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Civil War Blog

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Why Are There Ku Klux Klan Uniforms in Gratz?

Posted By on May 28, 2014

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Displayed on the second floor of the Gratz Historical Society Museum is an offensive exhibit that has been the object of many complaints from visitors and volunteers over the years of its existence.  Three Gratz area Ku Klux Klan uniforms are displayed at the side of a doorway.  Displaying Ku Klux Klan “regalia” is not in itself offensive since many museums throughout the country have such items.  What is offensive is that no reason is given for displaying them.  The labels simply state that they are Ku Klux Klan uniforms from the 1930s.  There is no indication in the exhibit that the uniforms represent a period of cowardly hate when some people of the northern tier counties in Pennsylvania were trying to intimidate and exclude people who they saw as different and a threat to their way of life.  In that exhibit, nor anywhere else in the museum is there counter-balance to tell of the pain and suffering or the struggles and accomplishments of the people that these hateful locals sought to intimidate and exclude.  Having the uniforms stand alone, without comment, is a way of glorifying and excusing the bigoted behavior of those who wore those uniforms – and a way of saying that as a community, Gratz never was (and is not currently) welcoming to any who are seen as different.  In effect, the Klan exhibit is a shrine honoring these bigots of the past.  It represents the attitudes and beliefs of those persons presently in control of the Gratz Historical Society – the named officers and directors of the Society  especially the Museum’s Curator, who from all indications, makes every decision at the Society on her own with “rubber stamp approval” of everything she does from the supposedly elected officers and board.

Following the conclusion of the Civil War, efforts were made in both the north and south to deny hard-won rights to African-Americans – including freedoms and rights incorporated into the United States Constitution in the 13th through 15th Amendments.  The Ku Klux Klan was one of several extremist, right-wing groups that emerged in the post-Civil War period.   The Klan also extended its hateful campaign to other groups  – Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and others who did not conform to their beliefs of an all-white, native-born America.

According to Wikipedia:

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), informally known as the Klan or the “Hooded Order”, is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically expressed through terrorism….

The first Ku Klux Klan flourished in the Southern United States in the late 1860s, then died out by the early 1870s. Members adopted white costumes: robes, masks, and conical hats, designed to be outlandish and terrifying, and to hide their identities. The second KKK flourished nationwide in the early and mid-1920s, and adopted the same costumes and code words as the first Klan, while introducing cross burnings…. The second… incarnation[…] of the Ku Klux Klan made frequent reference to the USA’s “Anglo-Saxon” blood, harking back to 19th-century nativism and claiming descent from the original 18th-century British colonial revolutionaries.

It would not be entirely correct to say that these uniforms come without “official” interpretation.  Currently, the Gratz Historical Society Museum can only be visited through guided tour by volunteer guides.  The only instruction given to these guides is a “notebook” that serves primarily as an inventory of the items in each room.  The guides are left to give their own views of the exhibit.

In 2010, the Gratz Historical Society produced A Video Tour In Two Parts, in which three officers of the Society narrate the exhibits.  The DVD has been sold by the Society for the past three years for $15.  One of the sections in Part 1 features the Ku Klux Klan uniforms.

DVD-Tour-2010-001

The narrator begins the segment on the KKK exhibit by reading from a prepared text but includes some ad libbing:

These are our Ku Klux Klan uniforms and people don’t think of the Ku Klux Klan being associated with the north.

But we had our own prejudices in that ethnic peoples were coming to our country and taking the people who lived here [sic], their jobs in the mines.  They were anti-Catholic.

Uh, the one time they burned a cross in Gratz was because a gentleman was living with a lady without the benefit of clergy.  So the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross.

This was followed by a nervous laugh from the narrator.   Then the narrator pointed to the uniform on the right.

This one I actually wore as a child….  I was Hitler.

Narrator then gives the “heil” salute.  There is loud laughter that can be heard in the background, from what sounds like two persons.

KKK-004

The “heil” salute is followed by laughter. Screen capture from the official video.

