Fred Trump and the KKK

Alberto A. Martinez

The Ku Klux Klan, marching through Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1925.

MEDIA MEME: 

Donald Trump’s father attended a rally of the Ku Klux Klan in 1927. A fight broke out between the police and the Klansmen, and Fred Trump was one of the men who were arrested.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:

In 1927, a large Memorial Day parade marched through Fred Trump’s neighborhood in Queens, New York. The seventh section of the parade consisted of KKK members. The police tried to stop them, but fights broke out between Klansmen and spectators and policemen. The 21-year-old Fred Trump was one of seven men arrested, but unlike the others, only he was released with no charges.


 

In September 2015, writer Matt Blum published an article that discussed an old report that “Donald Trump’s father had been “arrested in a KKK brawl with cops.” Blum discussed a New York Times news article from June 1st, 1927, reporting that seven men were arraigned after the police clashed with Klan members in Queens, New York. The report listed the seven men, including: “Fred Trump of 175-24 Devonshire Road, Jamaica.” The name is right, and that address was where he lived at the time.

Back then, Fred Trump was 21 years old. Does this mean that young Fred Trump was a member of the Ku Klux Klan? The article in the Times did not say so, yet an article from June 2, 1927, in the Long Island Daily Press, referred to the men who were arrested as “seven berobed marchers,” without naming them.

Thus, some pundits concluded that Fred Trump was in the KKK. However, writer Matt Blum argued instead that maybe Fred was not a member of the Klan, because “it’s conceivable that he may have been an innocent bystander, falsely named, or otherwise the victim of mistaken identity during or following a chaotic event.”

Since there seems to be no other evidence that Fred Trump was in the KKK, let’s see whether there’s any evidence of why he was there.

Some writers describe the event as a KKK rally. Why would Fred Trump attend a KKK rally unless he was a member? However, the event was not a rally. It was a Memorial Day parade in Jamaica, Long Island, in which the Klan had been approved by the Citizens’ Memorial Day Association to participate as the seventh division in the parade, displaying their flag and to “march in regalia, but with the hoods thrown back.”

Here’s the route of the parade.

So, this was not an out-of-the-way gathering of Klansmen, it was part of major Memorial Day parade, on May 30, attended by many thousands of ordinary people. The New York Times said there were 20,000 spectators. If Fred Trump was a member of the Klan, then he could be there marching with the Klan. Or if not, he could have been there as just another onlooker.

Fred had another reason to be there. It was his neighborhood. Fred lived just 1.7 miles away from the intersection of Queens Blvd. and Hillside Ave., a point in the parade where the Klansmen were stopped by the police for half an hour.

Then the KKK parade continued moving along. By the time it reached the corner of Hillside Ave and Merrick Road (now Blvd.) it was just a bit over a half a mile away from Fred Trump’s house.

Fred was the one man arrested who lived right in that area. Among the other six men who were arrested, they each lived farther away: 5.2 miles ways, 6.4 miles, 12.7 miles, 17.6 miles, 49.3 miles, and even 106 miles away. The parade was attended by many Klansmen from out of town.

Next, we might expect that if the 21-year-old Fred had no big involvement in the event then perhaps he would not be treated in the same way as the other six men who were arrested. And yes, he was the only one who was immediately released, “discharged,” with no request for bail and no charges against him. In contrast, two of the other six men were charged with assault, two were charged for being in a fist fight, and two others were charged with disorderly conduct.

On June 1st, 1927 according to two local newspapers, the Daily Star and the Richmond Hill Record, Fred Trump was “dismissed on a charge of refusing to disperse from a parade when ordered to do so.” This dismissal might imply that Fred was unjustly charged.

If it’s conceivable that Fred was arrested but was not a Klansman, then there should be evidence that the fight was not only between police and Klansmen, but that it also included spectators. Indeed there is such evidence. Thus, on May 31, the New York Times reported the incident in greater detail than later accounts: “Women fought women and spectators fought policemen and the Klansmen…

Also, at one point roughly 25 men, spectators, rushed Klansman M. Peterkin, who was carrying a Klan banner: “The attackers from the sidewalk captured Peterkin’s banner and in the mélée Foley’s [American] flag was accidentally stepped on and damaged. This precipitated the first of a series of fist fights. The police were busy trying to separate combatants and end the march of the Klan at the same time.” Then another “man from the sidewalk seized another banner. This individual was coatless and hatless and ready for fight. ‘Come on,’ he shouted to the white-robed ranks, ‘come on, I’ll light six of you at a time.’” Plus again, “Individual fist fights were going on all about and the policemen, holding hands, tried to sweep the Klansmen and the spectators away.”

