The Bates College baseball team once played against the Ku Klux Klan (and won)

The Bates College baseball team practicing on Rand Field in Lewiston in 1882. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

At least two New England baseball teams playing in the game’s early post-Civil War days apparently had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

One of them, in Bangor, was explicitly called the “Ku Klux Klan Base Ball Club”, while the other, in Gorham, New Hampshire, played “KKK’s”.

In the most explicit account of one of their games, the Lewiston Evening Journal describes a July 4 victory by the Bates College baseball team at Gorham in 1877.

That day, the Bates team crippled the KKK by the lopsided score of 28-4.

Challenge launched by the Ku Klux Klan Base Ball Club in Bangor in May 1868. BAngor Daily Whig and Courier

The Bangor team, which existed in 1868, published an advertisement in the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier challenging the Katahdin Base Ball Club of Hamden to a game. It is unclear if the Hamden club agreed.

A month later, perhaps having trouble playing ball while wearing sheets and balaclavas, the “Ku Klux Klan Base Ball Club” decided to change its name to Omega Base Ball Club, according to a brief report. in the Bangor newspaper on June 23. .

There is remarkably little indication that the KKK operated in New England in the years it emerged in the defeated South shortly after the Civil War as a covert vigilante group that targeted newly freed black Americans and their allies.

While the KKK flourished in New England during its revival in the 1920s, spurred in large part by hatred of Catholics and immigrants, its presence decades earlier went largely unnoticed.

One historian who has taken note of KKK teams is Ryan A. Swanson in his 2014 book When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime.

An 1879 photograph of the Bates baseball team. At least one player pictured, whose last name was Sanborn, likely played against the KKK years earlier. He is on the far right of the last row. Sanborn had two hits in five at bats as Bates’ right fielder against the KKK. Bates College Muskie Archives Photo and Audio Collections

Swanson, a professor at the University of New Mexico, mentioned in the book that the KKK “provided perhaps the most extreme and direct association” that a club could rely on to show its desire to separate. black and white Americans.

Swanson discovered that KKK baseball clubs existed after the Civil War in a handful of states, including Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, New York, New Hampshire and Maine.

He said the short newspaper accounts that mentioned the teams at the time rarely contained any criticism of their names. But, he said, Ku Klux Klan clubs have clearly “sent a message to black players” of their exclusion.

It’s unclear whether the KKK baseball teams in Maine or New Hampshire did anything other than play games. The crew members do not appear to have attempted to conceal their identities since at least some of them were featured in the sheet music boxes and advertising.

The Journal story of the Bates game in 1877 bore no trace of criticism. While Bates College was one of the nation’s first racially inclusive colleges, graduating its first black student in 1874, it’s unclear if there were any black players on the team when it beat the KKK this year.

The newspaper said the nine college players called the trip to Gorham “the most enjoyable trip they have ever enjoyed in connection with baseball.”

Alpine House in Gorham, New Hampshire, in the 1800s. Robert J. Girouard Collection

A man named Milliken “entertained them in the best possible way at the Alpine House” in Gorham, according to the newspaper, and “the citizens kindly volunteered to pay the expenses of the club and also of the families, as several ladies went to help make the occasion enjoyable.

The newspaper said: “The KKKs played yesterday were nine selected” from Oxford County in Maine and Coos County in New Hampshire.

“They have good baseball gear, but they couldn’t stand out because they weren’t used to playing together,” the Journal said.

An attached box score named the players on each team and noted that the Klan team had made 17 errors before getting beaten up.

The KKK have existed for at least four years.

An 1875 story in the Essex County Herald in Island Pond, Vermont, stated that the team had last played the Lancaster Stars two years earlier when their game was called off after the fourth inning due to a rain storm.

When the KKK won the 1875 game, the Vermont newspaper said in its next issue, they were greeted on their return to Gorham with a gun salute and dinner at a fancy restaurant.

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