Limits of the Oligarchy's Campaign
The anti-Klan campaign mounted by Alabama's oligarchy had definite limitations. There were problems with having oligarchs speak for common Alabamians. Grover Hall and company, however loudly they decried Klan atrocities, did not represent many of the plain folk upon whom the Klan depended for support, acceptance, and the occasional acquittal. Patrician resistance, in the eyes of many Alabamians, was also imbued with the ambition of the planter/industrialist clique to regain political ascendance in a state its members had long considered their own.
Perhaps the most obvious difficulty was a racial double standard. White victims just seemed to count more than blacks. County and state prosecutors, in the rare instances when they did prosecute floggers, usually targeted those who had attacked whites. The Klan extortionists of Arthur Hitt's farm never came to trial, nor did the Marengo County floggers who killed Luman Greathouse or the murderers of Lily Cobb. The Kluxers who lashed black doctors for treating white patients also escaped justice. The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading black newspaper, addressed the problem of color blindness. "In reality [ Alabama] is awakening only in the cases of white people who have been flogged," the paper pointed out, but the "Negro still remains the [ultimate] test of American justice, chivalry, and fair play. When he is treated squarely . . . , then everyone is sure of justice."1
Incidents that seemed certain to become disasters for the Klan had a strange way of turning out rather well. Much of the reason may have been the oligarchy's tendency to overstate the successes and popular bases of its anti-Klan crusade. If the planter/industrialist press was to be believed in 1927, for example, James Esdale's fall from grace was a foregone conclusion. Schisms, scandals, and lawsuits had rocked the Klan leader. Rumors