The Ku Klux Klan Existed In Buffalo

February 23, 2012 Updated Feb 23, 2012 at 4:08 PM EDT

By WKBW News

February 23, 2012 Updated Feb 23, 2012 at 4:08 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY ( WKBW ) It is a little known bit of Buffalo history. More than 90 years ago, the Buffalo area was home to a large chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

Documents about the history of the group are now going public.

Buffalo played a very prominent role in the history of civil rights. At the Michigan Baptist Church, several slaves were assisted in their flight to freedom. One less well known fact is the Buffalo also battled an organized hate group, the Ku Klux Klan.

In the early 1920's, the Ku Klux Klan was on the march, recruiting new members in Northern states.

Cynthia Van Ness, Director of the Library of Archives at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society told Eyewitness News, "They found success in Buffalo, in Binghamton, Detroit, Chicago, and a number of cities."

Buffalo had just elected a new Mayor, Frances Schwab, who was not interested in Prohibition laws.

Van Ness added, "That really angered many people here that prohibition was not being enforced, and that was what the Klan exploited here."

Klan membership quickly increased with 800 members during a cross along Harlem Road in 1922.

The historian said, "They specifically denied the fact that they were racial bigots, but they exploited religious tension between Protestants, Catholics, and prohibition."

Undercover officer Edward Obertean infiltrated the group, but the Klan retaliated. They sent an agent to shoot it out with the Buffalo Policeman on Kensington Avenue. Both the policeman and the assassin were killed.

Van Ness explained, " Obertean is long overdue for a marker, or a plaque of some kind as a martyr to the Klan."

in 1924, the Klan's Buffalo offices in the Calumet Building on Chippewa were ransacked.

The membership was stolen, and make public.

The list was published and sold for $1. It included page after page of a shocking revelation...nearly 4,000 Western New Yorkers had joined the KKK. They came from all parts, and all occupations.

"Buffalo was on the brink of religious warfare. Exposing the list really help shut the Klan down," Van Ness added.

Now, after nearly 80 years, the public can see it for themselves. A U-B project has digitized the list, and put it online at New York Heritage. org.

Buffalo can be proud of the fact that we fought the clan, we took them to court. However Buffalo has to also question itself on how an organization like this got a foothold in the area to begin with.