Difficult History: The KKK in New Jersey
By Mitchell Garofalo, Introduction to Public History, Spring 2018
As my classmate Alexis Martin noted on her tab, "Collection Overview," one binder in the George H. Moss, Jr. Collection is dedicated to the Ku Klux Klan in NJ. Why? In 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center prepared a report on the history of the Ku Klux Klan. The preface reads in part, "Some say the Klan today should just be ignored. Frankly, I’d like to do that. I’m tired of wasting my time on the KKK. I have better things to do. But history won’t let me ignore current events. Those who would use violence to deny others their rights can’t be ignored. The law must be exercised to stay strong. And even racists can learn to respect the law...we need to prepare for the continued presence of the Klan. Unfortunately, malice and bigotry aren’t limited by dates on a calendar...This is not a pretty part of American history...But it is important that we try to understand the villains as well as the heroes in our midst, if we are to continue building a nation where equality and democracy are preserved." We believe George H. Moss, Jr. felt the same, and that he curated this binder accordingly.
It might seem hard to believe, but the Ku Klux Klan was embraced by many at the Jersey Shore in the 1920s (and, of course, resisted by others). The first local chapter of the KKK in New Jersey was organized in 1921, after units had started in New York and Pennsylvania. Arthur Hornbui Bell was the state's first Grand Dragon, and continued serving in that post until the Ku Klux Klan in NJ disbanded in 1944. It was estimated that in Monmouth and Ocean County alone a total of 7,000 residents were members of the Ku Klux Klan. This was often all out in the open. In Point Pleasant in 1923, for example, 109 Klansmen marched through the streets of the town in hoods and robes as a demonstration “that the Klan is particularly strong in Ocean and Monmouth counties.” Other meetings would draw crowds in thousands. One thing that popped out to me in the collection is a notice the Klan ran in a local newspaper, reading “Happy Mother’s Day – From the KKK." An Asbury Park Press front page article had in large text: “Big Klan Gathering In Honor of Mother’s Day.” The report talks about the need for moral education reform and how the KKK would be the core initiator in the movement. Arthur H. Bell went on to describe how the crimes of the world fall on the shoulders of our mothers and that workload should be lightened. The idea of the Asbury Park Press printing an article for the KKK seems impossible in this day and age. However, back in the early 1900s, it happened.
The development of the KKK met some resistance from multiple towns, and that can be seen in the binder as well.
Recently, in New Jersey, there has been a resurgence of KKK activity. Near Philadelphia, outside residential homes, for example, KKK fliers for Valentine’s Day were found passed around telling people to “love your own race” and “stop homosexuality and race mixing, join the klan today." This shows that unfortunately the Klan’s ideologies are still being spread and have not changed with time. We still need to be reminded of the difficult pieces of our history so we can try to avoid repeating the mistakes of generations past.