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Ku Klux Klan

Ku Klux Klan at funeral of Herbert Dreger (12/5/24)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-35726

Klan Clean Up

Recent news that the Guardian Angels are coming to Madison to train citizens to patrol the streets and prevent crime recalls a similar offer made by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

A letter written by the Klan that accompanied a $25 donation to the Volunteers of America’s Madison chapter was quoted in The Capital Times on November 16, 1922: “The Klan is a body of patriotic, law abiding citizens, organized along fraternal and benevolent lines, to use their every influence for good in the state and nation. We do not take the law into our own hands, but insist upon its absolute enforcement by the duly authorized owners of the law. Already the influence of the Klan has been felt in Madison. A clean up of general conditions may be expected, and it will be brought about quietly and peacefully, and by the regular officers of the law who are being supplied with incontestable evidence by the many Klanners in your midst.” On November 22 the Exalted Cyclops announced formation of a military unit, the Klavaliers, and offered its services to police and the Dane County sheriff. Klan headquarters was in room 207 of the Belmont Hotel. The Klan promised to clean out Catholic influence at City Hall and in Madison’s public schools, and also targeted Negroes and Italians.

1924 was a particularly violent year in the Greenbush area of Madison. Between January and October there were four murders, one shooting, and two bombings. On December 1st, one man was shot to death on his front porch in the morning and two others were shot in the evening as they walked down Desmond Court. Officers who showed up at the crime scene found Patrolman Herbert Dreger, the youngest officer on the force, lying on the terrace at the northwest corner of Milton and Murray streets, dying, his body riddled with 50 bullet holes.

The Klan wrote a letter, published in the Wisconsin State Journal on December 4, declaring that if District Attorney Theodore Lewis “will deputize 200 or more members of the Klan in Madison all at once, this organization will guarantee to clean up the vice center of Greenbush.” Lewis declined the Klan’s generous offer.

Mark Gajewski