Monthly Archives: September, 2015

Was Donald Trump’s Father In the Klan? There’s Room For Doubt

This week, the website BoingBoing uncovered a New York Times story indicating that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s father, Fred, was arrested at a brawl between members of the Klu Klux Klan and New York City police during a Memorial Day parade in 1927. They and other websites and news outlets seem to draw the a logical inference that Fred Trump was a member of the Klan.

But is it a logical inference? Looking at the history, there’s plenty of room for doubt.

The Memorial Day parade in Queens was one of the city’s largest. Well before the holiday, there were signs that the 1927 parade wasn’t going to go smoothly. Community outrage had followed news that the organizing committee had accepted an application from the Klan to join the march. Word of their involvement drew the ire of the Knights of Columbus and other Catholics in Queens. The Klan retaliated by papering the area with KKK stickers and posters and erecting an 18-foot tall cross in Briarwood.

Behind the scenes, Patrick Scanlan, editor of the Catholic weekly The Tablet, wrote to Police Commissioner Joseph A. Warren to alert him to the situation. Warren had only been on the job for a few months, and he saw an opportunity to serve notice to the Klan and other disruptive organizations that he was going to be a firm hand.

“I advised Inspector T J Kelly, in command of Queens, that under no condition was the Ku-Klux-Klan to be allowed to parade in Queens gowned and hooded,” Warren later told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “They had no [police] permit to parade. There are too many elements today, having nothing to do with our wars, taking part in Memorial Day parades, and they take up too much of he Police Department’s time, anyway.”

KKK, NYPD, & Spectators Mix at 1927 Memorial Day Parade in New York/Source:

KKK, NYPD, & Spectators Mix at 1927 Memorial Day Parade in New York/Source:

Whether by chance or by design, the Klan was given the last slot in the parade. As they approached Hillside Avenue, the contingent of about 500 men and women were met by a force of over 100 police officers. With guns drawn, the police stopped the marchers and ordered them to disband. “After a skirmish, which attracted a huge crowd, the hooded figures were pushed to the sidewalk.”

Klansmen, jeering spectators, and police all mixed together, and for a moment it seemed like a full-on riot was inevitable. But the marchers managed to re-form their parade line and continue on down the four-mile route. Outnumbered, the police were powerless to stop them, and most spectators were content to yell from the sidelines. Only six or seven were arrested.

Which brings us back to Fred Trump, then just 21 years old.

No matter how you read the evidence, his part in the day’s events was minor. His arrest is noted in the New York Times, but not in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s extensive coverage of the march. The Times doesn’t list a specific charge against him. Alone among the defendants, he was “discharged” by the magistrate. His name does not seem to appear in connection with the case again.

Was Fred Trump a member of the Klan? It’s possible.

However, it seems improbable that the son of German immigrants would join an organization that hated both immigrants and Germans. It would seem like bad business for a budding construction mogul – someone whose business relied heavily on Irish and Italian construction workers – to align with a group that hated Catholics. And Klan affiliation it would hardly put him in good stead with the City officials.

There is an alternative explanation. The Queens of Fred Trump’s era had a sizable German-American community, and they were out in force that day. While groups like the Knights of Columbus and the Boy Scouts withdrew in opposition, the German-American Steuben Society decided the to march in defiance, making a last-minute application to organizers and sending a contingent of 500 members.

We also know there was at least one false arrest that day. A man named Ralph Losee turned out to be “an innocent bystander who had his foot run over by a police flivver.”

So, while Trump might have been there with the Klan, he could also have simply been amongst the crowd that came to protest the Klan and gotten caught up in the melee.

The political fallout from the 1927 parade lasted for months. The Klan won a Grand Jury presentment stating that police had incited the violence and demanding a full investigation of Warren’s police department by the Mayor. Only two of the five Klansmen arrested stood trial. Both were convicted, and both won on appeal.

Fred Trump died in 1999 at the age of 93, and in the absence of police records, long destroyed, or proof of Klan membership, there’s no way to clarify his role in that day.  Donald Trump has said “This never happened. Never took place. He was never arrested, never convicted, never even charged.”

“It’s a completely false, ridiculous story. He was never there! It never happened. Never took place.”

48 Names and Mount McKinley Is Just One of Them

Mount McKinley c 1900/Library of Congress

Mount McKinley c 1900/Library of Congress

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first: No, Denali is not “Kenyan” for “black power.”

