Sunday, August 14, 2011
A Look into Paul Lindner's Association with the KKK
Below is a follow-up to the previous post, and discusses in more detail the activities of Paul W. F Lindner, a man who was instrumental in the founding of Malverne.
The issue of race relations on Long Island in the 1920s is a complex topic, one which deserves a separate and more extensive study. On its surface, there was undoubtedly a large contingent of White Long Islanders in the '20s who were racists, though historians continue to debate how widespread this racism actually was. What is clear is that the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan was gaining popularity across the Island.
1924 was a volatile year in the history of race relations in America. Eugenics and White Supremacy were widely-held and normative beliefs. The Immigration Act of 1924 severely restricted the number of foreigners who were allowed to immigrate to the US. Here on Long Island that summer, the Ku Klux Klan was riding a wave of momentum that had been building over the previous year or two, and they made their presence felt with their cross-burnings and parades throughout the area. It is estimated that 1 out of every 8 Long Islanders in the 1920s belonged to the KKK. If that statistic seems hard to believe, consider that in 1923 the population of LI at the time hovered just above 200,000, while the KKK comfortably counted 20,000 among their ranks. Add to this their claim that year that they had been recruiting 800 people per week and the 1 in 8 statistic becomes easier to comprehend.
To be sure, the Western Long Island version of the KKK movement of the 1920s did not seem to possess the same kind of firebranded and violent fervor as it did in the deep South. A common refrain of local KKK members in press interviews of that time was, "We are not anti-Black or anti-Jew, but rather pro-America". Nevertheless, if nothing else, the movement did have the effect of scaring the daylights out of Blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities. The Klan's recruitment efforts on LI was indeed impressive, and the person most responsible for that recruiting success was none other than Paul W. F. Lindner, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan (pictured in the photo above, as indicated by the caption).
Locally, KKK activities in Malverne can be traced back to March 1924 and is tied-in to the very beginnings of village government. In 1922 a son of Irish Catholic immigrants and WWI veteran named Geoffrey J. O'Flynn ran against E. J. Christopher for Malverne Village President (back then the office of Mayor was referred to as President). Christopher had been elected in Dec. 1920 as Malverne's first ever president of the village. The 1922 election resulted in the closest vote in the history of the village, with 69 votes for O'Flynn and 69 votes for Christopher. The tie-breaking decision was then sent to the village trustees who chose the challenger over the incumbent, much to the chagrin of his opponents, particularly those who would go on to join the KKK. Two years later, when O'Flynn was soundly defeated by a 30% margin by George McIntosh, KKK members planted two 15-foot tall burning crosses in celebration, one at the Malverne railroad station, and the second at the Paul Lindner farm, a half-mile north on Hempstead Avenue. At Lindner's place they also set off a large explosion of dynamite that blew a hole in the ground "big enough to hold an automobile truck", and in the process, almost killed six of Norwood Hook & Ladder's bravest who rushed to the scene to extinguish the burning cross. When legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell made his off-the-cuff remark during the summer of 1977 that "the Bronx is burning", he seemed to encapsulate the tumultuous convergence of events that transpired in New York City that summer. Perhaps we can similarly refer to the turbulent year of 1924 as a time when "Malverne was burning". For the KKK that year, things were just getting started.
In July, A Jewish druggist named Ernest S. Louis was accused of improperly touching a 13 year-old girl while she was shopping in his Freeport drugstore for perfume. An inquest was made but no charges were filed for lack of evidence. Late on the night of August 15th, the KKK decided to take matters into their own hands by barging into Louis' store and threatening him, giving him ten days to move his family out of Freeport. Louis defied the Klan's order and sure enough, on August 26th, a group of Klansmen kidnapped the druggist. (No doubt, fresh in people's minds was the kidnapping and lynching of Leo Frank by the KKK in Georgia a decade earlier. That incident garnered national attention and spurred the creation of the Anti-Defamation League). The story was a sensation in the press and had many people on edge, wondering about the fate of Louis. The following day Louis turned up in a Mineola hotel, unharmed, but rattled. One of the perpetrators was later identified and arrested, but charges were eventually dropped. As a local Klan leader, Paul Lindner forswore any knowledge of the planning involved in the kidnapping.
One would think that notoriety from that incident might have put a damper on Klan activities. However, if anything, the opposite was true. The following month, on Saturday Sept. 20, Lindner organized in Freeport perhaps the largest Klan parade to ever take place on Long Island. Though Lindner had hoped to see 5,000 march at the event, the New York Times estimated that a total of 2,000 marched in the parade while 30,000 spectators came to watch. Following the parade, a women's KKK rally was held where 8,000 faithful turned up.
Lindner's open leadership in the Klan did not seem to negatively affect his standing in the local community. In 1926 he founded the Malverne Bank and served as its president for the next five years, until he moved to Suffolk County. During his presidency, in 1927, he paid $27,000 for the lot on the corner of Hempstead Ave. and Nottingham Rd. for the future location of the bank, an astonishing amount at that time. He has a street in Malverne named after him and, by extension, an elementary school. But then again, the '20s was a completely different era wherein its historical realities cannot be understood through the lenses of today's sensibilities. Some have argued that given Lindner's nefarious past, serious consideration should be given to changing the name of his namesake school and street. Time will tell whether this will eventually happen.