History can sometimes be very messy, with dark chapters that take decades to sort out. Lafayette’s history is no exception.
Recent discoveries related to the Ku Klux Klan activities of town founder Mary Miller’s descendants have so sullied her legacy — and the Miller name — to the point that it should not be used to recognize anything — a street, a neighborhood or a housing development.
Digital cataloging of records and documents from the past 100 years have brought to light significant racial discrimination in Lafayette in the 1920s and 1930s via Ku Klux Klan activities promoted by Mary Miller’s grandsons, Frank and Fay Miller.
Though historically appreciated and venerated, Lafayette and Mary Miller embodied the mid-1800s white race entitlement spelled out in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Although Lafayette Miller did not participate in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, his longtime friends did, including the Granville Berkley and Morse Coffin. The basic white supremacy tenets of wholesomeness, temperance and purity fostered by pioneers carried forward into the early 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan emerged in Colorado.
From July 4, 1923, when the Lafayette Klavern was initiated, until 1936 there is a clear association and crossover of local KKK membership with the town board, the school board, the volunteer fire department, faculty at the high school, the school parent-teacher association, the Lions Club and the Lafayette Methodist Church. The Ku Klux Klan newspaper Rocky Mountain American, published in Boulder from January 1925 to July 1925, featured a weekly section on Lafayette Klan activity and is a good resource in connecting the dots.
At the time, Denver-area Methodist Churches were supported by the Pillar of Fire (POF) organization, founded in 1901 by former Erie, Colorado resident POF Bishop Alma Bridwell White, who rose to national prominence by promoting (from the pulpit) antisemitism and white supremacy. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Bishop White sharpened her hate-filled rhetorical skills in East Boulder County churches and venues, and found our area to be a receptive breeding ground for white supremacy. The Lafayette Methodist Church was founded in 1894 as a result of several Lafayette revival meetings hosted by Alma White and her husband, Kent. In her POF leadership role, Alma White promoted, funded and provided meeting space for local and state KKK chapters. POF owned property in Lafayette, where the 2nd Methodist Church was built at Harrison and Baseline. POF also ran a missionary out of the old boarding house on East Simpson Street.
Locally, the KKK regularly visited and donated funds to the Methodist church. Its pastor, Rev. J.C.B. Hopkins, openly supported the KKK and co-hosted KKK recruiting events at the Union Hall featuring Klan members from Denver, Boulder and Longmont.
Mary Miller formed the anti-saloon Citizens ticket political party in the 1890s, but the movement went dormant in about 1916. After she died in 1921, Frank Miller and other KKK members reconstituted the Citizens ticket name. Frank Miller was elected to the town board in the 1920s running on the Citizens ticket but was unsuccessful in a run for mayor. Mayors Lee Baker, Robert Johnson and Harry Grief were members of the Citizens ticket, as was prominent Citizens ticket member Logan Ross, a card-carrying and registered Colorado KKK member. He’s listed in the KKK’s state membership roster at History Colorado in Denver. Ross was elected to the town board and the local school board.
Ray Burt is also registered as a KKK member on the state membership roster. His wife, Edith, was leader of the all-white parent-teacher association, which she helped re-launch in 1935. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Johnson and Mr. and Mrs. Logan Ross had leadership roles in the organization.
The late Sally Martinez identified Lee Baker as a KKK member in a 1990 oral history discussion. Mayors Ben Cundall and Dr. James Braden were members of the Taxpayers ticket, the group that fought to keep the KKK-affiliated Citizens ticket from power.
Frank Miller is associated with the KKK via his membership and affiliation with the Citizens ticket, the volunteer fire department, the parent-teacher association, the Lions Club and the Lafayette Methodist Church.
Fay Miller, who died in 1930, belonged to the volunteer fire department and was a known KKK member because of the identifiable white horse that he rode during KKK parades in Lafayette. In oral history tapes, his nephew, Ralph Clinton Miller Jr., and Ralph’s wife, Welcome (Henning) Miller, both acknowledge Fay as a KKK member.
As documented in 1933 and 1934, Lafayette mayor Harry Grief and the majority Citizens town board conspired with the volunteer fire department to exclude Latinos from the newly opened Lafayette swimming pool. Gatekeepers from the volunteer fire department, standing in front of a “White Trade Only” sign, denied entry to Rose Lueras and at least a dozen other Latino citizens.
Rose’s lawsuit and brave fight against racism was documented recently by Frank Archuleta. His hard work is appreciated and I wholeheartedly support his efforts to rename “The Miller.”
(Editor’s note: This posting was a July 2020 letter composed by Doug Conarroe in support of Frank Archuleta’s efforts to rename an apartment complex in Lafayette. It was updated November 2020 to add detailed information about Alma Bridwell White. Information in the post is garnered from multiple periodicals including the Lafayette Leader and the Rocky Mountain American, a newspaper published in 1925 by the Boulder, Colorado KKK Klavern. Most of the information is excerpted from the upcoming book “Lost Lafayette, Colorado” due for release in March 2021.)