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Notre Dame alumnus reflects on student riots following Ku Klux Klan parades in ‘Notre Dame vs. The Klan’

| Friday, November 8, 2019

Todd Tucker, a member of Notre Dame’s 1990 graduating class, spoke on his book, “Notre Dame vs. The Klan” on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hesburgh Library Scholars Lounge.

“Notre Dame vs. The Klan” was originally published in 2004 after Tucker received offers from multiple publishing companies interested in publishing his story. 

“Why are we still talking about this book today after 16 years?” Tucker said. “I think because it is still a pretty shocking, almost unbelievable story.”

The book centers around the events that transpired in South Bend during the height of the Ku Klux Klan’s influence in Indiana. The two main players of the story are Father Walsh, the then-president of the University, and D.C. Stephenson, one of the most powerful members of the Klan at the time. 

“Every good story needs a really compelling bad guy, and that’s D.C. Stephenson,” Tucker said.

Stephenson was mostly involved in the Klan as a way to make money, though, as Tucker notes, “he was certainly racist.” 

After being involved in a kidnapping that resulted in the death of a woman, Stephenson was thrown in prison, where he continued to operate the Klan’s actions. He planned for the Klan to organize a parade in South Bend for two main reasons. 

“The Klan in Indiana used these parades as a recruiting vehicle, and it was natural for them to hold one in South Bend, the second most populous city in the state,” Tucker said.

It was likely that the Klan put on the parade in South Bend in order to get a reaction from the Catholic students at Notre Dame, Tucker said, most of which lived off campus in the city at the time. The Klan’s actions elicited a major reaction, with the students rioting at the parade and causing general mayhem by stealing many of the Klansmen’s robes. The Klan did not take these actions sitting down, however, Tucker said.

“They called the campus and said they were holding a Notre Dame student hostage,” he said. “The Notre Dame students went back, but this time the Klan was waiting for them and the law was waiting for them.” 

Nobody was killed in the ensuing riot, though many bones were broken and many shots were fired. The situation raged on for several hours until Walsh brought the boys back to campus and away from the violence. Interestingly, Tucker said, the event spurred much of the dorm building that took place during the 30s and 40s as Walsh wanted to keep the students on campus to avoid another incident.

Shortly after this occurrence, the Klan’s power in Indiana diminished exponentially, and they were soon completely out of power by the 1930s, he said. 

“When you have lived with this story for 15 years, the Klan never really goes away,” Tucker said. 

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