Burton F. Becker

Piedmont's Police Chief, member of the Ku Klux Klan and San Quentin resident #48814.
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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,"

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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.
 

The KKK in Oakland and Piedmont

Notes on Writing the History Of the Ku Klux Klan, 1866-1954:

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 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 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."

To give you an idea of how many Ku Klux Klan members were living in Oakland/Piedmont during the time Sidney moved into Piedmont, look at the above 1925 picture of thousands of KKK members gathered in Oakland's Civic Auditorium at Lake Merritt. Was Burton Becker is in this picture while Police Chief of Piedmont?

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.

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Piedmont Holding KKK Meetings

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Jahnsen

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--


King

Haase?


Jahnsen

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.


King

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)

 

Earl Warren Oral History Project - 
Enforcing the Law Against Gambling, Bootlegging, Graft, Fraud, and Subversion, 1922-1942


Oscar J. Jahnsen
Interviews Conducted by
Alice King and Miriam Feingold Stein in 1970

Jahnsen

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. 

Fred W Heere

Piedmont's Detective and later Police Chief

Piedmont Detective, Fred Heere:
"I believe that Dearing's story is true. I have every reason to believe a third bomb was thrown at Dearing's home, as he told me. However, I am not interested in it."

Oakland Tribune - Sat - Jun 7, 1924

Oakland Tribune - Wed - Jun 4, 1924

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Fred W Heere was the former doormer living with Burton Becker. When Becker left to become Sheriff on his path to San Quentin, Heere became Police Chief of Piedmont. The Police and Peace Officers Journal of the State of California in 1938 mentions Heere being "particularly informed on radicalism" and has lectured and headed committees to "curb red activities".  

This is the story the Waterfront Strike mentioned

further down on this page.

Violations of Free Speech and Rights of Labor: Supplementary exhibits

By United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Education and Labor. Subcommittee on Senate Resolution 266 · 1941

Racism & Division in Piedmont

"Protecting Piedmont"
"Chinese Labor in Piedmont"
"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."
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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.

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Housework - Oakland_Tribune_Sun__Dec_15_
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 the infamous Sidney Dearing or the horrible experience he 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

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.

Piedmont vs Suspicious People

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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.

Roots, Race, & Place, Extrajudicial and Militia Violence

Sundown-Town

Piedmont vs. the Black Panthers

Piedmont's Assemblyman introduced the Mulford Act, aka "The Panther Bill"

Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare

Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle

By Leigh Raiford · 2011, Page 161

Piedmont vs The Union (during the Civil Rights movement)

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The Confederate flag & the Piedmont Historical Society

The oldest house in Piedmont was built in 1879 by the city's first mayor, Hugh Craig at 55 Craig Avenue. A few years after the Civil Rights Act passed (the 1968 Act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and family status), in 1971, residents Mr. and Mrs. John Stanley Stephens (SACRAMENTO LODGE NO. 40 also names his brother, Master Mason Sidney Johnston Stephens as resident at 55 Craig) are shown here in the doorway of their home they bought in 1948.  John Stephens, son of a Confederate Army veteran, displays the Confederate flag half a dozen times a year at their house. Their home is on AC Transit's regular route.

Unbothered by the flag, a year later in the same house at 55 Craig, the Piedmont Historical Society held its first meeting:

"The display and the town meeting which followed on April 12, 1972, were a success. Piedmont residents showed a great deal of interest in an historical society, and the Piedmont Historical Society was formed. Nine directors were nominated, and the first membership meeting was held at 55 Craig Avenue, the former Hugh Craig home, on September 10, 1972."

Source: Piedmont Historical Society - https://piedmonthistorical.org/who.html

Oakland Tribune - Thursday - August 19, 1971

Piedmont vs, well, Piedmont

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Piedmont's Historical Society

Thoughts from a previous President:

Recently I found myself face to face with the reality of historical ignorance. In January, my wife and I traveled through Vietnam and Cambodia. In Hanoi, our guide (a young woman in her twenties) pointed out the "Hanoi Hilton" where American pilots had been held prisoner. With her wide-eyed innocent look, she described how wonderfully the prisoners had been treated, how they were allowed to have parties on American holidays and how suprised they were to have their money, watches and other personal belongings returned to them when they were released. 

I looked at her and thought, my God, if she believed this and that is what history has recorded for her to read, then the future generations have little hope for history to not be repeated. The need for history to give depth and understanding is paramount to helping direct future actions. 

Our beautiful little town did not just happen, it grew with the sacrifices efforts and commitment of those who had a vision. The need to record that history and share it with all generations will ensure that human growth and development will embrace the values of the past. 

The excellence of our schools did not happen by happenstance. It took vision, commitment, countless volunteers and community support. The excellent government, police, fire, park, and recreation departments are also the result of these commitments. The historical perspective needs to be shared with every child and adult in our community. 

The bottom of the line is that we are a community, and working together with and understanding of the past and a commitment to the future, we can continue to live a life of respect, decency, and happiness in our beautiful town. 

All it will take is for "good men" to act,.

Ralph Marinelly

President of the Piedmont Historical Society

From in The Attic Trunk, Vol 6. No. 1, 2002

Hope for the future

Learning to know what we don't know

Oakland Tribune - Wed - May 11, 1966

In 1966, during the Civil Rights Movement, Piedmont High School students protested to the board of education saying the atmosphere of Piedmont isolates young people from racial contact and "that this isolation is completely unrealistic environment for mature growth."