Primary Source: KKK Leader Spreads Fear about Immigration

Note: This resource was selected for educators to use to teach about the relationship between the Ku Klux Klan’s white supremacist ideas on immigration and Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act). To use these resources responsibly, please view our teaching ideas, some of which are included in our Reflection Questions and Teaching Suggestions below.

This primary source was culled from the collection of the Indiana State Library by historian Jill Weiss Simins.

Learning Goal: 

The resources on this website can be used to:

  • Build an understanding of public messages about migration through U.S. history.
  • Inquire about the way public messages about migration influence how people think and act.
  • Identify patterns of prejudice and prepares students to assess whether available public stories about migration are reliable and representative.


The Ku Klux Klan sought to spread their message of hate in public rallies and through their newspaper, the Fiery Cross. The article below describes an address given by the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan to coal miners in September 1923. His rhetoric both echoed and reinforced rising anti-immigrant attitudes that we spreading in the years before the Johnson-Reed Act imposed tight quotas restricting immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe as well as Asia and Africa. Among those quoted in the speech are Harry Laughlin, a eugenicist who used now-discredited ideas and racist pseudo-science to support anti-immigrant legislation.

Primary Source

Citation: “Immigration Is Periling America: Grand Dragon Speaks Before Coal Miners,” Fiery Cross (Indianapolis), September 21, 1923, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.


Immigration Is Periling America: Grand Dragon Speaks Before Coal Miners

Declares Immigrants of Now Quite Different from Those of Old

Startling Statistics Placed before Audience – Shows Effects on Wage Earners

Declaring that America can hold to her destiny only if she maintains among her people the physical health, the mental clarity and the concepts of a free government, the Grand Dragon of Indiana, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, delivered a stirring address in the coal field of Indiana one night last week.

The text of his speech in full, the subject of which was “America and Immigration,” follows:

“It was a vigorous people that became the progenitors of the Republic of America. The three million colonists who won their independence from England in 1776 were themselves the most virile members of the Anglo-Saxon race. They possessed its characteristic intelligence, physique, ambition and courage in high degree. They had its sound conceptions of law and order. More than any section of that race they had the vision of liberty and the inalienable rights of man. These racial qualities, intensified by the stimulus of a new world [illegible] upon mankind and the “whip of rebellion” against an autocratic king gave the vital impulse to the founding of out republic. A government was there founded, my fellow Americans, based on “the consent of the governed,” its supreme object being “the common welfare,” a new reality in human affairs, which was, and, please God, shall still continue, of tremendous import to the ultimate freedom and democracy of the world

Mental Clarity Necessary

“America can hold that destiny only if she maintains among her people the physical health, the mental clarity, the courage and , above all, the concepts of free government, dedicated to the common welfare which supported the founders of this republic and made them great in history. The new America, a realization for the first time of the dream of opportunity, in a land of freedom and justice, drew to her shores as by a mighty spiritual magnet the best of the old world – not the richest in goods, but those deepest in accord with America’s ideals and hardiest to make the venture into a new land.

“Gradually this country was so settled from shore to shore. Immigration was then a boon. The races who came were of our kin—the Anglo-Saxon, the Teutonic, the Scandinavian – from northern and western Europe. They came to settle on the new land, to enter the skilled occupations of industry and trade; many came to do the rougher manual labor and the building of our railroads till they or their children could rise in the scale. They were our kindred, in social, moral and civic ideals. They became an integral part of the America of destiny.

“Today their children and their children’s children are among us – American in every essential respect. Very largely the bloods have intermingled in marriage and there has been not only an assimilation, but a merging of races.

“That was what is called ‘the old immigration.’ With the turning of the century we have had to do with a ‘new immigration,’ greater in numbers, from the races of southern and eastern Europe.

“The ‘Immigration problem’ of today is a problem of this ‘new immigration.’ And no question is more fundamental.

“The immigration ‘quota’ law, of which we now hear so much, is confessedly only experimental. It is a temporary expedient to stem this new inflowing tide. It expires limitations next year. This winter Congress must work out a permanent policy. Now is the time for the country to study the facts and come to a conclusion.