The dialog surrounding the Obama administration’s directive to the Department of the Interior to rename Alaska’s highest peak has been surprisingly vigorous. It hits that sweet spot between modern political rhetoric and historical memory – or lack of historical memory, as the case may be.

Understanding how Denali came to be called Mount McKinley is something that can only be explained by stepping back into its own time…and even then, not all the details are clear.

One thing that is clear from the record is that prospector William A. Dickey didn’t march into the Alaskan wilderness in the summer of 1896 with the intent of hijacking a sacred Native mountain and naming it after some white dude. He was just looking for gold.

Dickey, like most people who saw the Alaska Range for the first time, was surprised by the beauty of the massif. Thirty years after the Alaska Purchase, this part of the territory was still largely unmapped and unexplored. Artists and photographers had not yet created a visual record. It was still very much a “terra incognita,” he wrote. Despite the clouds of mosquitoes, the cold rains and flooding rivers, the earthquakes and the bears, to him this was a “wonderful wilderness.”

But why “Mount McKinley”?

In his only known published account of his Alaskan adventure, published in the New York Sun in January 1897, he said it was because McKinley’s presidential nomination was the first news he heard as they returned to civilization. Years later, he told mountaineer Belmore Browne the full story. Dickey and his partners “fell in with two prospectors who were rabid champions of free silver,” during their expedition, “and…after listening to their arguments for many weary days, he retaliated by naming the mountain after the champion of the gold standard.”

Like all political jabs, there was a serious subtext. In 1896, the US was struggling to recover from a deep depression sparked by the Panic of 1893. Whether the cash supply should be back by gold or a combination of gold and silver had become the major political argument. Republicans like Dickey believed in the gold standard, a stable base that theoretically kept supply tight and inflation low; Democrats were supporters of bimetallism or “free silver,” believing that cheap silver would bulk up the money supply and make more cash available to all.

Dickey may not have known if the peak had a name. In fact, it had many. There are more than forty variant names in Athabaskan; depending on dialect and location, he might have heard *Denali, Dinadhit, Deenaalee, Denale, Dghelay Ka’a, Doleika, Traleika, Tennali, Tolaghah, Tenada.* Some variants applied only the peak, others to the entire massif. If he had an old Russian map, it would have read Bulshaya Gora. Local prospectors in these years called it Densmore’s Mountain, after a fellow prospector who, like Dickey, had rhapsodized on its distant beauty.

Nor does Dickey seem to have lobbied for “Mount McKinley” to be officially recognized. How it ended up sticking is something of a mystery. The Army and the US Geological Survey sent teams into the area in 1898-99. Keeping the name of their Commander-In-Chief might have seemed like the prudent or polite choice.

In 1900, survey teams announced that the peak stood over 20,400 feet above sea level, making it, as Dickey had theorized, the highest peak in North America. One major wire report said the mountain “now known by the name of McKinley, was formerly known as Mount Allen” and that “inhabitants of the region call it Bertheya, which is the corrupted Russian version of ‘The Big Mountain.'” The real native name for it, they said, “is Tralega,” but “Mr. Dick, a prospector,” named it after President McKinley.

Just over a year later, six months into his second term, William McKinley was assassinated. During his tenure, he had become one of the most popular presidents in US history, and his murder touched off a wave of national mourning not seen since Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

After McKinley’s death, several states contemplated naming mountains in his honor. (Naming geographic features after famous people was fairly common this period. That the famous person had never been there was beside the point. It was a tribute, and a lot cheaper and easier than building a monument.) That the continent’s *highest* peak was already named for him seemed practically prescient.

Denali gained support as the “true” name for the peak beginning in 1913 with mountaineer Hudson Struck’s The Ascent of Denali (Mount McKinley), which contained ” a plea for the restoration to the greatest mountain in North America of its immemorial native name,” and over time it became the common alternative name. Since 1974, it’s a been a political hot potato between Alaska and Ohio, and President Obama’s directive is probably not going to end the rhetorical war between the states.

Meanwhile, Mount Foraker stands ignored. Right next to Denali and the third highest peak in North America, she was named for Ohio Senator Joseph B. Foraker by an Army lieutenant for unknown reasons in 1899. Foraker never visited Alaska and died in his bed at the age of 71. This peak had once euphonic Native names as well: Sultana, ‘the woman;’ Menlale, ‘Denali’s wife.’ Nobody is agitating to change it.

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