First 50 and then 100 policemen were trying to stop the procession of 1,000 Klansmen, which simultaneously was invaded by angry spectators from Jamaica, Queens. And, the “only serious injury” reported was to Ralph Losee, of Jamaica, a bystander who was run over by a police car. In fact, the police were far from civil, members of the Parade Committee “put the entire blame for the affray on the police, and one committeeman, a member of the Knights of Columbus, said that he condemned ‘the action of the police as atrocious’.” The President of the Grand Jurors’ Association of Queens said that “Atrocities were committed by the police which were unwarranted and which should be condemned.” And as reported on June 8, several minors too were hurt by the policemen’s violent intervention in the parade.

Still, what about the claim from June 2nd that the men who were arrested were “seven berobed marchers”? If Fred Trump were not a Klansman then there might be a report that instead states that less than seven Klansmen were arrested. And indeed there is. The most detailed news report of the events of May 30, Memorial Day, was the front page article printed in the New York Times on March 31. In it, the reporter wrote about the Klansmen: “Five of their number had been arrested.”

If it’s true that five out of the seven men arrested were Klansmen, then two were not. If maybe Fred Trump was one of them, then there should be at least one other who was not a Klansman either. And indeed there was. A New York Times report from October 26, 1927, titled “2 Guilty in Klan Parade” states that while John Kipp admitted that he was a Klansman, but John Marcy “denied that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan,” and told the court that he was an innocent bystander.

During the 2016 elections, commentators did not bother to do this kind of analysis of the evidence in old newspapers and maps. For haters of Donald Trump, it was enough that Fred Trump had been arrested, which meant to them that he “must have been” a member of the Klan. However, the evidence I have reviewed shows that it’s also plausible, instead, that he was just a local guy who went to the Memorial Day parade and got involved in the riot that happened when 1,000 robed Klansmen tried to march through the streets of his neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens.

Before ending, I should say a few words about the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Historically, the Klan is known to have consisted of three distinct social movements. The first Klan, was an insurgent movement in the South that sought to overthrow Republican state governments, around the 1870s. Some of them were vigilantes who targeted freed African Americans and their white allies, even with murder, to try to restore white supremacy. The first Klan collapsed in the 1870s after the government declared it a “terrorist organization.” The third Klan too was mainly in the South, starting in the 1950s, and it violently opposed desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

However, the Klan of the 1920s was not the same as the other two. It was a formal fraternal organization that spread to all states. They called for Christian values, strict morality, purification of politics, and the enforcement of the prohibition of alcohol. It consisted mainly of Protestants who envisioned themselves as being true Americans, as opposed to Catholics, Jews, blacks, and Italians. It consisted of roughly 5 millions members across the US. Many of its local chapters claimed to be peaceful and law-abiding.

Professor Rory McVeigh, chairman of the sociology department at the University of Notre Dame, remarked that “The Klan that became very popular in the early 1920s did advocate white supremacy like the original Klan. But in that respect, [its views were] not too much different from a lot of other white Americans of that time period.” McVeigh said that in New York “the organization’s opposition to immigration and Catholics probably held the biggest appeal for most of the people who joined.”

On July 4, 1927, roughly 5,000 Klansmen gathered in an open field on Merrimack Road with their wives and families to proudly celebrate Independence Day. According to the New York Times, they christened 200 children, baptized thirteen persons, married two couples, and initiated 400 new members. It was a huge picnic; they ate hot dogs and drank soda pop. Reportedly, only about 200 men wore KKK costumes, and none wore a mask. One of the main speakers at the event spoke about the Memorial Day parade, and he complained about the police assault on their American freedom to peaceful gatherings and free speech. He said that the police “assaulted without any cause defenseless and lawful paraders,” which showed the policemen’s gross “bigotry and intolerance.” He added: “we have a record that speaks for itself; and at no time in the past have we ever disturbed a peaceful assemblage of any kind…” He also said “The Klan is not anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti-negro, nor anti-anything.” At midnight they burned a large cross.

If Fred Trump had attended this event (though there’s no evidence that he did), this is the kind of message he would have heard. My point is merely to indicate that the Klan of the 1920s, as is well known, was not the same as the Klans of the 1870s and 1960s.

History is full of surprises. When one first hears about a confrontation between the police and the KKK in the streets of Queens, New York, one easily imagines that the Klansmen were violent and the police sought to restore the peace. Yet that was not what happened in 1927. After the Memorial Day parade, the Queens County Grand Jury was convened to investigate “charges of police brutality.” On July 28 the New York Times reported that the Grand Jury “severely criticized the police for attempting to prevent the Ku Klux Klansmen from marching in the Memorial Day parade in Jamaica,” who had tried to do so in an orderly manner. The Grand Jury called upon the Mayor of New York City to fully investigate the policemen’s actions and to punish them “for the disgraceful assault not only upon the marchers but innocent civilians along the line of march, in order to avoid the recurrence of this high-handed and brutal attack,” that endangered children and injured citizens. They concluded that the policemen’s actions “unquestionably did more to incite riot than to quell disturbance.”

 

Alberto A. Martinez is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Next, Chapter 20:  The Donald and “the Blacks”

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