Dear Editor,

It is difficult to think about citizens marching in our streets wearing the sheets and hoods of the Klan and burning crosses next to the courthouse square, but perhaps it's time to stop pretending it didn't happen. It’s time to stop worrying about being embarrassed by the actions of family or neighbors who, for a variety of reasons, joined this white supremacist movement in our hometown in the 1920s. It’s time to make Klan records discovered over two decades ago open to the public.

When I first heard about the discovery of the Klan records, I also read why membership lists had been restricted. Despite the fact that those on the membership list were long dead, many advocated these rolls, which had been found along with various KKK paraphernalia in a steamer trunk in a barn be burned. Luckily, the records weren’t burned, but they were locked away from the public.

Local historians argued that these Klan records weren’t a true reflection of Noblesville or its history. The years of the Klan’s heyday in our town were an aberration. And they most certainly didn’t have anything to do with the Noblesville of today. They argued we wouldn't understand the nature of the 1920s Klan. 

We were told, "The Klan was really very different then,” and that only those with a legitimate interest should view these records because as county historian David Heighway put it, there "are not really many people who would understand what this means.” I hear this echoed in Paula Dunn’s March 1, 2019 assessment that nothing can be gained from lifting restrictions on these records. I couldn't disagree more. It’s much easier to view intolerance in the abstract and feel like we’ve moved beyond it. 

Finding the names of family members on the Klan rolls was not a proud moment. If the Klan were made up of anonymous individuals, then it would be something that could stay safely locked away in our past. Until we move past sanitizing history, it is difficult to seriously study the Klan’s role in our county. Protecting residents from potential embarrassment caused by long dead family members might sound like a noble sentiment; however, by hiding our heads in the sand, we allow history to pass without learning anything. At the time of the records’ discovery, many had expected that Noblesville would have to face up to its history of intolerance, but I haven’t seen evidence that this taking stock has occurred.

-John Sutton, former Noblesville resident. John now lives in Sheridan, Wyoming