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A Ku Klux Klan member stands near a burning cross.

Contemporary racists are back in big fashion, meaning Colorado Springs should remember and cling to its past. We must say no to racism and other forms of hatred. We must always send it packing.

Colorado Springs celebrates its 150th birthday on July 31. About 50 years after the city’s founding, Colorado stood at a crossroads. Just as radical factions see Colorado as the modern lab for political experimentation, things were not much different back then. The community had to decide what to do about the Ku Klux Klan, which was taking over Boulder, state government, Denver City Hall, and attempting to infiltrate and control the power structures of most communities throughout the state. The Klan succeeded in amending the Colorado Constitution to contain a Blaine Amendment, which continues obstructing the educational choices of minority children.

If the Klan could control Colorado, mostly by targeting Catholics and Jews, it could port the model to other non-southern states.

The Klan held its first Colorado organizational meeting in Boulder in 1922, after hundreds of hooded Klansmen paraded down Pearl Street. Local businesses openly supported them. A dry cleaner adopted the slogan Klothing Karefully Kleaned. Boulder had a “Kash and Karry” grocer. The Klan burned a cross on Flagstaff Mountain so large that Coloradans saw it from the plains.

Members of the city’s only Catholic church found crosses burning on their lawns.

Only two years later, when Colorado had about 30,000 active Klan members, the Klan infiltrated the Colorado Legislature. Voters elected Klan member Clarence J. Morely, a Denver judge, as governor. Morely ordered University of Colorado President George Norlin to fire Catholics and Jews serving on the CU faculty. Norlin refused, and Morley shut down nearly all state funding of the school.

“They truly did control the state,” said Leah Davis Witherow, curator for the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, as quoted in a Gazette story this week by Jessica Snouwaert.

Yet, the Klan did not control Colorado Springs. Just as the Klan amassed power in Boulder and took it to Denver, it tried to take over the Springs. Klansmen burned a cross on Pikes Peak, just as they had on Boulder’s Flagstaff Mountain.

The community said, “no way, not here.” The Colorado Springs City Council passed an emergency resolution against marching in hoods, whether it would withstand court scrutiny. The Gazette publicly outed and shamed a local Klansman, publishing his membership card for all to see as a warning to any others who might be enticed to join the Klan.

“They never gained the strength they had in other communities,” Witherow said.

Fast forward two decades to World War II and the federal government, at the behest of Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was rounding up and imprisoning Japanese Americans for fear they might side with Japan in the war. While most of the political and media establishment supported this human rights atrocity, The Gazette crusaded against it and called it unconstitutional.

“We would shorten the war and lose fewer lives and less property if we would rescind the order and let the Japanese return and go to work, until such time as we have reason to suspect any individuals of being guilty of being disloyal to America,” wrote then-Gazette Publisher R.C. Hoiles in 1942.

Colorado Springs has a long and proud tradition of saying “no” to hatred and welcoming people of all backgrounds without regard for race, religion or creed. We should never forget the gargantuan efforts by our local churches, governments, businesses, landlords, and civic organizations to invite and welcome victims of Hurricane Katrina. The 2005 storm displaced hundreds of thousands of mostly elderly, poor, nonwhite residents of New Orleans. At least 2,000 found shelter and recovery support in Colorado Springs.

The Springs is a wonderfully diverse city because it tries to accommodate all. Just this week, the Colorado Springs City Council, doubling as the board of Colorado Springs Utilities, worked on a financial package to incentivize new housing for low-income individuals and families. A great city strives to remain welcoming and affordable to all.

Modern racists and other forces against inclusion and unity seldom show up in pointy hats. That’s just so 1920s. Instead, they stand before classrooms and tell the white children to consider themselves oppressors and the nonwhite children to consider themselves oppressed by everything that defines their country. It is a sick return to the past when, as The Gazette’s historic reporting explains, “the Klan tried to instigate unrest and social discord within communities by exacerbating religious and racial differences.”

Colorado’s Klan of the 1920s mostly worked to pit Protestants against Catholics and Jews. In curriculums endorsed by the National Education Association — an organization that also endorses the political intimidation and divisive tactics of leftist Saul Alinsky — teachers are encouraged to exacerbate racial differences. Known as critical race theory, some school districts give the Marxist curriculum names that include “equity,” “diversity,” and other nice-sounding words intended to disguise it.

Colorado, often inspired by leadership in Colorado Springs, has historically rejected hateful and racist movements that highlight differences and foment division. Like the flu or common cold, hate and derision always try to insidiously harm a society pursuing unity, inclusion, and diversity. We must never be fooled. We must spot hatred and stop it, just as Colorado Springs immediately rejected and condemned the Ku Klux Klan.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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