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Photo Shows 1924 KKK March in Wisconsin, Not Democratic Convention in NYC

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Quick Take

The Ku Klux Klan caused a divisive Democratic National Convention in 1924 but failed to nominate its preferred candidate. A social media post shows a photo of a Klan march to falsely claim it depicts Democratic delegates at the convention in New York. But the photo is from a Klan funeral march later that year in Wisconsin.

Full Story

Democrats and Republicans have criticized each other for years with claims about ties to or support for the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, as we’ve previously written.

Historians say the Klan — which was founded after the Civil War and had a resurgence in the 1920s — has sought to achieve power through both parties. The organization ignited a particularly divisive Democratic National Convention in July 1924 in New York City, when the Klan-backed candidate failed to capture the party’s nomination.

A century later, amid another election season, a social media post mislabels an archival photo to misleadingly portray the participants at that Democratic convention.

An Instagram post on March 13 shows a march of Ku Klux Klan members in their white hoods and robes, with text that claims it is an “AUTHENTIC PHOTO OF THE 1924 NATIONAL DEMOCRAT CONVENTION.” The text on the photo also says, “MAKE SENSE NOW?”

The post has received more than 9,200 likes. One commenter wrote, in part: “The Democrats have NEVER voted in the history of America to make life easier for blacks. Only the Republicans have done that.” 

But Linda Gordon, a history professor at New York University, told us in an email that the image in the Instagram post “is not a photo of the [D]emocratic convention” of 1924.

Rather, the photo is from the archive of the Wisconsin Historical Society and actually shows Klan members in December 1924, in Madison, Wisconsin, said Gordon, the author of “The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition.”

The Wisconsin archive describes the photo as “Ku Klux Klan (KKK) wearing iconic masks and white robes parading down King Street to Schroeder Funeral Home for the funeral of Police officer Herbert Dreger.”

Reuters debunked similar posts in 2020 and noted that the false description of the photo has circulated on social media since 2015.

Gordon told Reuters that the Klan’s efforts to influence politics in the 1920s was “pretty much equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.” 

‘A Powerful Force’ in Both Parties

Felix Harcourt, associate professor of history at Austin College in Texas, told us in an email that the Klan was “a powerful force” in the Democratic Party in the 1920s and at the 1924 convention, where there was also strong opposition to the Klan.

“The Klan lobbied furiously to prevent the party from endorsing a platform plank that would condemn the group by name. The organization’s leaders played an influential role in denying Al Smith, the Catholic governor of New York, the Democratic nomination during the contested convention,” said Harcourt, whose research focuses on the Klan’s political power.

The effort to include a platform statement condemning the Klan at the Democratic convention failed. But the Klan’s preferred candidate, William G. McAdoo, did not capture the nomination, which went to John C. Davis on the 103rd ballot.

“At the same time, the Klan was highly opportunistic, with little partisan attachment beyond what served the organization and its bigoted goals,” Harcourt said. “So, the Klan wasn’t just a powerful force in the Democratic Party — it was a powerful force in politics more broadly. It was lobbying Democratic leaders at their 1924 convention. It was also lobbying leaders during the Republican convention in 1924, albeit in a less visible way since the nomination wasn’t really contested and there was no similar effort to put forward a plank denouncing the Klan by name.”

“Eventually, almost everyone running in the presidential election that year denounced the Klan by name, with the exception of Calvin Coolidge, who farmed the responsibility out to his vice presidential nominee, Charles Dawes. And the Klan’s national leadership in turn backed (in a limited way) Coolidge,” Harcourt said.

Coolidge, the Republican incumbent, won reelection in 1924.

“The Klan’s national leadership then very vocally and actively backed Republican Herbert Hoover against Democrat Al Smith in 1928,” Harcourt said. Hoover easily defeated Smith.

In recent years, Harcourt also said, “that opportunism — of the Klan and of the broad panoply of white nationalist groups that have come to largely replace the Klan — has often remained in place. The most prominent example, of course, is David Duke, who has run for office as both a Democrat and a Republican and who has endorsed both Democratic and Republican politicians.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.


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