Friday, March 18, 2016

bonus features: the kkk took my baby away

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this post. 

ojr 1980-10-08 johnson incident
Oakville Journal Record, October 8, 1980. Click on image for larger version.
A reprint of the Oakville Star's coverage from 1930. That there was "no editorial comment about the incident" speaks volumes from a modern perspective.


cf 1930-04 kkk
The Canadian Forum, April 1930.
This was one of those stories which simultaneously excited and depressed me. Excited in uncovering deeper details as research went on, though this meant sifting through numerous conflicting accounts -- determining which name to give Isabel Jones was a challenge, as she was also dubbed Isabelle, Isabella, and (according to the Toronto Star's early coverage) Alice. Depressing because of the topic matter and how, distressingly, the KKK is still relevant thanks to the shenanigans of a certain American presidential candidate.

20160312mcneil
Telegram, March 7, 1930. Click on image for larger version.

The harassment Reverend H. Lawrence McNeil and his family received was among the depressing elements. Numerous threats prompted police protection. "It is not that I am the least intimidated by the message," he told the Star, "but my wife is quite nervous over the affair and it is best to see that adequate measures are taken."

Sample phone threat: "You have been talking too much of late and you are going to be stopped. Be prepared to have a call from us and we will leave our calling cards and symbol."

Crank calls continued for at least a week. “I am almost certain it is some dummy calling who wants to create a scare in the newspapers,” Mrs. McNeil later reflected.

star 1930-03-11 prosecutions
Toronto Star, March 11, 1930. Click on image for larger version.
One of the least impressive figures of the story is David Kerr, head of Oakville's tiny police department. Note his wide smile while posing with the lone person to be convicted in the incident, W.E. Phillips. His initial reactions of waving the Klansmen off and praising them for their orderly behaviour boggles a present-day mind, though one wonders that, since he recognized them as prominent Hamilton businessmen, he was paying respect to their position in society or hoping to retain their good graces. Though he was a prosecution witness during the police court hearing, his testimony didn't do the crown's case any favours,

In a front page story in the March 6, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star, Toronto lawyer Harry Waldman criticized Kerr's actions. "If any offence had been committed that evening, surely when it reached the attention of the man who has been appointed to preserve law and order he should have investigated," Waldman observed. "And if he recognized the perpetrators of the alleged offence, as he is reported to have done, he should have immediately instituted charges against the offenders.

Kerr benefited financially from his bumbling handling of the case. In May 1930, he and constable J.W. Barnes asked for a salary increase "in recognition of their services." Their request was approved.

Additional material from Colour-Coded:A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) and the March 7, 1930 and March 11, 1930 editions of the Toronto Star.

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