The Call of the North

The Call of the North (St. Paul, Minn.) 1923-1924  Browse the title

The Minnesota Fiery Cross (St. Paul, Minn.) 1924  Browse the title

The Call of the North newspaper was a print propaganda tool for the Ku Klux Klan, with national, state, and local reporting on issues of interest to the KKK. The first issue of the four-page, seven-column weekly was published by the Call of the North Publishing Company on July 27, 1923. Its editor was Peter J. Sletterdahl, a former schoolteacher from Hutchinson, Minnesota, using the pen name “Twilight Orn.” Sletterdahl also served as the KKK Grand Dragon for the Dakotas, and was a national Klan organizer, lecturer, and editor.

Though the original Ku Klux Klan, which began after the Civil War, was effectively shut down by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1871, the group re-emerged nationally in a second incarnation in 1915. With a new fraternal organizational structure and a more formal agenda, the KKK spread in the early to mid-1920s, including into the urban areas of the Midwest and West. Rooted in local Protestant communities, it was known for its beliefs in white supremacy and white nationalism and opposition to immigration.

Ku Klux Klan activity in Minnesota appears to have begun in 1921 and grown over the ensuing few years. Intolerance for “outsiders”--including Catholics, German and Jewish immigrants, and black workers who relocated from the South--had risen in the state during World War I and even more so when the war’s labor boom ended. By 1923 Minnesota was home to a reported 51 chapters of the KKK with over 30,000 members, though many were not active.

Ten thousand copies of the inaugural issue of the Call of the North were printed, although it is not known how many people actually subscribed. The paper had a strong moralistic tone and positioned the KKK as a force to battle for “the best things in our American civilization.” It included reports on KKK activities around the state and country. Representative content included a piece on the Red Wing Klan’s plans for the state Konklave, with hopes of more than 50,000 attendees, an article identifying immigration as America’s most pressing problem, and a photo of a flaming cross which the paper claimed was seen by thousands all over the city of St. Paul.

On February 22, 1924 the Empire Publishing Company, an organ of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota, took over publication of the newspaper, expanded it to eight pages, and changed the name to the Minnesota Fiery Cross. Advertisements became more numerous at this time. The first issue of the Fiery Cross set the Klan’s agenda for 1924: supporting “militant, old-fashioned Christianity and operative patriotism;” getting back to the Constitution; and supporting the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) and present immigration laws, while working for the enactment of more stringent immigration legislation.

It is not known when the Minnesota Fiery Cross ceased publication, but the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan rapidly waned in membership in the latter half of the 1920s, and by the 1930s the Klan had receded from public view. By 1926, even the former editor of the Call of the North, Peter J. Sletterdahl, turned against the Klan, calling it “a sinister political machine which capitalizes Protestantism and prostitutes patriotism in order to win the battles of politics.” He also warned that “the Klan is religious fanaticism and racial prejudice seeking political power for the benefit of a few arch-manipulators.”