The Ku Klux Klan’s brief but powerful impact on Maine in the 1920s is buried in the far reaches of the state’s history and rarely taught in the classrooms.
Mark Alan Leslie, who tells that gripping story in his novel, The Crossing, will give a PowerPoint presentation at 7 p.m., May 23, at Camden Public Library on “Maine Burning: The Ku Klux Klan Invasion.”
“As improbable as it sounds,” Leslie says, “in the 1920s the KKK targeted Maine and reached such influence that it helped elect Governor Ralph Owen Brewster, the mayors of Rockland, Bath, Saco and Westbrook and many other public officials.”
This shocking time in Maine’s history has been omitted from history textbooks for nearly 100 years. Leslie, who spoke here last fall on the Underground Railroad in Maine, said, “It’s stunning that a state so heavily involved in helping slaves escape in the 1860s would have so many Klan supporters just 60 years later.”
Maine’s KKK membership reached a reported 150,000, nearly 20 percent of the state’s population of 790,000, in 1923-25. When the KKK held its first state conclave in a forest outside Waterville in 1923, nearly 15,000 attended.
The Camden area was not immune to the Klan’s recruitment. Hodgdon Buzzell, president of the Maine State Senate, was a proud member of the Belfast KKK klavern and Rockland’s citizens elected Carlton Snow, who was endorsed by the Klan. Meanwhile, Rev. E.V. Allen of Rockland was one of the first to join the Rockland Klan and in respect for his diligent service the Klan officials elevated him to the office of Grand Klaliff, State of Maine.
Leslie will tell the tale of the rise and fall of this organization which, now and again, still makes headlines in Maine today. The Crossing is a sweeping — and ultimately uplifting — look at the Ku Klux Klan’s impact on a small western Maine town in 1923. Called “a seasoned wordsmith…in the class of John Grisham” by the American Family Association’s AFA Journal, Leslie burst onto the scene in 2008 with Midnight Rider for the Morning Star, then earned Featured Book status from Publishers Weekly for his 2015 novel, True North: Tice’s Story, about the Underground Railroad in Maine.
After his talk, Leslie will be available to sign his novels, including four contemporary action/adventures, the latest being Operation Jeremiah’s Jar, published this fall.