When The KKK Was Heavily Present in the Southern Tier

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The Ku Klux Klan, also known as the KKK, is one of the country’s oldest hate groups.

It started during the aftermath of the Civil War and first began as an anti-black terrorist organization.

There were three distinct movements throughout American history, and the first movement was in the south in the 1860’s. It gradually dwindled a decade later.

A resurgence in the 1920’s marked the second movement which became a massive national operation, becoming heavily present in the Southern Tier.

“While the original movement was explicitly anti-black, the new movement was also anti-immigrant, anti-Jew, and anti-Catholic,” Rachel Dworkin, archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society, said, “They portrayed themselves as sort of being hyper-patriotic, and 100 percent Americanism was their motto.”

Many New Yorkers, about 200,000 were active members during this time, including residents of Chemung and Steuben counties.

In the video above, you’ll find a photo of rally on Church Street in Elmira provided by the Chemung County Historical Society.

Curator Erin Doane showed 18 News artifact after artifact. Family members of the KKK donated objects to the museum, such as robes and masks for example, which formerly belonged to now-deceased members.

A KKK sword was also donated in addition to a stamp so official papers could get marked with the group’s logo.

The Klan also had their own magazine, ‘The Kourier,’ which had messages on why Catholics were “evil” and undermining America.

KKK applications that members would distribute are in the hands of the museum too. Some questions on the paper include, “Do you believe in White Supremacy?”

The group also posted flyers throughout the area. The museum has a flyer for the 1925 Klorero in 1925 when Elmira hosted the statewide KKK convention. It spanned over the course of five days with over 6,000 Klan members staying at the Chemung County fairgrounds. They held lectures, tours, and even a Klan wedding.

The Steuben County Historical society had additional information. Director Kirk House says the group was made up of white male Protestants. They burned crosses in Steuben County well into the 1970’s.

“I talked to a lady up in the Prattsburgh area who, when she was a small girl, was taken to sing The Old Rugged Cross as a cross was burned on an interracial couple’s lawn to drive them out of town,” House said.

House provided a photo of a KKK gas filling station in Bath. The letters ‘KKK’ are clearly visible in the photo above the store on the right side (watch video above).

After reading dozens of newspaper articles which reported on the events in the 1920’s, experts on the history say members were fighting against modernity and were scared that the country was losing “traditional American values” and that the “American way was being diluted and polluted.”

In the Southern Tier, it was more of a rural movement than urban.

“It was like, ‘We don’t like the pace of industrialization,'” Dworkin said. “‘We don’t like the pace of the modern world. We don’t want internationalism. We don’t want communism and socialism. We don’t want new ideas.'”

After taking a walk in Woodlawn Cemetery in Canisteo, 18 News found KKK-engraved tombstones thanks to Author Helen Kelly Brink’s book “Steuben County Cemeteries: Good, Bad, and Gone.”

The first gravesite belongs to someone by the name of Percy Galutia. It reads KKK right at the top. Right in front of that stone, sits the second KKK tombstone. The KKK letters are also clearly visible right on top. It belongs to someone of the Burley family. The presence of these two stones raises questions of Ku Klux Klan activity in Canisteo.

More experts add that we’ve been seeing a fourth recent movement of the KKK nationwide, but we haven’t seen any resurgence in this particular area. Although they add, in theory, anything is possible.

A civil rights organization by the name of the Southern Poverty Law Center has a hate map indicating which hate groups are located throughout the country.

To view the map, visit splcenter.org.

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**UPDATE: Wednesday, May 5**

The Steuben County Historical Society says it knew that a big cliff in the Cameron Mills area had big ‘KKK’ letters painted on it, and that the letters were refreshed and maintained for years. On Monday, the same day the story aired, a former resident informed the SCHS that the maintaining was done annually on Halloween night. 

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