Trying to recover from what is clearly an uncomfortable moment in the recording, the narrator then noted that the uniform belonged to her uncle.

It was my uncle and I told somebody that and she said, “I wouldn’t be proud of that.”  Well I’m not proud.

OK, then we go on….

This DVD should never have been produced without proper editing.  The laughter and the Hitler reference are extremely offensive and the script is in need of fact checking.

First, the Ku Klux Klan, in its second incarnation, was a phenomenon that spread into Pennsylvania in the early 1920s, not the 1930s as is stated in the exhibit.   Restrictive immigration policies were passed by the U.S.Congress in 1924, so there were few new immigrants arriving in the 1930s “to take away jobs” from the locals.  By the 1930s, most of the so-called “immigrants” in the Gratz area had been in the Gratz area for years and many who were referred to as “immigrants” were actually second through fourth generation Americans whose ancestors had arrived prior to the Civil War – and had fought in the Civil War.  But they were still perceived as different, primarily because of their Catholic faith.  The mines were closed in the early 1930s – by the operators.  Therefore, it was not the Catholic “immigrants” who took away the jobs, but the mine operators who believed they could not make a profit in a market of rising labor costs and increased government mine safety regulation.

At its beginning, Gratz was a multicultural community. It was founded by a member of a Jewish family  from Philadelphia, Simon Gratz, and its first mayor was of Jewish descent, Theodore Gratz (son of Simon Gratz).  While the earliest settlers in the area were primarily of English and German descent, there is evidence of other groups in the area in the pre-Civil War period – including Swiss, French, Irish, African Americans and Native Americans.  Some of the earliest property owners of Gratz were African Americans and at the time of the Civil War, Gratz had one of the largest populations of African Americans in the Lykens Valley area.  This latter fact would not be known if there were a strict reliance on the the publications of the Gratz Historical Society, including the voluminous Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz – which names the ethnic origin of every European family who settled in the area – but completely ignores any reference to African American origins.

But things changed in the period following the Civil War.  For reasons not yet fully revealed through research, Gratz became known as an all-white town – and the myth was perpetuated that its founding and early history were exclusively German and English.  In effect, Gratz took on the semblance of a “Sundown Town.”  Now, there is strong evidence to indicate that this was done “on purpose.”

While there may not have been the most extreme actions performed in Gratz (e.g. lynchings), the Ku Klux Klan of Gratz was affiliated in name and purpose with the other Klan groups throughout the area and country.  It is completely absurd to portray the Gratz Klan as “Klan-Lite” by stating that it “only” burned a cross in order to protect the sanctity of marriage.  The “only” statement is also factually incorrect in that the Gratz Klan participated in area Klan rallies, including those held within the Borough, where crosses were routinely burned.  The Gratz Klan was not only guilty by association, but also by action.  It was directly and completely affiliated with the national Klan movement.

African Americans, who were among the first purchasers of land in the Borough of Gratz in the 1820s were gradually excluded by not being allowed to join the various post-Civil War fraternal orders that sprang up in the area (nearly all of whom had exclusionary policies) – and most heinous of all, were not allowed to join the G.A.R. Post in Gratz – even though they fought valiantly in the Civil War.  There is a African American Civil War soldier buried in the Gratz Union Cemetery who is not recognized or honored for his service; his brother moved to Harrisburg, where he clearly found greater acceptance than he did in Gratz.  See: John Peter Crabb – Gratz Native was G.A.R. Post Commander.

A de facto policy at the Gratz History Society is that no one is to mention that descendants of a particular family (the Crabb family) had African American roots – because descendants of that family still living in the area “don’t want it known.”  This “policy” was instituted solely by the same Museum Curator who authorized and approved the exhibit and DVD which is the subject of this post.

If there were exhibits  to counter-balance the hateful display of Ku Klux Klan uniforms, the problem might be mitigated.  But the Museum Curator is unwilling to change anything and the so-called officers and Board are unwilling to question anything she does.

