How FDR avoided Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s Ku Klux Klan scandal

How FDR avoided Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s Ku Klux Klan scandal
Hugo Black featured in a 1937 newsreel

After Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Justice Hugo Black to the Supreme Court, it was revealed that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

While this fact is vastly diminished in history books, Black’s involvement in the KKK was confirmed by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalist Ray Sprigle, a journalist who won a “Pulitzer Prize for Reporting” for his exposé. As an aside, Ray Sprigle was tragically killed in a car accident in 1957.

One curriculum for fourth graders, for example, refers students to a book that concludes that “Black’s joining of the KKK was politically progressive and personally ethical…”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who endorsed Alfred E. Smith at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, also known as the “klanbake,” and who snubbed black American Olympian Jesse Owens, allegedly responded to Hugo Black’s KKK membership with a “war scare.”

Hugo Black

At a press conference on Sept 14 1937, FDR said,

I know only what I have read in the newspapers…Mr. Justice Black is abroad. Until such time as he returns there is no further comment to be made.” [Emphasis added]

On Sept 21 1937, FDR was again asked about Hugo Black’s involvement in the Ku Klux Klan during a press conference. Five minutes of the conversation were left unrecorded “per instruction.”

On September 21, 1937, Hugo Black was “besieged” by reporters.

He said,

“If I make any statement it will be in a way the people can hear me and understand what I have to say, and not have to depend on some parts of the press which might fail to report all I have to say.”

On October 1, 1937, Hugo Black made a statement over the radio. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “fifty million listeners heard the unprecedented speech.” In it, Black admitted to having been in the Klan.

Black said in part,

“I later resigned [the Ku Klux Klan]. I never rejoined. What appeared then or what appears now on the records of the organization, I do not know. I have never considered and I do not now consider the unsolicited card given to me shortly after my nomination to the Senate as a membership of any kind in the Ku Klux Klan. I never used it. I did not even keep it.”

He continued,

“I have among my friends many members of the colored race….Some of my best and most intimate friends are Catholics and Jews…”

Black ended his statement,

“When this statement is ended, my discussion of the question is closed.”

On October 5, 1937, FDR delivered his “Quarantine Speech,” where he proclaimed that “the very foundations of civilization are seriously threatened…”

The speech was criticized by Percy Crosby, an influential author and cartoonist, who wrote, “[T]here is nothing so dependable as a rousing, good war to keep a ‘president’ in the White House.”

As an aside, although this author has not fully explored this, there are some serious questions that need to be answered about Percy Crosby’s life; as he was subject to repeated IRS audits and spent the last 16 years of his life in a mental institution for claiming that the IRS and FBI were harassing him for political reasons.

The below cartoon implies that a “war scare” was being used to cover up the Hugo Black scandal, among other scandals, such as an “unbalanced budget.”

Hugo Black4

Listen to FDR’s fear-mongering “Quarantine Speech” here (begins around 8:55):

On October 6, 1937, FDR was asked if he had “any communication” with Justice Black about his involvement with the KKK. FDR said “none at all.” When a reporter reminded FDR about his prior statement (above, on Sept. 14) that “Until such time as he [Black] returns there is no further comment to be made,” FDR responded “Well, there isn’t any comment.” Referring to his previous statement, the reporter persisted, “That probably implied that there would be, did it not?”

FDR responded,

“No. It strongly implied that there was a possibility, that is all: not that there would be. I know my English.”

On October 8, 1937, a reporter asked FDR if he was planning on meeting with Justice Hugo Black. FDR responded, “No.”

"The Activist Supreme Court" Time features Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black
“The Activist Supreme Court” Time features Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black

The scandal eventually was overshadowed by World War II, and Hugo Black went on to reintroduce America to the long-dormant phrase “separation of church and state,” twisting it’s meaning. Black also wrote the majority opinion that deemed internment camps in the United States constitutional in 1944.

As an aside, in 1945, speaking of a Japanese soldier who lost his life defending America, then-Captain Ronald Reagan said,

“Blood that has soaked into the sand of a beach is all one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way, an ideal.”

The Japanese faced discrimination even after they returned home by groups “such as the American Legion, Native Sons of the Gold West, and labor unions…”

Black served on the Supreme Court until 1971, and died at the ripe old age of 85. In the New York Times obituary, the author glossed over his involvement in the KKK, saying that he was “vilified as a Ku Klux Klanner after taking his seat in 1937,” and despite his support of Japanese Internment camps, the obituary claimed that Black was a “champion of civil rights and liberties.”

The article gushed that Black’s “liberal philosophy influenced the Supreme Court through 34 years of social change…” and continued,

“A stanch New Dealer in the Senate, Mr. Black supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘court- packing’ plan, designed to overcome the ‘nine old men,’ a majority of whom were striking down the President’s anti-Depression legislation.”

Speaking of the Ku Klux Klan, a word on Woodrow Wilson

The Ku Klux Klan persecuted black Americans and their white Republican advocates, along with Catholics and Jewish people. The Ku Klux Klan enjoyed a “resurgence” in 1915, thanks mainly to the film, “The Birth of a Nation,” which was based on Thomas Dixon’s “The Clansman.” Thomas Dixon was a “longtime political supporter, friend and former classmate of [Woodrow] Wilson’s at Johns Hopkins University.”

Woodrow Wilson screened “The Birth of a Nation” in the White House. He was quoted in the film from his own book, A History of the American People.

In his book, Wilson wrote:

“The white men of the South were aroused by the mere instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes and conducted in the interest of adventurers.”

Catholics, represented by Saint Patrick, are being chased away from America by the Ku Klux Klan in the below 1926 cartoon, for, among other reasons, being “intolerant.”

In this 1926 cartoon the Ku Klux Klan chases the Roman Catholic Church, personified by St. Patrick, from the shores of America. Among the "snakes" are various supposed negative attributes of the Church, including superstition, union of church and state, control of public schools, and intolerance.
In this 1926 cartoon the Ku Klux Klan chases the Roman Catholic Church, personified by St. Patrick, from the shores of America. Among the “snakes” are various supposed negative attributes of the Church, including superstition, union of church and state, control of public schools, and intolerance.

President Woodrow Wilson also detained German “Aliens” and Americans during WWI. Austrians were spared.

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, as well as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, despite their racism and Constitution shredding, are painted as heroes by progressives to this day.

Renee Nal

Renee Nal

Renee Nal is a co-founder of TavernKeepers.com, a news and political commentary site founded by former Glenn Beck interns. She is also the National Conservative Examiner. Renee is an associate producer for Trevor Loudon's political documentary, 'The Enemies Within.'


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