George Lawson Challenges the Klan

[Between 2009 and 2011, I maintained a TypePad blog, “More Fiends,” intended to update my book Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines. Those posts can still be found in the archive.org Wayback Machine, but I stopped updating that site in 2011. Because this WordPress site promotes and updates all my books, I’d like to republish some of those earlier posts.]

Posted 11/23/2009:

New digitized runs of the Trenton Times offer many details on George Lawson’s self-aggrandizing campaign against the Monmouth County Ku Klux Klan. As mentioned in my book, Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines, George’s public tirades against the Klan were met with threats and intimidation by the local KKK. They marched outside his residence, broke up his public sermons, attempted an unauthorized arrest of Lawson, and let it be known that they were planning to tar and feather him. These tactics had silenced other critics, but George just used them to garner more publicity for his defiance. When George announced he was running for Congress (he later switched to the Governor race), the editorial section of the Trenton Timesnoted on Jan. 24, 1925:

” Mr. Lawson has announced his candidacy and says he will make his campaign on a platform the principal planks in which will be opposition to the Ku Klux Klan and advocacy of a modification to the Volstead Act in order to eliminate bootlegging and rum-running [Lawson favored legal beer and wine sales, but not hard liquor]. In a contest in which the [other] candidates attempt to dodge those issues, Mr. Lawson ought to get many votes. He is at least honest and fearless.”

Er… perhaps we should say that this editorial judgment suffered from a lack of historical context. They were, at best, half-right.

After months of more skirmishes, George showed exactly how to deal with bullies. Via the newspaper, Lawson challenged Arthur Bell, the King Kleagle of the New Jersey realm of the KKK, to a ten-round fight under Marquis of Queensbury rules. The loser would have to leave New Jersey. When George made this challenge, he was a 61-year old man in poor health, with bad eyesight and a body that likely had been ravaged by alcohol abuse and VD. He was two years away from his death. Arthur Bell declined the challenge, weakly responding that if anyone left the State, it would be Lawson. (Trenton Times, June 24, 1925).

Disappointed by the lack of support for his anti-Klan campaign that he was receiving from Protestant churches in Monmouth County,  street-evangelist Lawson decided to make a remarkable announcement:

Explained Lawson, “I prefer taking my chances with the Immaculate Conception doctrine than with the ‘Fiery Cross’ absurdity.”

In seeking support from Catholics, George decided to go straight to the top, as the Trenton Times of Aug. 5, 1925 reveals:

…I will never tire of George Lawson stories…

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