The problems of bigotry are not only in regard to past events and people, but continue into the present.  The Amish people are among the latest groups to arrive in the Lykens Valley although there were Amish present in Pennsylvania for many years before the Civil War.  Their culture and way of life includes many of the practices of the early German settlers in the valley – including being bi-lingual in both Pennsylvania Dutch and English. They have contributed greatly to the improvement of the Lykens Valley area through the establishment of thriving businesses, the restoration of run-down farms and other properties, and by extensive community service – including as members of the volunteer fire department and in fund raising for non-profit concerns.

After a recent series of incidents involving the denial of a building permit to Amish residents of Gratz to build a million-dollar agricultural building at the town’s east end, the petitioners took their appeal of the decision to the Pennsylvania Attorney General.  The appeal was successful and one of the members of the Gratz Borough Zoning Board was removed for his actions in refusing the permit.  That same former Zoning Board member is currently the Treasurer of the Gratz Historical Society and the husband of the Museum Curator.  Would it surprise anyone to learn that he is the same person who can be heard laughing in the background of the DVD that is the subject of this post?

For many decades now, the Amish have been part of the Gratz area and community.  Yet they are represented at the Gratz Historical Society as interlopers and recent arrivals who want to take-over and change Gratz – for the worse, not the better.  Regular volunteers at the Society at Wednesday work sessions were forced to listen to anti-Amish rants from the Society Treasurer, and during the deliberations on the agricultural building permit, on at least one occasion, a meeting with residents was held at the Society by the Treasurer to plot to stop the building permit from being issued.  Thus, the Gratz Historical Society has come to be seen as the headquarters for intolerance against the Amish – and the Treasurer of the Society is seen as the leader of this effort.

De facto policies at the Gratz Historical Society, instituted by the Museum Curator, currently forbid the mentioning of the history of the Amish in the area. Any proposal that the Amish should be invited to participate in the affairs of the Society is also unilaterally rejected.  When a suggestion was made that the Amish could be helpful in interpreting the traditional methods of farming used in the area it was met with the absurd comment, “that’s not what we are about.”  It is a well-known fact that farming has always been a mainstay of the Gratz area community.

To suggest anything contrary to the position taken by the Museum Curator is to invoke her wrath; to press the issue will result in retaliation, as will be shown later in this post.  It is completely clear that the Amish are not welcome at the Gratz Historical Society and to suggest anything otherwise is a complete denial of reality.

Concurrent with the deliberations on the building permit application by the Amish residents, two long-term volunteers at the Society (including a Board member), abruptly resigned (April 2013), and thereafter they affiliated themselves in friendship with and support of the Amish petitioners.  In subsequent conversations with the two volunteers, the extent to which they themselves had been offended by the religious/ethnic slurs (as well as religious proselytizing) that regularly occurred at the Society was revealed.

After the resignation of the two volunteers and the reversal of the Zoning Board decision, internal questions were raised by several other volunteers (myself included) about the direction of the Society, its operation, and its absolute control by the Museum Curator.  On several occasions in the summer of 2013, the Treasurer was confronted in the presence of Board members for his failure to abide by the Society By-Laws, and state and federal laws regarding the operation of a corporation.  These allegations included his refusal to collect and submit sales tax to the state, the filing of falsified financial reports, the expenditures of money without the approval of the Board, the representation of the Society as 501(c)3 organization (the Society is not named as such on the IRS web site), the co-mingling of Endowment Fund moneys with General Fund moneys, and his specific actions against the Amish residents of Gratz and how those actions reflected on the Gratz Historical Society.   There were also questions raised about a religious music program for December 2013 for which the Treasurer had contracted, committing more than $500 of Society funds without the prior approval of the Board (several objections had been raised internally to this program as not meeting the stated purposes of the organization).

On the 4th Thursday of September 2013, in what was supposed to be the Annual Membership Meeting of the Society (required by the By-Laws), instead was converted into a Board meeting by the Museum Curator.  That meeting, not previously announced to Society members as anything but a “planning meeting,” legally should have been the annual election of officers and the presentation of annual reports of officers (the By-Laws specifically state that announcement of the Annual Meeting must be sent out at least 30 days in advance to the entire membership along with the names of the members who were nominated for each of the positions to be voted on; this was not done).

