This Maine Governor Never Publicly Embraced the Klan, But He Never Disavowed its SupportHistorians in the News
tags: Ku Klux Klan, Nativism, Maine
In the 1920s, after the country’s relatively brief but deeply traumatic entry into World War I, there was a strong sentiment among a segment of the population that the U.S. should stay isolated from the rest of the world’s problems, said Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth. There was also a sense among some of those people that the country needed to return to what they saw as its traditional lifestyle — one that was white and Protestant.
“There was this deep desire to return to normalcy. In fact, Warren Harding ran for president on that tagline,” Shettleworth said. “I think there were some people who felt that their lifestyle was threatened by change, and that change was coming from immigrants and from Catholics and from, essentially, people who were different.”
The KKK, originally founded immediately after the Confederates lost the Civil War as a loosely organized group bent on the persecution of newly freed Black people, had re-emerged in 1915 better organized and as a national group, with an expanded focus on not just the hatred of Black people, but also the hatred of Jews, immigrants and Catholics. Anybody who wasn’t white and Protestant was viewed as a threat to American purity.
The KKK had set up shop in Maine to capitalize on the growing fear among some Mainers that Catholic immigrants from Quebec, Ireland and Italy were coming to take over their “traditional” way of life, Shettleworth said. By the time Brewster ran for governor in 1924, there were millions of Klan members nationwide and thousands in Maine.
In terms of Klan support, Brewster had several allies in both local and state-level politics. Fellow state Sen. Mark Alton Barwise ran on anti-Catholic and anti-Black platforms, which included his attempt to pass a bill to ban the use of public funds for private schools — essentially, Catholic schools. Brewster also served on Portland’s school committee while DeForest Perkins, who later went on to become the Grand Dragon of the Klan in Maine and a vocal political supporter of Brewster’s, served as the superintendent of schools.
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