The KKK and Racism
in Piedmont, California
The KKK in Oakland and Piedmont
In 1924, however, the state passed an anti-mask law, and the Klan’s political influence continued on the decline. When the Imperial Wizard made his grand postelection tour of his western provinces, he found his welcome a weak one. San Francisco was particularly disappointing, the National Kourier complained, primarily because a hostile press refused him publicity and advertising room. Happily, however, the Klan journal commented, Oakland was friendlier and the small towns around Los Angeles remained active Klan areas. Klan leader Burton Becker [Police Chief of Piedmont] was elected Sheriff of Oakland’s Alameda County and his Klan under-sheriff became Oakland’s street commissioner. Both were soon objects of concern for Alameda County’s District Attorney, Earl Warren. Elected on the promise of strict “law enforcement,” Sheriff Becker boldly accepted payoffs from bootlegging, prostitution, and slot machine and Chinese lottery interests. Street Commissioner Parker organized his payoffs from a powerful combine of Oakland’s paving contractors. In dogged pursuit, District Attorney Warren first sent Commissioner Parker and the combine leader and then Sheriff Becker and his graft collector to jail
The Ku Klux Klan was not just in Piedmont during this time, however, this website is highlighting the KKK's influence in Piedmont from our Police Department to the members who dressed in hoods and protested at Sidney Dearing and his family's home. During this time the Bay Area as a whole was full of active KKK members who helped use Institutional Oppression to segregate Piedmont and surrounding neighborhoods.
To give you an idea of how many Ku Klux Klan members were living in the East Bay during the time the Dearings moved into Piedmont, look further down at the picture below in 1925. In 1925, the year after Sidney Dearing was forced to move, 8,500 KKK members gathered in Oakland's Civic Auditorium at Lake Merritt.
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jan. 07, 1996
KKK Meetings in the Oakland area
White nativism and urban politics: The 1920s Ku Klux Klan in Oakland, California.
By: RHOMBERG, CHRIS, Journal of American Ethnic History, 02785927, Winter 98, Vol. 17, Issue 2:
ON 5 MAY 1922, a horde of 1,500 men in white robes and masks gathered in silence at night in a valley in the hills above Oakland, California. Two searchlights beamed across the sky, as a fiery cross burned behind an altar draped with the American flag. At a given signal, 500 more unmasked men marched four abreast toward the altar, to take their oaths and be initiated into the order of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Hooded Klansmen from as far away as San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, San Jose and Los Angeles came to join their Oakland brethren in the ceremony. In the 1920s, the city of Oakland was a center of Klan activity in California. Started in 1921, within three years the Oakland Klan grew to at least 2,000 members. Local Klan leaders enjoyed political success late into the decade, winning an election for county sheriff in 1926 and for city commissioner in 1927. Their power was finally broken in a celebrated graft trial prosecuted by Alameda County district attorney (and later United States Supreme Court chief justice) Earl Warren, and the scandal led directly to a major reform of the Oakland city charter
...Fifty of the known Klansmen lived in Oakland, with the remainder residing in Berkeley, Piedmont (an affluent suburban enclave in the Oakland hills), or more distant suburbs. Among Oakland residents, 29 (58 percent) lived in East Oakland, 8 (16 percent) lived in North Oakland, and 13 (26 percent) lived in Downtown or West Oakland. Altogether, only 22 percent of the known Klansmen lived in the older neighborhood of West Oakland, while more than three-quarters lived in the outer areas of the city or the suburbs.
...The most successful Klan politicians were Burton F. Becker and William H. Parker, Kailiff (vice-president) and Kleopard (lecturer) of Klan No. 9, respectively. Becker was the popular chief of police of Piedmont, and belonged to the Moose, the Modern Woodmen of America, and several Masonic orders. Becker was already publicly identified with the Klan in 1922 when he ran for sheriff, winning over 23,000 votes, or about 34 percent, against longtime incumbent Frank Barnet...Becker, who won easily as a modern, professional, reformist candidate. Upon taking office, Becker immediately appointed Parker as under-sheriff and fellow Klansman Leon C. Francis as county jailor.
