Peter Monroe Hagan

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Peter Monroe Hagan
Born1871
Died1930 (aged 58–59)
OccupationSheriff of Putnam County, Florida
Years active1916–1924 and 1928–1930
Known forOpposition to mob violence and the Ku Klux Klan

Peter Monroe Hagan (1871–1930) was sheriff of Putnam County, Florida in 1916–1924 and 1928–1930. He is known for opposing the Ku Klux Klan and mob violence in the county in the violent period between 1915 and 1930.[1] His thwarting of lynching attempts and his winning the pivotal 1928 election became a referendum against Klan and mob violence.

Career[edit]

Background[edit]

In the decades after World War I mob violence and lynchings directed at black citizens was on the increase in Florida (in contrast to much of the rest of the United States) and the Ku Klux Klan was a mainstream organization.[1] On June 8, 1922, the Palatka Daily News reported on a public event staged by the Klan the previous night in Palatka, Florida which was attended by large crowds. Over 200 Klansmen from across the county gathered in the city's stadium to initiate twenty new members and performed a ceremony including a burning cross and banners reading "White Supremacy".[2] On October 16, 1922 the Daily News reported another Klan event at Palatka’s leading Methodist church where six Klansmen marched through the building and presented a $50 contribution to the church's building fund. Included with the donation was a letter, quoted in the article:[3]

Rev. J.D Sibert, pastor Methodist Church Palatka, Fla. Esteemed Sir:
This organization having ever at heart the furtherance of the Master’s cause, especially with regard to the Protestant faith, and being in hearty sympathy with the efforts of your people to complete an edifice that will better enable you to accomplish good, be an honor to our city and reflect the glory of the living God - we take great pleasure in handing you herewith a small contribution ($50) to your building fund.
Assuring you of our highest regard for yourself personally and for your people collectively, we are most respectfully, Putnam Klan No. 13, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The letter was read out loud to the congregation and the reverend "offered fervent thanks" to the Klan.[3]

First and second terms[edit]

Hagan was elected sheriff of Putnam County in 1916. In the aftermath of World War I mob violence directed by the Ku Klux Klan and other white vigilantes against blacks, Catholics and women they accused of transgressing the social order was on the increase. This combined with Prohibition led to the highest crime rates in Putnam County's history. Hagan was faced with two lynching attempts in 1919 alone, after which he wrote in the Palatka Daily News:[1]

I want to say to the people of Palatka that there will be no repetition of this affair, and any effort on the part of outsiders to come here and create disorder and engender ill-feeling between the two races will be met with force sufficient to stop it where it begins …

We have determined to see that the colored people of this town and county get the protection to which they are entitled, and that no hoodlums can come here and cowardly attack old and innocent colored men without having justice meted out to them for their offense.

He was re-elected in 1920, but racist mob violence only continued to increase.[1]

Attempted lynching of Arthur Johnson[edit]

In March 1923, a band of white road crew workers from Gainesville attempted to storm the Putnam County Jail with the intention of lynching Arthur Johnson, a black man awaiting trial on accusations of murdering their white co-worker Hugh C. Cross. The sheriff's official residence was on the site of the county jail; the would-be lynch mob fired weapons at the building, injuring Sheriff Hagan, but fled when the sheriff and deputy held their ground. Hagan and his deputies notified Sheriff Ramsey in Alachua County, leading to the arrest of eighteen men on their way back to Gainesville after the failed attack on the county jail. Hagan was praised by legislators and the press for his actions in stopping the attack, but of the eighteen culprits arrested only nine made it to trial and they were swiftly acquitted by the white jury.[1]

Defeat and re-election[edit]

In the 1924 election Hagan ran unsuccessfully against Israel James Fennell, a candidate supported by the racist mob, for re-election as the county's sheriff. Announcing his campaign for re-election on March 7, 1924, Hagan stated his position on the Ku Klux Klan:[4]

I am not, and would not be a member, however, of any organization which appears to differ in policies from those who do not belong to its ranks, for the reason that as Sheriff I believe it to be my duty to be perfectly free to serve all of the people and not an organized part of them; I wish to feel perfectly free to perform my duties without obligations to any order, however high the ideals of such order may be. I have no personal quarrel with the Klan; many of its members are my friends whom I respect and honor, but as Sheriff, I am free, and will remain free to administer the law impartially to all.

The KKK would reach the peak of its local influence two years later, but by 1928 public opinion was shifting and Sheriff Hagan was voted back into office after a four-year absence. He died two years later.[1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Townsend, Billy (2012). Age of Barbarity: The Forgotten Fight for the Soul of Florida. ISBN 9781467978033.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Townsend, Billy (21 October 2012). "Ku Klux Klan met its match in Putnam County in the 1920s". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
  2. ^ "KuKlux Initiates Large Class At A Public Ceremony: Palatka Turns Out One Of The Largest Crowds Ever Seen Here, Ball Park Is Packed". Palatka Daily News. June 8, 1922. p. 1.
  3. ^ a b "Ku Klux Klansmen Enter Church On Charity Mission". Palatka Daily News. October 16, 1922. p. 1.
  4. ^ http://www.lakelandlocal.com/2012/07/sheriff-hagan-wants-you-patriots-to-buy-age-of-barbarity/