Immigration Alarms Congress

“A marked change in the countries whence our immigrants came began in the 80’s and by the first years of the present century had become so alarming in its apparent significance that Congress created the United States Immigration Commission in 1906 to make an exhaustive investigation of the entire subject, stressing particularly the difference between the assimilability of the old and new immigration.

“That commission reported in 1910 and its monumental work still stands as the broadest and most authentic information on the racial, social and civic qualities of these diverse peoples. Since that date the researches of other agencies have added facts corroborating these of the commission.

“Let me state briefly the most important of these vital facts. They are alarming to one who has the true interests of America at heart and who desires that it shall be the greatest moral and spiritual force the world has ever known for the spreading of those two great civil concepts – government by the consent of the governed and government for the common welfare – in every land.

“First of all let me state briefly a few salient facts showing that the source of our immigration has changed. Before 1883 more than 95 per cent of all the immigrants from Europe came from England, Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Switzerland. Then a great immigration movement began from Italy, Austria, Russia, Poland, Greece and the Balkan states, until, in the years before the war intervened, more than 70 per cent of our total immigration was coming from southern and eastern European nations.

Italy Leads Immigration

“Just before the outbreak of the war, Italy alone was furnishing more immigrants than came from Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland combined!

“With this momentous change in source came a great increase in the total number of immigrants. In the 90’s less than $400,000 a year were coming. In 1905 the million mark was passed, and for the entire ten years before the war broke out the average was over 1,100,000 a year.

“Our immigration was more than doubling. It had suddenly become an influx – and an influx of Latins and Slavs. In the years from 1901 to 1910 no less than 6,380,000 immigrants came to us from the new racial sources. In 1914 alone there were 900,000 and more.

“That was the thought-provoking record under the long-time policy of practically unrestricted admission to our gates.

“Many of us Americans going about in our busy life have made our own observations of some of these new types of immigration and have picked up from the newspapers and in other ways casual information about them. Many may have formed some opinion in the way as to the quality of this new human material for the purposes of the republic. But I wish to give you the epitomized results, not of casual observation and reading, but of the great governmental inquiry of the Immigration Commission and the other agencies that have assembled and interpreted massed of detailed facts bearing upon this question.

“And in stating the results of these scientific inquiries as to whether the immigrants of these newer types are an aid or a detriment to our national life. I do so without prejudice, in a spirit of kindliness to all men, seeking simply the common welfare of America and its honest helpfulness to the world.

“Moreover, please bear in mind that the facts and the conclusions drawn from them apply not to those nations as nations or peoples, but to that element of them which has immigrated to America. The older immigrants, I have said, were the best individuals of their races for the American purposes. It is clear that the individuals who come to us under present conditions from the south and east of Europe are not the best of their respective races. We should not judge their home countries as a whole by these samples.

Immigration Now Inferior

“In this spirit let us face the following facts:

“In the first place, the new immigrant has been shown to be much inferior to the older type and to the native American stock in soundness of body and mind and in physical and mental development. The immigrant from some of these newer racial sources is also inferior in moral character.

“The evidence on these points is clear, abundant and incontrovertible. A few examples in proof are sufficient:

“During the war the rejections of drafted men proved the relative unfitness of the foreign-born for military service as compared with the native and older immigrant stock. A comparison was made between wards of eastern cities containing a large proportion of foreign-born and primarily American communities in Indiana and other central states. In the foreign-born communities 17 per cent of the men were rejected as unfit for military service, only 13 per cent in the American. About 300,000 men were examined in these two sets of communities. The results can have but one meaning.

“Our war records of the physical and mental health of the drafted men give a far more complete and authoritative index of the health of our population than was ever available before. Not only was there a physical examination of every mancalled by the local draft board, but those not rejected by them were subjected to much more rigid examination after their arrival at the encampments. All told, two and three-quarters of a million men were examined.

Mental Disease Prevalent

“A 1600-page, official compilation of the results, prepared by the office of the surgeon-general of the army, reveals the fact that some form of mental disease or deficiency was found in 50,000 of the men.

