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Sandy Journal

A Black history mystery in Sandy, 1922

Mar 09, 2023 09:58AM ● By Heather Lawrence

Photo and caption from the April 20, 1922 issue of the Salt Lake Telegram, documenting the brief and silent appearance of the KKK at a funeral in Sandy. (University of Utah archive)

A Black history mystery in Sandy, 1922

The Sandy City Cemetery is the final resting place for fallen Salt Lake County Deputy Gordon A. Stuart. Stuart died April 15, 1922 while serving papers to a man who opened fire on him. Stuart was 26 years old and left a widow named Florence. 

Deputy Stuart’s funeral on April 19 was covered by The Salt Lake Telegram newspaper. It reported that nearly 500 people came to the cemetery. But what happened near the end of the service, as the mourners bowed their heads in prayer and the family stood around the grave, is a well-documented and chilling mystery: it was the first public appearance of the KKK in Utah. 

A photo caption on the front page of the Telegram the next day read: “Herewith are shown members of the Ku Klux Klan with their leader bearing a huge floral offering, in the shape of a cross, which was deposited on the grave of Deputy Sheriff Gordon Stuart yesterday. The white-robed men departed as quietly as they arrived, making no statement.”

Utah professors Paul Reeve and Jeffrey Nichols wrote an article, “Klansmen at a Funeral and a Terrible Lynching,” about the event. 

“Dressed in white robes and tall hooded caps tipped with red tassels, the group marched silently to the grave site and placed a cross of lilies with a banner that read ‘Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Salt Lake Chapter No. 1’ upon Stuart’s casket. 

“The Klansmen then hurried to the edge of the cemetery where two automobiles with curtained windows and covered license plates whisked them away,” Reeve and Nichols wrote.    

The purpose of the eight members of the KKK at the gathering was unclear. They had recently run ads in the newspaper hoping to gain members, so were they there to recruit? Were they showing support for law enforcement? Was Stuart affiliated with them somehow?

“The visit was taken by friends and relatives of Stuart to be a tribute to the officer who lost his life in discharge of his duties and an urging of quick administration of justice to the murderer,” John F. Hall wrote in his Telegram article on April 20, 1922.   

Many mourners had bowed their heads in prayer when the Klansmen arrived. They were unaware of their presence until the hooded figures made their way from their cars to the grave site, located near the corner of 700 E. 9000 South. The timing seemed to be intentional.

“(The Klansmen) marched in close formation and very slowly, quickening their step just inside the cemetery entrance when the mourners bowed their heads in prayer,” Hall wrote. After leaving the floral arrangement, they turned to the west and raised their left hands in a salute, then left. 

Reeve and Nichols wrote in 1995 that the motives of the Klansmen were never explained.  

“It’s uncertain whether Stuart was a fellow Klansman, or if the group just wished to demonstrate their zeal for law and order by paying tribute to a fallen officer. Regardless, the event marked the first of several public appearances by the short-lived Ku Klux Klan of Utah,” they said.  

Reeve doesn’t believe that Klan membership or support caught on in Sandy; it seems to have died out of public view within a few years. Black History Month offers the opportunity to shine a light on the mystery of the first public appearance of the KKK in Utah, right here in Sandy.