San Francisco Chronicle - May 5, 1922
The East Bay Express - The East Bay Still Has Some Very Visible Reminders of Our History of Racism
It isn't just the South. By Robert Gammon 2017:
"According to historian Chris Rhomberg's 2004 book No There There: Race, Class, and Political Community in Oakland", a local KKK chapter — Oakland Klan No. 9 — established a headquarters in downtown during the 1920s, and it had at least 2,000 followers. On July 4, 1924, 3,000 of these Klansmen marched through downtown Richmond. And in 1925, about 8,500 of them donned white robes and hoods and held a massive cross-burning ceremony inside the Oakland Auditorium (now known as the Kaiser Convention Center) next to Lake Merritt."
Ku Klux Klan
Believed to have been a flaming signal that the Ku Klux Klan is reorganizing in Northern California, a giant 40-foot cross was burned near Mills Field Saturday night.
The flare against the midnight sky was visible for miles, hundreds of spectators being attracted to the scene.
The cross was fired by Walter Heneise of Millbrae, who declared he was an agent of the Klan. He told Traffic Officers Robert Sheldon and John Hanlon he had acted on orders of Klan headquarters in Los Angeles.
It marked the first appearance of a flaming cross in this vicinity in several years, the last having been burned in the hills above Piedmont by the K. K. K. in 1929.
San Francisco Chronicle - April 9, 1934
Piedmont Holding KKK Meetings
What I'm going to tell you is that the city of Piedmont had a chief of police named Burton F. Becker, and several other persons. I recall one by the name of Fred--
No. Haas. They were associated with the Ku Klux Klan. This Ku Klux Klan group appeared to me to be in a sense vigilantes. I had worked with some of these people during the time I was a federal agent, enforcing the Prohibition laws.
Fred Haas was the fellow I was thinking of. He was later chief of police when Becker became the sheriff. Fred Haas was closely associated with the people in this group.
There's a report in some paper I read of a meeting of the Klan in Piedmont, in about 1925. (The year Sidney finally moved out)
Oscar J. Jahnsen
Interviews Conducted by
Alice King and Miriam Feingold Stein in 1970
This man Becker was just off his rocker. He used to be an electrician, and he worked for the PG&E, I think, and he didn't have too much law enforcement background. He became chief of police of Piedmont through some political groups up there.
Fred Haas was his assistant. Fred was a nice fella. He, too, got involved, but not with Becker and his associates, but in some automobile transactions.
When we went over to be deputized, Becker had a lot of big pictures of himself. A peculiar thing happened; he was so generous with his photograph '. He wrote on mine, "To Oscar Jahnsen from his very close and best friend, Burton F. Becker, Sheriff of Alameda County." He said the same to George Helms. So he gave us new badges.
According to the 1920 Census, Burton F Becker (Chief of Police, 32 years old) and Fred W Heere (Sgt Of Police, 31 years old) were divorced and living as boarders in Piedmont. Ralph and Mary Staedleron were their hosts on Scenic Avenue while the Census says they worked on Vista Avenue (Vista is where the current city government buildings are located).
Fred Haas was Becker's assistant. Jahansen might have meant Fred Heere (see below), nevertheless, according to "White Nativism and Urban Politics: The 1920s Ku Klux Klan in Oakland, California" Haas was also involved with the Klan, too. "Klansman Fred Haase testified as an expert witness for the 13th Avenue Improve ment Club in their paving controversy and participated in the recall effort against Commissioner of Streets Baccus, along with Klan No. 9"
In an Oakland Tribune article on Thursday May 18, 1922 that Burton Becker, then Police Chief of Piedmont and Police Officer RM Beagle of Piedmont vigorously denied they were in the KKK but according to unconfirmed reports their names appeared on rosters. Becker said he had been approached by William McRae but he had never joined and Beagle said he must have been misidentified.
Burton F. Becker
Piedmont's Police Chief, Kailiff (vice-president) of the Ku Klux Klan No.9 in Oakland and San Quentin resident #48814.
Badge from policeguide.com
...Up against Barnet was the law-and-order candidate Burton F. Becker, who ran on a platform of “Christian morals” and upholding Prohibition. Becker was also a high-ranking member of the Oakland Ku Klux Klan.