“These mental examinations were separate from the army intelligence tests – psychological tests that revealed the predominance of a low grade of intelligence among the foreign-born men – a predominance especially die to the newer immigrants. These were seven grades of intelligence recognized from ‘very superior’ down to ‘very inferior.’ Among the foreign-born soldiers almost half were in the two lowest grades, ‘inferior’ and ‘very inferior,’ with a mentality equivalent only to that of a normal 11-year-old American boy. Two-thirds of the Poles and Italians were in these lower groups. These intelligence tests covered 360,000 foreign-born men. We can not doubt the validity of the comparison.

“The committee of immigration of the House of Representatives at Washington caused an exhaustive investigation to be made of the inmates of federal and state institutions for the custodial care of the constitutionally diseased, the dependent and the criminal, with special reference to whether the new races of immigrants contribute more than their share to the number of ‘social inadequates’ in such institutions. The study was made by Harry H. Laughlin, eugenics expert of the Carnegie Institution, who presented elaborate statistics compiled by the most scientific methods, and this is his conclusion on the whole matter:

“’In reference to feeblemindedness, insanity, crime, epilepsy, tuberculosis and deformity, the older immigrant stocks are vastly sounder than the recent.

“’The number of inmates dealt with in these calculations is large enough to justify considering the several groups as fairly representative samples of their particular types in the whole population.;

“Again he says:

“The outstanding conclusion is that, making all logical allowances for environment conditions, which may be unfavorable to the immigrant, the recent immigrants, as a whole present a higher proportion of inborn, socially inadequate qualities than do the older stocks.’

Crime Average Runs High

“Of crime in particular, Dr. Laughlin says:

“’The countries which ran lowest in crime are those which have contributed most to the elementary foundation of the population of the United States – such as Great Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands . . . Those immigrant groups that run high in crime are from the countries of southern and eastern Europe.’

“The Italians, the Greeks and those of the Balkan states have from two to three as many criminals in our prisons as the proportion of these races in our total population would entitle them to if they were only average in their criminalistics tendencies.

“Finally, the death rate of our foreign-born is shown by the census to be appreciably higher than that of the American stock. In any people the death rate of infants is so high that it materially swells that for a people as a whole. But, on the average, immigrants are about 28 years old, when they come to America and there are consequently very few foreign-born babies in the country. Yet the foreign-born death rate, even without the factor of infant death rate to swell it, is higher than the American. This was in 1910. No figures are available for 1920.

“When it comes to literacy the census shows that while only two and one-half per cent of native white persons from ten years of age and up, are unable to read and write, thirteen per cent of the foreign born of ten years old and up can not pass these rudimentary tests. The particular deficiency of the southern European races in this respect was brought out by the Immigration Commission in 1910 in its report which showed that the immigrants of these races at the time of their admission were thirteen times as illiterate as immigrants from the northern countries.

Low Grade of Mentality

“Children of these immigrants, the commission showed, are considerably below the children of native-born parents in ability to pass their work at school, or to attain distinction. Relatively few of them ever finish high school. This condition among the children may well be explained by the lower grade of mentality found among the foreign born men themselves in the army intelligence tests.

“This startling series of facts is from official records. There is here no product of passion. I repeat them in no spirit of indictment. In the main they should be looked at not even as the fault of the particular individual concerned, for the science tells us these types of disease, of mental deficiency, and social inadequacy are inheritable, carried in the blood from generation to generation, and often incurable. But for that very reason they are more serious and must route us to a sense of the danger of an inescapable national impairment, unless we heed the warning in time.

“To continue to admit the members of inferior races into this country on a large scale can only mean a steady and inevitable decline in the physical, mental and moral well-being of the American nation.

“Next, let us look at what may be termed some of the ‘social’ results of this newer immigration. Ethnological experts have advanced convincing arguments to the effect that immigration in the long run does not result in a new addition to the total population, but only in a displacement or substitution of immigrants for native-born – the birth rate of the native stock being reduced to correspond approximately with the increase of immigration. Moreover, there appears to be a tendency toward the gradual displacement of our native stock by descendents of the new immigrants from the fact that the birth rate of our foreign-born inhabitants is very much larger than that of native stock.

Birth Rate Per Cent Astounding

“A recent pamphlet published by the New York State Department of Health contains the following remarkable statements:

“’Attention is directed to the fact that 87.1 per cent of all births to foreign-born women were to Italian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian women, and that these races accounted for nearly 27 per cent of all the births occurring in the state outside of New York City, although they furnish less than 7 per cent of the total population.’