When the group assembled, it was clearly a Board meeting (only two members of the Board were absent and two non-Board members were present).  No election was held at that meeting.  The Secretary, one of those disillusioned and disgusted by the dictatorial actions of the Museum Curator, did not attend the meeting.   Instead, he sent in a proposal that if accepted by the Society, would inaugurate a program of Strategic Planning, subtitled “Preserving the Past, Securing the Future.”   The proposal contained several elements including a preface with reasons for entering into a strategic planning process, definitions and elements of the process, and an outline of the process including sample questions that could be asked and answered.  Some of the outcomes would be:  renewed vision and mission statements, a financial planning process, revised policies, updated By-Laws, a marketing plan, and a schedule of periodical internal review.  It was suggested that the Board not respond immediately, but consider the benefits of this as a cooperative endeavor and report back at a later date whether or not they favored pursuing this process.

Also at this meeting, the question was asked whether the Society was carrying insurance on its officers and directors – and if an officer or director made a bigoted statement or took part in a bigoted action whether the insurance would provide legal representation for the Society and the officer.  This question was to be answered by the Treasurer after consultation with the policy and the insurance company.

The third question that came up was the expenditure of funds specifically designated as principal to be deposited and remain in the Endowment Fund until the Society was dissolved.  An amendment to the By-Laws was proposed to allow the expenditure of principal from the Endowment Fund.

In that none of the above three questions could be resolved at that meeting, a Special Meeting of the Board was called specifically for those three purposes – and only those purposes!  The minutes of the meeting clearly state the following:

A special meeting was call [sic] for the officers, directors, and volunteers for Wednesday, October 16, at 6:00 in the library to discuss strategic planning, by-laws and insurance.

On the matter of elections, nominations were given at the September Board meeting – which included filling the positions of two of the vice presidents, the secretary, the treasurer, and two directors.  The statement in the September minutes notes the following:

The election will be held at the next monthly meeting in October.

The next monthly meeting (of the membership) was scheduled for Thursday, October 24, 2013.  However, there is no record that any notice was sent to the membership that elections would take place on that date nor is there any indication that the general membership knew what positions were open for election or who was nominated for the positions.  Notice is absolutely required by Article IV and Article VI of the Society By-Laws.

After the “Special Meeting of the Board Directors and Officers” on 18 October 2013, the minutes were sent out by an e-mail from the President.  Not surprisingly, false and misleading information was reported as presented by the Treasurer on the matter of the insurance.  The amendment to the By-Laws allowing the expenditure of the principal from the Endowment Funds was withdrawn and it was stated that it was “not necessary.”  The Strategic Planning proposal was put on hold – with the vote being “no further action at this time.”

Then the minutes reported actions that went beyond the required, limited agenda of the special meeting.  Elections of officers and directors were held – not by the membership as required by the By-Laws and state law, but the board and officers themselves – at this secret meeting unknown to the general membership, and at a date and time not previously stated in the minutes of the September meeting!  This is an egregious violation of the law and as such should immediately be voided, with those responsible for this action held accountable by their removal from any position of authority in the Gratz Historical Society.

The minutes concluded with a condescending and sarcastic remark indicating that “we discussed the disagreements and/or changes… proposed regarding the Gratz History [sic] Society and found most are not agreeable with the way we currently operate….  It was suggested that we have regular Board Meetings instead of just when a situation occurs.” [Italics mine].

Upon receiving the minutes of the “Special” meeting, the Secretary promptly fired back an e-mail stating:

I was never told or otherwise notified that this meeting was taking place.  When was it decided that this meeting was taking place on October 16? It is very disappointing given that I was there the week before and no one had mentioned the meeting….  I think it best to find a new Secretary….

