Klan vs. black Monrovians: A 1925 baseball game as racism metaphor

Klan vs. black Monrovians: A 1925 baseball game as racism metaphor July 1, 2020

On Sunday, June 21, 1925, a baseball team made up of Ku Klux Khan (KKK) players met an all-black squad known as the Monrovians for a game on an island in the Arkansas River near rigidly segregated Wichita, Kansas.

donald trump baseball racism whites blacks history
Trump’s Southern strategy: The president has a history of refusing to condemn the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist, nationalist groups. (Donkey Hotey, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

It was a public relations stunt; the virulently anti-black, anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, white supremacist, Christian nationalist Klan wasn’t suddenly experiencing a come-to-Jesus moment. Evidently, the Klan hoped to publicly show that they were just another regular local fraternal group that believed in the fundamental American ideals of equality and racial equanimity for all.

“For the white-robed, playing a black team was a gift-wrapped photo op, a chance to show that the Klan was part of the local community — and friendly toward Wichita’s black citizens,” noted a recent article in The Nation, a progressive periodical, titled “When the KKK Played Against an All-Black Baseball Team.”

Happily, for the irony and KKK hypocrisy, the blacks ultimately beat the whites, 10-8, after a “seesaw battle.”

Two years later, the Klan also lost its bid to keep operating in Kansas when the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) refused to review whether the Kansas Supreme Court had earlier lawfully banned the group for failing to obtain a mandatory state charter. But while the appeal of the Kansas high court decision wended its way to the SCOTUS, The Nation noted, “the Klan was free to continue to operate—and to roll out a full-court press to prove it wasn’t the hate-mongering machine so many feared, but, rather, made up of solid citizens.”

Thus, the ball game — “a gift-wrapped photo op, a chance to show that the Klan was part of the local community — and friendly toward Wichita’s black citizens,” according to The Nation report.

As if.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica description of the group belies its warm-and-fuzzy stated intent in playing ball with blacks:

“… either of two distinct U.S. hate organizations that employed terror in pursuit of their white supremacist agenda. One group was founded immediately after the Civil War and lasted until the 1870s. The other began in 1915 and has continued to the present.”

Hate groups, by definition, are not redeemable if their hateful ideology remains static.

Yet on the eve of the big game in 1925, fearing a possible loss to1922’s champs of the short-lived Colored Western League, the now-independent and cash-strapped Monrovians, the KKK manager instituted a failsafe in advance when accepting the blacks’ challenge to compete.

“[T]o show that the game would be an above-board contest, [the Klan] hired Catholic umpires. [Wichita resident and historian] Bob Rives has his suspicions about the choice. ‘I think the Klan was fearful that it would lose, and if it lost, it would be considered inferior to the black team. And so they announced in advance that the two umpires would be Irish Catholics. The Klan in Kansas then was at least as anti-Catholic as it was anti-black. My opinion is that they were paving the way to be able to say, well, we really didn’t lose. Look at who the umpires were,’” The Nation reported.

In other words, blacks and non-Protestant Christians could not be trusted to be fair, and all white bigots would instinctively get that, should the Klan lose.

So, the whole thing was a charade to bolster the Klan’s shamefully growing social and political influence then in American society, although at the time the group was under government pressure in Kansas.

Note, as The Nation article points out, that in 1925 the Klan “was well entrenched in American culture,” and its national membership in that decade reached its zenith of 6 million adherents. Its leader — Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley — was on the cover of Time magazine that year, and 50,000 white-robed, pointy-hatted Klansmen paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., 20 abreast for three-plus hours, the article notes. The Washington Evening Standard glorified the display as a pageant “of striking beauty and compelling admiration.”

The Klan whose racist agenda included sharply limiting “negroid” and dark-skinned immigrants to America was adopted by the white federal power structure.

“We believe in the exclusion of the yellow race and in the disfranchisement of the Negro. It was God’s act to make the white race superior to all others,” William Joseph Simmons, who reincarnated the Klan in the 20th century, once said.

This was certainly not a group that could be trusted to hold a “friendly” baseball game with an all-black team in the interest of American equality and solidarity.

In this Black Lives Matter moment, it’s good to remind ourselves that when today’s leaders with a history of racial sensitivity if not outright racism talk about American heritage and ideas, they’re thinking more like the Klan and Arian Brotherhood than, say, Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson, who as an elite man of his time owned black slaves (as white supremacists are fond of reminding us), still saw the nation’s necessary future clearly — “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence.

If that the Klan players had held that virtuous attitude when they took the field against the Monrovians that long-ago summer day.

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