Members of the Stapleton neighborhood gathered Saturday to discuss whether the name of the community should be changed.
According to Geoffrey Hunt, Professor of History at Aurora Community College, Stapleton’s connection to Klan members started during his period of service in the Spanish-American war. Upon his return to the United States, the relationships he had built during the war led Stapleton to become one of the founding members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in Colorado.
These personal ties are what garnered Klan support to get Stapleton, the great-grandfather of gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton, elected mayor in 1923, Clarence Morley elected governor in 1924, and Rice Means elected to the U.S. Senate.
“I have a fear that if we try to erase the past, that we’ll also forget it. If there was no Stapleton, if there was never a Klan here, if no one ever talks about it, how hard would it be to come back?” said Hunt. “How hard would it be for this organization that took over the Democratic and Republican parties, I mean just took them over in much of the state? Could that happen again?”
This is a possibility because a statewide chapter of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan exists in Grand Junction. It has been active as recently as February of 2017, when it distributed Valentines-themed fliers throughout Grand Junction urging residents to “love your own race” and “stop homosexuality and race mixing.”
University of Utah History Professor Robert Goldberg reminded the community during the panel that the second KKK of the 1920s was not the violent, white supremacist group it is known as today.
The Klan of the 1920s was obsessed with the Catholic Conspiracy. This was the idea that the Pope sought to rule America. He had ordered the Irish, the Polish, and Italians to migrate to the United States, become citizens, get the vote, and elect Catholic candidates.
The Klan, particularly in Colorado, alleged Catholics were already nearly in control of the city, the state, and the nation and would soon put an end to the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, according to Goldberg. The Klan also lumped Jews and Catholics together by claiming the Jews were sponsoring the Catholic Conspiracy.
“It posed as a defender of 100 percent Americanism and militant Protestantism. It preached a multifaceted message of law and order, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, and white supremacy,” said Goldberg. “It was a political and economic machine. It was also a fraternal order. It was, in the 1920’s, a mainstream movement. Mainstream in its messages, mainstream in its values, and mainstream in its membership. Anyone with political ambitions could not ignore the Klan.”
Benjamin Stapleton, in fact, could not ignore the Klan. Although his administration turned a blind eye to the 11 burning crosses intended to intimidate non-Klansmen in 1923, the reports of Catholics and Jews that were kidnapped and beaten, and the repeated death threats on the lives of Jewish activists and Catholic priests, it took appointing a Klansman Chief of Police for Stapleton to prove his loyalty to the Klan.
Stapleton cemented this loyalty on July 14, 1924, when he said,
“I have little to say except that I will work with the Klan and for the Klan in the coming election heart and soul. And if I am re-elected, I shall give the Klan the kind of administration it wants.”
Hunt has labeled him an “opportunist” who “just kind of went along to get along.” In 1925, Stapleton removed all Klansmen from the fire and police departments when popular support for the Klan began to decline.
The community members of Stapleton are currently divided over whether the name of the neighborhood should be changed. According to a poll conducted by Stapleton United Neighbors, 54% of members are not interested in changing the name, 51% are somewhat comfortable with the name, and only 10% reported being completely uncomfortable with the name.