It was the Secretary who sent in the proposal for Strategic Planning that was presented at the September meeting and the proposal should have at least been discussed with him.  Admittedly, the proposal was a veiled attempt to get those claiming to be Board members and Officers to examine the then-current practices of the Society and look toward the future – a proposal that was doomed from the point of its presentation at the September meeting.  The sneering, mumbling, and annoyance of the Museum Curator at the audacity of any challenge to her authority should have been obvious to any observer at the meeting.  Clearly, she wanted no part of any cooperative process which could undermine her control.  And clearly, she did not want the Secretary to know when the meeting was to be held.

The “situation” referred to at the conclusion of the minutes was the direct challenge to the heretofore stated bigoted policies and actions of those who have assumed control over all aspects of the Gratz Historical Society and the complaint about the complete disregard of the Society By-Laws.

Apparently, at that “special” meeting, the so-called Board rolled over and “rubber stamped” everything that the Museum Curator wanted – including the termination of the Gratz Historical Society web site.  At the regular Wednesday volunteer’s work session held at the Society on 23 October 2013, the Museum Curator clearly stated that the Board never approved the web site and she ordered it discontinued.  This outrageous lie was supported by the Treasurer (her husband) and was not disputed by two supposed officers of the Society – the President (the Museum Curator’s niece) and the 2nd Vice President – both of whom sat silently during her harangue which included disparaging remarks about one of the volunteers who had resigned.  The 2nd Vice President is the same person who gave the “heil” salute in the DVD.

Long-term followers of the Civil War Blog may have noticed that the blog is no longer affiliated with the Gratz Historical Society and the Society web site no longer exists.  For about two months (November and December 2013), the web site was placed in “maintenance mode” in the event that any of the so-called officers or directors would come forward and question why the site was off-line.  In that no one did question, apparently means that those claiming to be officers concurred with the Museum Curator’s decision, had given her permission to do so, and were acting to “cover up” the misdeeds of her and the Treasurer.

In fact, when the January 2014 newsletter of the Society was issued, there was no mention of the web site, the blog, or the Civil War Research Project.  In addition, the names of two volunteers (myself included) were removed from the committee chairs and committee members list – apparently terminated by the Museum Curator.  The newsletter editor, who had not formally resigned from that position, was purged as well.  The April 2014 newsletter referred to the period of the “situation” as an “interlude” from which the previous chair of the library committee was returning. All in all, this Soviet-style purge (occurring over a period of 6 months) resulted in the resignation or removal of four volunteers covering the positions of Board member, Secretary, Assistant Museum Curator, Newsletter Editor, Library Director, Webmaster, Blogger, Gardner and Maintenance Team member.  The Society is now left with only only one person (the Treasurer) with enough computer expertise to help researchers use the available digital resources and a very skeletal staff of volunteers who are unable to properly cover the library and museum on Wednesdays – and take care of the buildings and grounds.  The Society no longer has a web site or e-mail address – only a mailing address and phone number.

What matters now to the public and the membership of the Gratz Historical Society is that a small group of Society members have contributed to the illegal seizure of control of the assets* of the corporation by giving complete and unfettered control to one individual and that that individual is operating the Society outside the specific requirements of the By-Laws, with no direct or indirect authority from the membership, and in possible/probable violation of state and federal laws.  While some may claim that this is just an insignificant complaint, that the Society is small and off-the-radar (of the government), and that this individual should be rewarded because “we wouldn’t have a historical society without her,” the fact is that the Museum Curator and Treasurer are adults who should know better and that the Society only exists as an incorporated body because it is chartered as such by the state.  It must follow all applicable laws in order to remain in existence.  By not following the By-Laws, the Museum Curator (and Treasurer, acting on her behalf) are not living up to the pledge made to the state at time the Society was incorporated.  The chartering as a non-profit corporation came with tax benefits – including relief from property taxes.  Taking the benefits without accepting the requirements of the law could be seen as tax fraud.  There are also penalties when there is a refusal and failure to collect and submit sales tax to the state.  And there is the federal question of whether the Treasurer has knowingly misrepresented the Society as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, where donations are allowable tax deductions.

