Days Past: Ku Klux Klan presence in Prescott was short-lived
A curious chapter in local lore is the brief history of the Ku Klux Klan in Prescott. The famed white supremacist group had existed in various forms throughout the nation since Southern Reconstruction. By the 1920s, the Klan was the subject of public debate, with state legislatures conducting investigations into allegations of killings, vandalism, and general terror tactics attributed to the Klan. Defenders of the Klan maintained that their group consisted solely of "patriots fighting for White rights," an argument still used by white supremacists. The appearance in 1915 of the film "Birth of a Nation," which depicted the Klan in a heroic light, further stirred the passionate debate.
The first indication that the Ku Klux Klan had arrived in Prescott came on the night of Oct. 23, 1922, when a huge cross was set ablaze on one of the hills overlooking Government Canyon. It was large enough to be visible to almost all of Prescott. Prescott Klan No. 14 was born, but did not exert much influence in town in those days. The African-American population was fairly small. So Klan members resorted to circulating pamphlets extolling their organization and complaining about what they perceived as laxity on the part of Yavapai County law enforcement in enforcing Prohibition laws. From a Klan pamphlet: "To the bootlegger and the dope peddler we have this to say: We are here to stay, and Yavapai County is not large enough for all of us, so you may just as well make up your minds to leave or secure honest employment and be a real man, or we shall do all in our power to see that you have free board and lodging with someone to watch you while you sleep."
In 1925, Prescott Klan No. 14, undoubtedly frustrated by the lack of attention, decided to do something flamboyant. One night, a group of hooded Klansmen marched into the First Baptist Church while services were going on, handed the pastor a large white envelope filled with cash, and marched out again without speaking a word. Along with the money, the Klan had enclosed a note, which read: "We donate the sum of money enclosed herewith to be added to the building fund of your church. As you know, the principles of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan restrict their membership to those who accept the tenets of the true Christianity, which is essentially Protestant, and we hope you can find it consistent to accept this donation from men who serve and sacrifice for the right. To you and the good people of your church, we extend all good wishes and our highest respect. Yours truly, Prescott Klan No. 14, Realm of Arizona, by Exalted Cyclops."
In May of 1926, Joseph Drew, a 78-year-old worker in the incinerator plant at Fort Whipple, dropped dead while working. Drew had been a well-liked and popular worker at the fort, and had reportedly been the son of an Arkansas governor. In death, Prescott learned something about him they did not know: He had been a member of Prescott Klan No. 14. In those days, Klan members never divulged their identities or the identities of fellow members (currently, the Klan has relaxed this requirement). The only exceptions were made in death, providing the Klan chose to do so, and they did in this case.
The local Klan decided to hold a full public Klan funeral for Drew. They even went so far as to buy paid ads in Prescott's two newspapers, the Courier and the Journal Miner, advising all members of the Klavern to attend Drew's funeral. The memorial services for Joseph Drew were held at the Ruffner Funeral Chapel, and then the funeral cortege, consisting of 25 hooded and robed Klansmen, left on foot and paraded down the streets of Prescott in ritual formation, with the lead Klansman bearing an American flag. The procession was followed by the hearse and non-Klan mourners. Masses of local citizens crowded along the curbs to witness Prescott's first Klan funeral procession, most of them attracted by curiosity.
The Klan marchers and the funeral procession headed for Mountain View Cemetery, where the deceased was buried. Drew was buried in his Klan robes and, in Prescott history, he is the only resident who is truly known to have been a member of Prescott Klan No. 14. Undoubtedly the citizens of Prescott at the time were able to make guesses as to the identities of other members, but nothing concrete ever came out.
Nothing much was heard of Prescott Klan No. 14 after that. Undoubtedly deflated and perhaps financially hindered by Prescott's lack of attention to their cause, the Klavern seems to have faded away without a word. In later years, there have reportedly been attempts to start up new Klaverns, but these were presumably unsuccessful.
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