‘Filipino Ku Klux Klan’ in Hawaii? Bizarre reports hogged headlines in 1922
As the white supremacist terrorist Ku Klux Klan was quickly spreading in the American South, bizarre reports of a Filipino Branch of the KKK operating in Hawaii hit the headlines in 1922.
An article by Jessica Terrell in Hawaii’s Civil Beat (July 30) cites a 1922 United News wire story of a county attorney reporting that “The Filipino Ku Klux Klan is terrorizing Hawaiian labor” and that a member of this branch was buried alive by workers whom the Klan was terrorizing.
Terrell writes that Hawaii newspapers ran away with the story, with the Hawaii Star-Bulletin reporting in a series in October 1922, that in six months the Filipino Klan’s membership reached more than 2,000.
For several days, newspapers ran sensational stories that reached as far away as Kansas, until prosecutors finally found out the source of the confusion.
The labor commissioner of the Philippines explained to the Associate Press that “KKK” were also the initials of a mutual aid society in the Philippines called Kataastaaasan Kagalangalang Katipunan Dismasalang, which means “the highest and most respected order of Dismasalang.”
The labor commissioner also said he had encouraged Filipinos in Hawaii to establish fraternal societies to “improve their standard of living and for mutual protection.”
Jonathan Okamura, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii Manoa, told Civil Beat that the whole episode was absurd. “It’s absolute nonsense to think that Filipinos had an organization that was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and you would think members of the press would realize this.”
“Filipinos were a group that was very much targeted,” Okamura told Terrell. “So, the newspapers would pick up on any issue that would represent Filipinos in this negative light.”
Okamura said that single Filipino men, who started arriving in Hawaii in 1906, were being stereotyped as dangerous elements because they were at the forefront of the growing labor movement in the plantations.
He said that the negative impact of that discrimination reverberates to this day.