The people of Piedmont already knew this; he’d publicly declared his affiliation while serving as their chief of police. In that role, he appointed Klansmen to the under-sheriff and city jailor positions. Faced with a choice between a murder suspect (or, at least, an adulterer) and a Klansman, Alameda County voters handily elected Becker.
If there is any happy ending, it’s this: Becker’s career ended in a jail cell in San Quentin. As sheriff, he became the head of a massive bootlegging operation. His deputies took protection money from still operators throughout rural Alameda County, and bootleggers who wouldn’t pay up were raided. In this way, Becker was able to centralize liquor production among his chosen, paying partners. He also paid men to inform him of impending federal raids.
Then-Alameda County District Attorney Earl Warren got wind of the scheme and launched an investigation. The scale of Becker’s racket was staggering. Warren found 150 officers in the Oakland Police Department alone were “dividing $50,000 each month to protect 250 speakeasies.” The scheme was “so well-constructed that police were selling to bootleggers at twice the going rate liquor seized in earlier raids,” Warren biographer Ed Cray wrote. “Some bootleggers were simply ransoming their own stock.”
After years of investigating, Warren finally hit Becker with multiple corruption charges. At the time, the media called the trial "the most sweeping exposé of graft in the history of the country." Becker was convicted, banned from holding public office for the rest of his life and sent to San Quentin.
“No reports have as yet come in of observing the burning of any fiery crosses,” the Sausalito News taunted after his conviction. “Perhaps Klansmen are like many others — for a fellow when he’s a comer, but off him when he loses out.”
From: Katie Dowd, SFGATE | May 13, 2019
Oakland Tribune - Thu - Dec. 4, 1924
Moodle's statement gives the names of six men, all prominent in Klan circles, who, he declares, were "ringleaders in a movement to commercialize the name Ku Klux Klan." This is movement, he said, was responsible for the revocation of Klan No. 9's charter.
Following is the statement issued by Moodie today:
"Due to the disloyalty and treason against the national organization of the Ku Klux Klan, by L. C. Francis, Chlef of Police B. F Becker of Piedmont. J. H. MacLafferty Jr., W. H. Parker. Fred L. Arnest, and C. M. Murry (right) others, it has been found necessary to temporarily revoke the charter of the Oakland Klan, No. 9."
Moodie declared that the movement of which the men were "ringleaders' and which was frowned upon by the national organization, was an attempt to start a "clandestine organization" in Nevada, under the name of the Ku Klux Klan. These men, according to Moodie, filed incorporation papers in Reno, and secured a charter from the state, "for their own benefit."
Francis was Exalted 'Cyclops or President of Klan No. 9, Becker, vice-president or Kailiff; Parker, Klopeard, or lecturer: MacLafferty. Klud or chaplain: Arnest, secretary, and Murry. treasurer.
Moodie said that as a result of the revocation of the Klan's charter a reorganization would follow and all loyal members taken back into the organization at their former status. The six men named, he said, would be tried for disloyalty and expelled.
Ukiah Republican Press - Wed - Mar. 19, 1930:
A REFORMER'S DOWNFALL
OVER IN OAKLAND last week Sheriff Burton F. Becker went into court and acknowledged he was guilty of a crime, thus automatically bringing about his removal from the office be held and, at the same time, placing himself immune from prosecution
on 15 other counts of an information returned against him by the grand jury.
Burton F. Becker is a member of the Ku Klux Klan and was elected by the Klan as a reformer-one who was to “clean up conditions."' Of the situation existing in Oakland and nearby towns The Sausalito News comments thus:
“Candidate B. F. Becker (at the last election) who later admitted in court he was a Ku Kluxer, had the active support of the whispering brigade. He had all the reformers, the prohibitionists and all the other antivicers with him. He beat Frank Barnet (a faithful, honest official who was the incumbent at the last election) ---not because of any superior qualifications he possessed, but because of the whispering campaign carried out against him.
"What did the new sheriff do but get the head federal raiding agent, or whatever his title was, to join him as his chief criminal deputy. Death on vice was his motto -- aside from the fiery cross -- in Alameda county. For a time the "joints" caught merry Hades. Emeryville wasn't what it used to be; the wine bibblers in Livermore didn't dare let grape juice ferment; the old Spanish customs in Pleasanton were banished, and all along down the line fear and trepidation were stricken in the souls of evil-doers.
