After a long career as the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Lynchburg, Robert “Cap’n Bob” Yancey’s wife suggested that thirty-four years in that position was long enough and he should retire. But Yancey had been the State’s attorney “for so long that he considered the office his own prerogative.”
In his 1925 re-election bid the regeneration of the Ku Klux Klan became an important issue: that regeneration since 1915 was the result of New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt’s “100% Americanism,” increased foreign immigration since the 1880s, and Woodrow Wilson’s war and its intense anti-German propaganda.
The original late -1860s Ku Klux Klan was a defensive reaction to the Republican party’s Union League intimidation and voter-suppression activities in the immediate postwar. It had no official flag and disbanded in 1869 after Union League activities diminished. Later incarnations of the Klan bore little if any resemblance to the original.
“Wolves Snapping at the Throat of Democracy”
“Nobody thought Father could be elected in 1925 because, in that year, the candidate who opposed him had the support of the Ku Klux Klan. And Father scorned the Ku Klux Klan with the most outspoken contempt.
“Anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti Negro!” said my father scathingly. “Why don’t they reduce it to a summary and conclusion and call it anti-Christ!” My father could not fight the Ku Klux Klan hard enough to suit himself. It was an insult to the South that the name Ku Klux Klan had been revived.
Historically, it had been necessary. The only purpose of its existence had been the protection of a defenseless people during a period of national madness. It had been disbanded by its own members as soon as the necessity for it was at an end. It was an insult to the memory of those first, desperate Klansmen that the name should now be made to stand for boycotting the rights of our best American citizens.
Whenever my mother would hear of the things that Father was broadcasting against the Ku Klux Klan, she would shake her head. “If you father really wants to win this election,” she would say, “he had better stop his bitter attacks upon the Ku Klux Klan. The temper of the working people has gradually been changing since the World War. The working classes are tired of paternalism in politics: the people of this new generation want things in their own hands. A good many of them take the Klan seriously. Your father shouldn’t antagonize them in this way.”
My father had a very devoted friend named Mr. Thomas Welch . . . [who was] disturbed about Father’s lack of restraint in his criticism of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Cap’n Bob,” he said, with genuine concern written all over his broad honest face, “Cap’n Bob, sir, I know just exactly how you feel – but you can’t keep this up and be elected. “Taint like it was during Prohibition. The people is different now. The gossip is that a man can’t git nowhere in politics without the Ku Klux backs him. I don’t ask you not to dislike them. I just ask you not to dislike ‘em so loud. If you keep a little quieter I think we can git you elected.”
“Ku Klux!” snorted my father unsubmissively. “Ku Klux! Wolves in sheet clothing! Wolves snapping at the throat of democracy,” said my father in a voice that made my backbone tingle . . . “Well, I won’t keep quiet. The damned thing is too wrong in principle. I won’t be hushed up – elected or not elected: I’ll just be damned if I will.”
And father did continue to give the Ku Klux a fit. And much to everybody’s surprise, he was elected in 1925.”
(The Vanishing Virginian, Rebecca Yancey Williams, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1940, excerpts pp. 265-269)