“My friends, the significance of authoritative statements like these can hardly be overestimated. Unrestricted immigration would appear to result in a gradual contraction of our native American stock. Shall we take the responsibility for continuance in such a course?

“One of the oft-deplored tendencies in modern American civilization is the ever-increasing congestion of population in cities and industrial centers. Let us see what influence the new immigration has here.

“When one Paul Slovenski, for example, a typical immigrant from Poland or Czecho-Slovakia, lands at Ellis Island before the quota from his country for the month is exhausted, does he go as a pioneer to Alaska, or as a farmer to the great Middle West? It is not likely. He is far more likely to be absorbed in some ‘immigrant colony’ in New York or Pittsburg.

“He lives in about one-third of one room, and adds to the ever-increasing menace of foreign colonies with low standards of living and anti-American traits.

Crowd Into Industrial Centers

“Statistics show that nearly half of our total foreign-born population are crowded into the great industrial cities of the United States having a population of 1,000,000 or more, while only 23 per cent of our native whites of all types are found in these congested districts. The steady tide of the new immigration only adds to the congestion which is such an unfortunate tendency of our modern life, for the foreign-born city dwellers are in large proportion from these races.

“There is no assimilation to American standards and ideals, in the case of the great majority of the newer immigrants. Masses of human beings of inferior races, ignorant of all the ideals which Americans hold dear, are poured into our factories as so much raw material – and they are not ‘digested.’ The new immigrant comes here as a foreigner and he remains a foreigner – a citizen of a lower class, who, just as the negro, is a constant menace to the standards of civilization which Americans hold dear.

“Perhaps the best evidence of the failure of the recent immigrant to become assimilated is found in the widespread existence of immigrant colonies and immigrant communities throughout the United States. They may be found in every important city near the Atlantic seaboard – and to enter one of these districts is to feel as though one is in a section of another country which has been transplanted bodily into America.

(Continued on Page 7)

Many of our coal mining towns, our textile manufacturing centers, our steel towns, and others, are almost entirely made up of foreigners who have little claim to Americanism beyond the fact that they walk on American soil. In almost every other way they are foreign to American principles and political and social ideals.

Contrast Is Cited

“In contrast with the newer type of foreigners in the cities I am sure your mind will flash to the thousands of farming communities of this great Mississippi valley were so many English and Germans and Scandinavians settled in the earlier period and to which some of these nationalities still come.

“Russian Mennonites have also settled in a few farming localities of the west, and in New England and along the middle Atlantic coast foreigners are going into farming. There are half a million foreign-born farm operators in the country today, but most of them are here in this Upper Mississippi valley of ours and most of them of these older races. None are harder working or better farmers. A higher proportion of them owned their farms in 1920 – a higher proportion, I say, men owned their farms than in the case of our native farmers. And their farms averaged fifteen thousand dollars in value against eleven thousand dollars for the natives.

“It is the increasingly industrial character of our civilization that is congesting our cities and towns. The new type of foreigner is by no means to be held responsible for the problem. He simply adds to its intensity. The older immigrant, on the other hand, more often tending to go on to the land, was largely a counter-balancing factor. Where he settled in the city or town he was mainly a worker in the skilled occupations and trades rather than a common laborer or factory operative. In the twelve years from 1899 to 1910 nearly three times as high a proportion of the immigrants from northwestern Europe were men in skilled occupations than was the case among those coming from the rest of Europe. Few of them find their way to their slums.

“No, there is no doubt, my friends, that the newer stocks of immigrants contribute far more to our distinctive ‘city’ problems than do those other races that we have welcomed with such benefits to ourselves, to share in our heritage.

Standard of Living is Criterion

“The standard of living is perhaps the best criterion of the civilization of a nation, and we in America have prided ourselves on securing and maintaining a higher standard of living than any other country in the world.

The immigration commission made a very careful study of the standard of living of the different races of this country. As measuring this standard, it made comparisons of wages, of health and sanitary conditions, of crowding in tenement houses and the number of persons occupying a single room, of child labor and numerous other factors which serve to indicated the standard of living conditions. In each of the above-mentioned studies the new immigrant was found to exist on a far lower plane of living than even the lowest classes of our native-born. The great majority of Greeks, Italians, Slavs and Poles in this country live in a condition of poverty, congestion and dirt that is unbelievable to the average American.

