state School Land Department, which leases oil-bearing school lands. Through a dummy ‘independent’ oil company the Standard Oil Company had leased more than a hundred sections of school land at fifty dollars a section and has monopolized the bulk of oil resources with many producing wells running by the ten thousand barrels a day. These leases are held by the Marland Oil Company.
“Not all independent companies are dummies for the Standard, and a powerful independent group began to fight to displace Governor Walton, who was holding down the state for the Standard. J. C, Wrightsman of Tulsa, a Standard Oil agent in politics, and the Marland Oil Company had contributed heavily to Walton’s campaign fund. At Walton’s impeachment trial it was proven that about $200,000 had been collected, that Walton’s personal bank account swelled enormously while he was paying campaign expenses (!) and that he had been practically presented with a $40,000 mansion by President Marland of the Marland Oil Company.
“The independents began a fight on the Standard’s control through popularizing a fight against Walton by the Klan. One of wealthiest men in Oklahoma and the biggest independent is William Gray of Tulsa. Gray is a relative of United States Senator Mayfield, elected by the Klan from its realm of Texas. With Fred Miller, Campbell Russell and C. G. Hill of the Open Shop Division of the Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma City-all Klansmen Gray began to put the Klan on an oil footing against Walton and Standard control. The Klan at once found Walton to be a menace to morality, good government and the independent oil operators, and began to advocate his impeachment.
“Walton foolishly thought he could stop the Klan’s attack by agreeing to certain superficial ‘moral’ demands of the Klan. He had already signed the law, introduced by a Klansman, making it illegal to teach the materialist conception of history in Oklahoma schools. He joined the national organization of the Klan over the objection of the local Klan, affiliating directly to Atlanta. He conferred with the Klan at Muskogee and Ardmore and agreed that in return for Klan support he would remove “radicals” from school offices. He kept his word, removed some and publicly denounced all “radicals.” But the Klan kept up the fight- breaking its promise. Walton then repudiated Klan membership and declared his spectacular war against the Klan in Oklahoma. It has ended with the Klan as victor. Walton is impeached and Ed. Trapp, a Klansman and an independent oil operator, was raised to the position of Governor.
“What the independents are going to do now, with the Standard Oil leases nailed down, is an open question. The Standard, knowing that Walton was doomed, hastily sent its spokesman, the blind Senator Gore, to tender the olive branch of compromise to the Klan legislature the day it convened to impeach Walton. The two groups will find an equilibrium and it will be a case of ‘Oil’s well.’
“Now, about the other side-the blacker and more significant side-the side of secret terrorization, which has sent some thousands of men to arms in a condition of civil war where the life of no one is safe.
“An organization known as the ‘Commodity Marketing Association’ is connected with the United States Chamber of Commerce through the Farm Bureau Federation. In California it calls itself the ‘Orange Growers Association’ or the ‘Raisin Growers Association’ according to the product grown. In the state of Oklahoma it calls itself the ‘Cotton Growers Association,’ the ‘Broom-Corn Growers Association’ and the ‘Wheat Growers Association’ all supposedly separate combines of real farmers. Actually it is a close corporation with tentacles in every bank, and the banker forcing his farmer debtors to sign contracts with the Association selling his crop for five years, often at a price below that realizable by the farmer on the open market. Opposed to the Association is its organized class enemy, the Farm Labor Union of real farmers, with an actual cooperative marketing organization.
“The Klan in Oklahoma is on the side of the bankers and the Cotton Growers Association against the dirt farmer and the Farm Labor Union. It is naturally so, because the Klan organizes first the ‘best citizens’ of the village and city, who are of course the banker and merchant of the Chamber of Commerce. Thousands of atrocities, plain and fancy whippings, murder and mutilation have been committed to keep a subject class in a docile mood. That outrages were particularly directed against the tenant farmer is shown by the question asked by a Klan Senator from Muskogee County in debate on the so-called ‘Bill to Unmask.’ The question was, ‘Do you know of any freeholder who has been intimidated by the Klan?’ This ‘Bill to unmask,’ supposedly aimed at the Klan, actually legalizes its masks under an exception for ‘religious ceremonies.’
“Thus the Klan, which in Texas posts a price for cotton-picking above which no picker, white or black, dare make demand, in Oklahoma forces on the working farmer the price set by the Cotton Growers Association. And this organization of Simon Legrees is protected in its crimes by the federal government, which is always blind to any white terror, foreign or domestic.
“One phase is at once peculiar and dangerous. The police forces of cities and towns, under control of local business men, are usually Klan; while sheriffs, elected by farmer votes in some counties, are anti-Klan. Each side arms its followers against the other, and a situation of civil war with the country against the city is a reality.
“The anti-Klan organizations arise spontaneously among the farmers, with Farm Labor Union members taking the lead. About 20,000 farmers were represented at the first state-wide anti-Klan organization convention. While Walton fought the Klan, Walton is no friend of the farmers- he left them holding the sack of promised reforms made at Shawnee. Likewise the Ameringer “socialists” who sold Walton stock to the farmers are not only in bad repute but are now trying to sell the ‘Leader’ newspaper plant to the Klan. The Oklahoma farmers have to make their own leadership or go with what there is of Oklahoma labor unionism into a class Farmer Labor Party.”
“Well,” I asked of Clark, “what ought good Communists do about it, anyhow?”
“You may find your answer to that question in Lenin’s little book on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” Clark replied, “where Lenin says ‘The town invariably drags the country after it, and the country follows in the wake of the town. The question is, which class among the different classes of ‘the town’ shall drag the country after it, and what forms shall this leadership of the town take.’
“And if you want more specific direction,” Clark added, “read the last letter of the Communist International to the Workers Party advising the Communists to point out that the illegal organizations of the capitalist class, especially the Ku Klux Klan and the American Legion, are products of the foresight of the capitalists, that they are, in other words, the counter revolution organized in advance.”
The Liberator was published monthly from 1918, first established by Max Eastman and his sister Crystal Eastman continuing The Masses, was shut down by the US Government during World War One. Like The Masses, The Liberator contained some of the best radical journalism of its, or any, day. It combined political coverage with the arts, culture, and a commitment to revolutionary politics. Increasingly, The Liberator oriented to the Communist movement and by late 1922 was a de facto publication of the Party. In 1924, The Liberator merged with Labor Herald and Soviet Russia Pictorial into Workers Monthly. An essential magazine of the US left.
PDF of original issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/culture/pubs/liberator/1924/03/v7n03-w71-mar-1924-liberator-hr.pdf