"The poor unfortunate, or dumb, bootlegger who didn't contribute had to suffer in court. In the meantime the Ku Klux sheriff in the ex-federal Prohl, who was his headman as well as the other hands who were wise to the ropes, gathered theirs---n0t only from booze. gambling. Chinese lotteries, but from paving awards as well, according to the East Bay expose.
"what a great shock it must be to the bigots who. got behind a candidate for Sheriff to have him admit some 16, more or less, irregularities in compromising sins of evildoers. Perhaps they are that narrow-minded and bigoted they can see no wrong in what their champion had done. Because he had arrested several to every one he hobnobbed with was probably a "sign of progress" in the great East Bay Whispering Crusade,"
Contra Costa Gazette - Fri - Dec. 18, 1936
Burton Becker was pardoned by Governor Frank Merriam.
Chief Justice A Biography of Earl Warren By Ed Cray · 1997:
Lieutenant Governor Frank F. Merriam, a former Iowa state auditor and sometime Ku Klux Klan kleagle, snared the 1934 Republican nomination for governor.
Racism & Division in Piedmont
"Chinese Labor in Piedmont" 1880's
"From the behavior of a small group of children on their early walks to the Junction school one could observe the attitude of rancor and prejudice that permeated the feelings of the general populace toward the Chinese in the 1880's."
To fact check Evelyn Craig Pattiani, I looked up Mrs. Florence Wing in Piedmont's Census. In 1900, she's listed on 8 Mountain Avenue with Chan Don, a 22 year old Chinese cook, 1910 it is just her and her son Robert at 311 Mountain and she is listed as a widow. In 1920 she is 59 years old and listed as living alone. In 1920 there were 28 Chinese people living in Piedmont as "help", many more than People of Color.
Queen of the Hills: The Story of Piedmont, a California City. By Evelyn Craig Pattiani
Academy Library Guild, 1953 - California - 179 pages
Queen of the Hills is Piedmont’s unofficial biography of the 19th and 20th century. It reads as a who’s who blue book brag of Upper Piedmont’s noble residents while changing the narrative of our past by whitewashing some of our more controversial history. The book’s closing line describes Piedmont as a place of “opportunities for greater fame as a town of ideal family life.” It failed to mention those greater opportunities were only ideal if you're apart of the "race restricted" and "caucasian only" ownership class allowed in Piedmont.
This book's exhaustingly detailed directory of Piedmont's grandiose and high society social register was written by William Louis Henry Pattiani Craig's daughter, Evelyn, in 1953 when she was 79 years old. Hugh Craig was an immigrant from New Zealand, the city's first mayor and one of the first 5 pioneers of Piedmont. According to piedmontexedra.com: When Craig and his wife settled in Piedmont in 1880 it was a sparsely populated patch of unincorporated forest and farmland. The indigenous Ohlone tribe had been mostly driven out by Spanish missionaries by the early 19th century, or killed by state-sponsored militias after California joined the union in 1850.
Evelyn was a prominent and privileged Piedmonter, her 170+ pages reflect adoringly on our town's social parties and ostentatious homes. During the time her father was Mayor, the Piedmont Protective League was trying to recall him and her brother, Collin Craig, as city recorder. On July 12, 1912, The San Francisco Chronicle was questioning the honor of Collin and believed he was pocketing fines from our city's speeding violators. Her father was also known to have a lively set of fists and use them on several occasions while doing business. (Oakland Tribune on Sunday, Aug 6, 1911, Page 27).
From cover to cover there is curiously no mention of Sidney Dearing or the horrible experience the Dearing family went through here with the KKK Police Chief, 500+ person protest mobs and bombs that could destroy blocks. One would assume if she mentioned “Chinese Labor” and kids who "took fiendish delight in hurling stones and epithets at these unassuming Orientals" that she might haver known about a nationally publicized race war in Piedmont’s lowland. If she knew about it, which one would suspect she did, why did she leave it out of the book?