“The great argument which is advanced for relaxation or our immigration bars at the present time is the economic one. It is said that we need immigrant labor for American industry; that we must have it if American industry is to develop, for we are being held back by an inadequate labor supply. Judge Gary of the United States Steel Corporation paints a pathetic picture of American business throttled and held down far below its capacity because of the scarcity of labor with which to operate – labor which would pour in from abroad without the asking, if we only gave it a chance.

“Do human beings exist simply in order to give labor power for industry? Such is the natural conclusion from Judge Gary’s argument. Rather, my friends, let it be said that industry exists in order that it may be the servant of humanity and that it may give organized opportunities for making a living to those human beings already here.

“If the gates were opened wide and all admitted, how long before the two great activities of industry would produce an oversupply with resulting curtailment, greater unemployment than we have known before and stagnation of industry?

Immigration Reduces Wages

“The inevitable economic law of diminishing returns teaches us that after a certain point the more men there are in any country the less each one gets, for the increase in the product of labor is not in proportion to increase in laborers.

“There is no such things as a permanent scarcity of labor. Industry soon adjusts itself to the actual supply of labor on hand, without diminution of the per capita return in wages of profits, and often with an increase in such return.

“Stated in plain terms, the demand of large manufacturers for immigrant labor at the present time is badly a demand for cheap labor. It is a demand for men who will accept work at wages below that which the American standard of living demands, for men who will work longer hours than American standards of health and comfort insist should constitute a day’s work; for men who will undermine the American standard of living, who will tend to break down the labor unions, who will work for a wage so small that the employing class can temporarily reap larger profits from their labor.

“But can not the employers see that, so far as their market is the home market and in most lines this is predominately the case, the buying power of the mass of the people is the support of the market? An impoverished people ca not buy what the employers produce. How vividly we saw that in the business depression of the last half of 1920 and the year 1921! The same principle is at work all the time, though not so clearly obvious. To the employing group as a whole, too cheap labor is a liability, not an asset. The ‘common welfare’ is not only an ideal, it has a practical value for our entire industrial and commercial life.

“Let us remember this all-important fact; as our immigrants of the present are, so shall out nation of the future be. The standard of living of these men will of necessity become the standard of living of American laborers of the future; just as we have seen that the physical and mental qualities of the immigrant become those of the nation of the next generation.

“And what kind of a political citizen does the new immigrant make in our American democracy? The chances are around three to one that he never becomes a citizen at all, for the percentage of southern Europeans who take out their naturalization papers is much smaller than that among the northern Europeans. Of Germans, Irish, Scandinavians, British, among us, from 70 to 75 per cent become citizens. Of Italians and Poles, less than 30 per cent. The immigration commission reported that only a little more than half of the newer immigrants ever learn even to speak the English language. How can they mingle in the discussions of American politics without it?

Read Foreign Language Papers

“No, if they read at all, they read a paper from our ever-growing foreign-language press; and for social fellowship they join some racial immigrant organization. Such conditions do not make the right kind of citizens of the United States.

“Suppose the Latin or Slavic immigrant does take out his naturalization papers and become an American citizen. In rare cases he may turn out to be one of the best we have, imbibing the true American spirit of i[n]dependence, of freedom from enslaving traditions, of conscious participations in the great objects of citizenship. But much more often he becomes an American only in name. His political interests and ideals are still those of the country from which he came; his views are molded by those of his fellow-immigrants and by the nationalistic and often anti-American foreign language paper which he reads.

“In national affairs he is a menace to free America; in state or civic affairs he tends to become the tool of the bosses. This is no fanciful picture, my friends, but a grave reality, which is evident in every election.

“It was the understanding on the part of the revolutionary patriots of 1776 that public affairs were paramountly important, that government was the all-important element in human life that made them ready to give everything , even their lives, to the enterprise of creating a new thing upon the earth – a government of, by and for the people, resting on their consent and organized to secure the common welfare. That is the kind of Americans we should be. Too far, God knows – and you all know – have American citizens fallen below that high ideal of patriotism. Ours is a movement to regain those heights of understanding and devotion. Will a continued flood tide of these newer immigrants help us?

