An unholy alliance: Economic upheaval and bigotry

The following is an excerpt from Law and Order at the End of The Oregon Trail, Copyright 2015 Ken Bilderback.

Oregon had moved beyond lynch mobs by the early 1900s, but with a population that remained overwhelmingly white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, racial animosity was far from dead, and a combination of factors soon brought racial animus back to rural Oregon.

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While the neighboring states of Washington and California began to industrialize, Oregon remained stubbornly agrarian. Slowly, Portland was beginning to become more diverse as skilled longshoremen and laborers migrated from the big cities of the East Coast. Unlike the pioneer families, many of those workers were of Italian or Eastern European descent, and many were Catholic.

In addition, a new wave of immigrants from Asia, this time from Japan, established communities in farming towns. World War I and the Russian Revolution shattered the sense of sheltered detachment that most Oregonians felt from strife in faraway lands. The Ku Klux Klan, which had flourished in the American South after the Civil War, suddenly found fertile new ground in the farmlands of Oregon. Blacks were a target, but with so few blacks in the state, the Klan focused on the larger populations of Catholic and Japanese workers.

Throughout the 1920s, the Klan infiltrated all layers of Oregon society. The mayor and police chief of Portland proudly joined the county sheriff to pose with hooded Klansmen at City Hall. The Klan heavily influenced both major political parties in Oregon and even managed to help one of its leaders, the aptly named K.K. Kubli, win the Republican nomination for the United States Senate.