Piedmont vs Dogs and Hoboes, 1910
According to The San Francisco Examiner on Friday, September 30, 1910 a facetious article highlighted our town's notorious fears of plebeians. One can assume the article was metaphorically speaking when mentioning the agonies due to having neither a jail yet nor pound for our proletarian dogs and unkept "Hoboes". One "medical man" of Piedmont suggested hypnotizing the Hoboes and leaving them on the outskirts of town. And for the stray dog problem getting an automatic sausage-making machine.
Piedmonters in Blackface, 1924
In 1924, the same year the Dearings were asked to moved, this was posted in the Piedmont High yearbook:
THE first Minstrel Show at Piedmont High School was presented on the evening of Thursday, April 15, and on the afternoon of Friday, April 16. The purpose of the Minstrel Show was to raise money for the uniforms of the new school band.
There were three parts to the entertainment. The first, a pictorial entitled "Our Boys," was composed of jokes, songs, ballads, and stunts. Tom Murphy, Pierre Crosby, Don Brown, and Merrill Reynolds were the "four funny end men." Tom Ball made a humorous interlocutor, and splendid talent was discovered in Gilbert Edgar, Gordon Craig, Walter Zimmerman, William Balsley, and others. The second part consisted of an “Olio" composed of a number of specialties. A feature of this part was the chorus of six little "coons" which provoked much amusement from the audience.
The last part was a burlesque on a well known opera, entitled "Ill Treated Trovatore." The students supported the Minstrel Show very well and showed Mr. Ball how much they appreciated the Piedmont Band. The performance not only provided a great deal of entertainment, but it brought out a great deal of hidden talent which will be useful material for the next opera.
Much praise is due the orchestra for its splendid playing. This organization has always taken a great part in school life, and besides playing for operas and plays, it furnishes the music for assemblies and entertainments.
The minstrel show, also called minstrelsy, was an American form of racist entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances that depicted people specifically of African descent. The shows were performed by mostly white people in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some African-American performers and black-only minstrel groups that formed and toured. Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky.
These are not the first time Piedmont High was in Blackface and I am sure more will surface later on. While this would never be acceptable in Piedmont today, it is a part of our history and should not be swept under the rug. We should learn from it and be better.
Piedmont residents in KKK hoods, 1934
This photograph was found in a Piedmont home, 89 Nova Drive (a few houses over from Sidney Dearing's) by [name removed to protect the donator]. It was left by the previous resident Walter Gustav Hufschmidt (1887–1971). The location, date & names of people are unknown. W. Hufschmidt lived at 89 Nova Drive from 1924-1973.
Photo from the Oakland Public Library and credit due to the owner of the house who turned it in. Thank you. The Skull and Crossbones was a sign of the KKK according to the Smithsonian.
Editor's note: I have been told quite a few stories of an older generation of Piedmonters (long gone) with a well known last name, had kids playing in the basement and found KKK hoods. I do not have any physical proof and will not publish names of anything KKK related without someone going on record or a photo proving it.
Piedmont closes its borders, 1934
According to the Piedmont Historical Society's publication of the Attic Trunk, Piedmont and our then Chief of Police Fred Heere deputized residents to guard the boarders against "suspicious people" entering the city during the Waterfront Strike of 1934. Homeowners barricaded the city with orange crates and apple boxes nailed together for 10 days and there were no outbreaks of violence in our peaceful city.
The Reno Gazette Journal on Friday Jul 20, 1934 reported 4 strikers came to Piedmont's barber shop and they were "treated" with night sticks and jailed. Then 4 more came in and were beaten the same way.
Reno Gazette Journal - Fri - Jul 20, 1934
Click here to learn more about the Water Front Strike
“Sundown towns” were a formal expression of the threat of violence to people of color existing in a town after dusk. From the 1890s to 1960s, thousands of towns across the country had designated themselves “white only,” and often had signs announcing that these areas were sundown towns, meaning African Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese Americans, or other people of color were not allowed in town after the sun went down. Historian James Loewen keeps records of sundown towns, and lists Antioch, San Jose, and San Leandro as “surely” sundown towns, and considers it “probable” that Burlingame, Lafayette, Palo Alto, Mill Valley, Napa, Piedmont, and Ross were too.