Can Not Ignore Fundamental Facts

“Italy produced her Garibaldi; Poland her Kosciusko; Athens of old, names that will shine through all time. But those who are coming to us in these modern days from those regions of the earth are not as they.

“There is one more argument frequently given for unrestricted immigration which remains to be considered. This is the sentimental appeal, often advanced, that America should hold her gates always open to the poor and oppressed of every land. Naturally this argument makes a strong appeal to freedom-loving Americans whose hearts go out in sympathy to the aspirations of the less fortunate across the ocean.

“But it can have no place in determining the immigration policy to be followed today. We can not afford to ignore the fundamental fact that to admit the oppressed of other lands today would operate, in the not distant future, only to work worse oppression on our own citizens. To the people already in America we owe a greater duty and one which we can not ignore. Further than this, it is extremely doubtful whether permitting the unrestricted flow if immigrants would be of real benefit, either to the immigrants themselves of the countries from which they come. By allowing the discontented millions of Europe and Asia to emigrate here now are we likely to help in any way the coming of political and social reforms in Armenia, in Russia or in Turkey? There mere stating of the problem from this point of view is sufficient to show the false basis of altruism on which the so-called sentimental argument is resting.

“No, my friends, there is no escape from a rigid selective restriction of immigration at the present time, if we are to maintain America as a healing light to the nations of the world.

Rigid Restriction Necessary

“If a way can be found to admit immigrants if the higher types, while the others are excluded, America may be benefited and not harmed; but the great army of unfit must be excluded at any cost. Rigid selection of the fit, rigid restriction of the unfit. This is the only immigration policy which can save America today. Any other policy will work inevitable destruction to what may be called the ‘American race,” the American ideal of social, economic and political life.

“The problem confronts us now as never before. The next Congress must adopt a permanent immigration law to take the place of the so-called three per cent law, which automatically expires next June, and this legislation will have to run the gauntlet of a powerful and organized lobby, headed by the largest manufacturing interests of the country.

“It is a grave responsibility which is faced today by these representatives and senators who are soon to decide on a permanent immigration policy for the United States. The effect of their decision is not for the next few months or years, but for the future generations. It was the thoughtless importation of American slaves in the early days of the republic that later brought on a Civil War which all but rent this nation in twain, and which leaves a heritage in the form of a negro problem today that is a constant stumbling block in national progress. So the unchecked importation now of hordes of southern Europeans will bring its inevitable harvest in fearfully deteriorating the character of the American nation of the future. The immigration policy which we adopt today will not produce its vital effects at once; these will come a generation or two later, and the American citizenship, American standards or living and American qualities of manhood and womanhood of that time will be largely dependent upon the character of the racial stock that today we permit to become the percentage of the nation.

Americans Must Rally

“Every true American must rally to the colors in this struggle to save America – a struggle perhaps even more serious than that between the states in the Civil War, because its insidiousness and concealed nature make the danger less apparent. The fate of the American nation today hangs in the balance just as truly as during the great battle of Gettysburg sixty years ago.

Reflection Questions and Teaching Suggestions

It is essential that students recognize that the Klan’s newspaper, the Fiery Cross, was not intended as objective journalism. It was published as a tool to disseminate the Klan’s perspective and promote their racist and xenophobic vision. The questions and activities below are intended to build an understanding of the role the Klan played in the 1920s in shaping attitudes about immigration, encourage reflection on the way that Klan sought to promote their ideas, as well as consider why so many people found their racist ideas appealing.

Consider using the following thinking routines to frame a close read of the document itself:

Consider using the following thinking routines to encourage reflection and communication about the resource including the perspectives and insights that students bring to the document and take away from their close read. Recognizing that not all of us bring the same perspective and experiences to a study of anti-immigrant racism and its influence on policy, it is extremely important to encourage thoughtful communication across differences. You might begin by either reinforcing any contract you have set up for communication or creating one now. The following routines might be helpful for creating respectful dialogue and reflection:

Source Citation: “Immigration Is Periling America: Grand Dragon Speaks Before Coal Miners,” Fiery Cross (Indianapolis), September 21, 1923, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.