Federal-State Interaction in the 1940S
Alabama's 1949 rash of Klan violence provoked many responses. Reaction came from the federal government, elite Alabama, and the nation at large. Whatever the particular source, the interplay between national criticism, federal involvement, and state reaction to the Klan continued to be strong.
The Bessemer Girl Scout raid planted the first seeds of possible federal intervention in the mind of U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark. During the summer of 1948, Clark had discussed the possibility of Justice Department involvement in Alabama with the national director of the Girl Scouts. The next summer, as reports of the state's epidemic Klan violence reached his desk, Clark decided to act. He ordered an FBI probe into Alabama and placed the KKK on the department's list of subversive groups.1 Buoyed by the hope of federal interference in Alabama, the Tuskegee Civic Association also called for a congressional probe. To their astonishment, its leaders had their prayers answered. Led by Brooklyn Democrat Emmanuel Cellar, a House subcommittee launched an official inquiry into Alabama's KKK situation.2
National support for the congressional action was plentiful. A Gadsden native, transplanted to Philadelphia, concluded that if Alabama"can't stop the Klan, then we'll see what the Federal Government can do."Commonweal's national editors also chimed in: "Unfortunately this kind of violence is not new, and as yet the South has not demonstrated that Klanism is a local crime which it has in hand. If now Alabama is ready . . . [to] enforce adequate laws, there need be no federal interference. . . . If not, federally