Since they have not been properly elected by the Society membership, personal liability can extend to those who are presently represented or representing themselves as officers of the Society, particularly those who sign checks and those who attended and participated in the recent Board meetings which were held in violation of the By-Laws.  Any actions taken at the “special” Board meeting held on 16 October 2013, beyond those actions for which the meeting was official called, should be declared null and void.  This includes the election of the Treasurer and other officers and Board members who the minutes state were “elected” at that meeting.  Since there is evidence that past elections have been conducted in the same manner (without notification of the membership), there may be no officer or director of the Society who can prove that they were properly elected under the present By-Laws.

This blog post began with information on a bigoted exhibit of Ku Klux Klan uniforms and followed a logical path into an examination of how that exhibit is officially interpreted (the DVD) and a revealing of some other bigoted, intolerant and discriminatory practices of the Gratz Historical Society.  Also revealed were the inevitable results of challenging anything done by the Museum Curator as well as failures of the Museum Curator and Treasurer to abide by the Society By-Laws.  What is clear is that the problems at the Gratz Historical Society are systemic and cannot be resolved as long as the present Museum Curator and Treasurer remain in any position of influence.  If others who are represented as officers and directors knew or should have known what they were doing, they too should have no part in the future governance or direction of the Society.

It is unacceptable to have the Gratz Historical Society seen as a bigoted institution and it is equally unacceptable to have an organization in the Gratz community that refuses to follow the law, yet accepts the benefits of the law.

Those who have been soured by their experience with the Gratz Historical Society (and its so-called leaders), probably will not return, even if changes are made.

Going ahead, proper legal advice is required.  Some persons involved may refuse to step aside.  Re-organization and a re-commitment to following the law is the only way forward.   If there any local area attorneys who are willing to take on this challenge by representing members who are dissatisfied and disillusioned by what has happened at the Society, their assistance would be welcomed.

Note:  As a Life Member of the Gratz Historical Society, I have no intention of resigning my membership or walking away quietly before the present problem is legally resolved.  I also have no intention of accepting any position of authority with the Society, now or in the future, as I believe that such serious damage has been done to the reputation of the Society, that it will be next to impossible to correct and will require too much effort on my part and the part of many others.  However, I will cooperate in providing any information to any attorneys or investigative agencies to support any statements I have made in this blog post and/or to assist with a legal re-organization of the Society.

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*The assets of the Gratz Historical Society include bank accounts amounting to approximately $150,000, buildings and grounds valued at around $250,000, furnishings and artifacts (including books) conservatively estimated with replacement value about $100,000, and an unknown amount of unsold publications (not inventoried).

 

 

 


Comments

One Response to “Why Are There Ku Klux Klan Uniforms in Gratz?”

  1. Barry Stocker says:

    Norm:

    THANK YOU for this information.
    I was thinking, for some time, about joining the Society, mostly so that I could be in “closer” contact with you and the work that you’ve been doing with so many different facets of Civil War history.
    I feel that the Amish here in the area of Eastern PA are really proving to be an integral part of the area and both Faye and I consider many of them to be our extended family and this feeling is the same with quite a few of these families.
    Maybe the people in Gratz and so many others in the area who have negative feelings on these people should open their eyes and see what the heck is going on!!
    Faye and I have done programs on the Civil War (Amish in the American Civil War) in about 6 different Amish schools, all of them in the Gratz area, and their children are more aware of the happenings in the Civil War than the “English” kids that we have had dealings with. They are more attentive and take an active part, on their own volition, in the discussions and program that we present.
    Regarding the Repasz, I am so glad that we got together, too many years ago, and talked and learned together in these sessions.
    I feel that you have helped me immensely in this topic and have given me the extra shot of intensity that I needed to get done to date what I have!!
    My thanks to you for your help and expertise in the CW matters and I look forward to continuing to work together, with your permission, on so many subjects in these regards that I take an interest in.
    Sorry about the length of this post, but felt it was necessary with all the information you presented.
    I assume that you will still be using this web site or is there another that I can use as necessary??

    Respectfully

    Barry Stocker
    Klingerstown, PA.

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