PITTSFIELD — The state of Maine and the Ku Klux Klan seems like an improbable combination. But indeed the KKK took root in Maine in the 1920s and even here in Pittsfield and Newport, reaching such heights that it helped elect Gov. Ralph Owen Brewster, the mayors of Rockland, Bath, Westbrook and Saco, the president of the Maine Senate from Belfast and other political leaders.
Absent from recorded history for nearly 100 years, this striking time in “lily-white” Maine will be explored by Mark Alan Leslie of Monnouth at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, at Pittsfield Public Library, 110 Library St., author of the fictional novel “The Crossing” about the KKK’s impact on a small western Maine town in 1923.
“While African-Americans were few in Maine at that time, the KKK’s targets were French-Canadians, Catholics and Irish and Polish immigrants as well as Jews,” says Leslie. “And were they effective! The Klan’s Maine membership reached a reported 150,000, nearly 20 percent of the state’s population, in 1923-25.”
The Pittsfield area was a fruitful territory for the Klan’s recruitment. When the KKK held its first state conclave in a forest outside Waterville in 1923, nearly 15,000 attended. Although Augusta Mayor Ernest L. McLean caused the cancellation of a large Klan rally and parade in the state capital in May 1926, parades were held in Dexter, Milo, Gardiner, Brewer, Portland and elsewhere.
Waterville’s Klavern boasted 650 members, compared to 1,000 in both Bangor and Lewiston-Auburn.
Leslie earned Featured Book status from Publishers Weekly for his 2015 book, “True North: Tice’s Story,” a novel about the Underground Railroad in Maine.