Article “Just Wearing Different Clothes – Ku Klux Klan”

Mar 3, 2024

It was on this date 89-years ago that members of the Ku Klux Klan were running wild and free in southern Ontario hiding behind their white hoods as they openly attacked Blacks and other visible minorities.
The town of Oakville on what would be Black History Month made national news, when on February 28, 1930 some 75 hooded Klansmen openly burned a cross on a main street to prevent the impending marriage of a Black man to one of their local white women.
Oakville then had a population of about 4,000 residents; including an estimated 40 Blacks, who were descendants of U.S. slaves who had arrived in Canada on the Underground Railroad.
The KKK had waited until Ira Junius Johnson, then 37, and a Canadian army veteran, and his fiancee, Isabella Jones, had returned from a trip to Toronto to obtain a marriage permit.

The mob marched to a Kerr St. home where the couple were staying. There they separated the lovers and took Johnson away. The WW1 veteran could do little to comfort his soon-to-be wife, who was taken in another vehicle for “treatment” by the Salvation Army.
Johnson had paid his dues. He was one of 2,000 Blacks who were accepted into non-segregated sections of the military. He was in the 9th Canadian Machine Gun Company during the Battle of Passchendaele and fought in the Hundred Days Offensive that ended WW1 in 1918, during which he suffered a shrapnel wound to his leg.
That night he, his horrified aunt and uncle, were driven by the Klan to a Head St. house and forced to watch as a second cross was burned in his yard.
The vet was warned if he was ‘seen walking down the street with a white woman again, he would be dealt with,’ according to news reports.
As the Klansmen returned to Hamilton, they were stopped by Oakville police Chief David Kerr, who recognized some as prominent businessmen and let them go. Kerr was at the cross-burning earlier and declared “no crime had been committed.”
The coverage of the incident by the Toronto Daily Star and Globe and Mail were sympathetic to the Klan at first, but outrage by the Black community turned public opinion against them.

It turned out that Jones mother, Annie, had called on the Klan for help after admitting she had failed to break up the bi-racial couple. She then asked Oakville police to intervene but they said their hands were tied because Isabel was an adult.
Due to pressure from the Black community in Toronto, church groups, some brave politicians and public figures, an investigation by the Attorney General of Ontario was launched and the instigators behind the racist incident were charged and convicted in Canada’s first prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan.
“There was a strong feeling against the marriage which the young girl and the negro had planned,” Oakville’s then mayor, J.B. Moat, told the Star. “Personally I think the Ku Klux Klan acted quite properly in the matter. The feeling in the town is generally against such a marriage”
The A-G’s probe led to charges being laid on March 7 against three pillars of the community, who included the town’s chiropractor William E. Phillips, his assistant Harold Orme and Hamilton Presbyterian Church pastor Ernest Taylor, a police interpreter.
Charges were dropped against Orme and Taylor, while Phillips was slapped with a $50 fine due to the huge respect he carried in the community.
Community leaders were outraged by the outrageous fine and demanded further legal action. Johnson’s home was also mysteriously burned down at the time and no was ever arrested for that.
There was an appeal of the sentence, which Chief Justice Sir William Mulock called “a travesty of justice,” before sentencing Phillips to three-months in jail.
The couple were finally married on March 24, 1930 and had two children and a happy life. Johnson died in 1966.

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