The 1924 Democratic National Convention, also called the “Klanbake”, held at the Madison Square Garden in New York City from June 24 to July 9, 1924, took a record 103 ballots to nominate a presidential candidate.
Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan, founded and populated by Democratics after post-Civil War Reconstruction, was reenergized after the 1915 release of D.W. Griffith’s very popular racist & Pro-Klan motion picture The Birth of a Nation. The picture was a particular favorite of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. As recounted by William Keylor, Professor of History & International Relations at Boston University:
While the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People publicly denounced the movie’s blatant appeals to racial prejudice, the president organized a private screening of his friend’s film in the White House for the members of his cabinet and their families. “It is like writing history with lightning,” Wilson observed, “and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”
After World War I, the popularity of the Klan surged, and it became a political power in many regions of the United States, particularly in the South. It was also popular in the border states, the Mountain States, and the West. Its local political strength gave it a major role in the 1924 Democratic Party National Convention (DNC). However, its participation was unwelcome by many DNC delegates, such as Catholics from the major cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The tension between pro- and anti-Klan delegates produced an intense and sometimes violent showdown between convention attendees from the states of Colorado and Missouri. Klan delegates opposed the nomination of New York Governor Al Smith because Smith was a Roman Catholic. Smith campaigned against William Gibbs McAdoo, who had the support of most Klan delegates.
Ku Klux Klan Platform Plank
The second dispute of the convention revolved around an attempt by non-Klan delegates, led by Forney Johnston of Alabama, to condemn the organization for its violence in the Democratic Party’s platform. Klan delegates defeated the platform plank in a series of floor debates. To celebrate, tens of thousands of hooded Klansmen rallied in a field in New Jersey, across the river from New York City. This event, known subsequently as the “Klanbake”, was also attended by hundreds of Klan delegates to the convention, who burned crosses, urged violence and intimidation against African Americans and Catholics, and attacked effigies of Smith.
The final vote was 546.15 for the Klan, 542.85 against it.
Newspapers called the convention a “Klanbake,” as pro-Klan and anti-Klan Democratic delegates wrangled bitterly over the party platform. The convention opened on a Monday and by Thursday night, after 61 ballots, the convention was deadlocked. The next day, July 4, some 20,000 Democratic Klan supporters wearing white hoods and robes held a “picnic” in New Jersey. One speaker denounced the “clownvention in Jew York.” They threw baseballs at an effigy of Al Smith. A cross-burning culminated the event.
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