D. C. Stephenson

David Curtiss “Steve” Stephenson (21 August 189128 June 1966) was an American Grand Dragon (state leader) of the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. state of Indiana and 22 other northern states. He is considered to have been one of the most successful Klan leaders up until his downfall with his conviction for murder which led to the end of the second wave of Klan activity.


Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan

Stephenson was born in Houston, Texas and moved with his family to Maysville, Oklahoma, where he worked as a printer's apprentice and was active in the Socialist Party. In 1920 he moved to Evansville, Indiana, where he became a salesman and joined the Democratic Party and the Ku Klux Klan. In November 1922, Stephenson backed Hiram Wesley Evans in his attempt to unseat William J. Simmons as Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; upon Evans' ascendancy, Stephenson was made Grand Dragon of Indiana and 22 other northern states.

Membership in the states for which he was Grand Dragon grew dramatically. In Indiana alone membership grew to nearly 300,000, or about one third of all white males in the state. Stephenson acquired great wealth, political power, and hubris. In a speech to the 1923 Fourth of July gathering of the Ku Klux Klan in Kokomo, Indiana, Stephenson began, “My worthy subjects, citizens of the Invisible Empire, Klansmen all, greetings. It grieves me to be late. The President of the United States kept me unduly long counseling on matters of state. Only my plea that this is the time and the place of my coronation obtained for me surcease from his prayers for guidance.” Encouraged by his success, in September 1923, Stephenson severed his ties with the existing national organization of the Ku Klux Klan, and formed a rival Ku Klux Klan. Stephenson changed his affiliation from the Democratic to the Republican Party; and notably supported Republican Ed Jackson when he ran (successfully) for Governor in 1924.

Convicted of murder

Publicly a Prohibitionist and a defender of “Protestant womanhood”, his spectacular 1925 trial for murder led to the downfall of the “Second Wave” of Klan activity. Stephenson was responsible for the abduction, forced intoxication, and sadistic rape of Madge Oberholtzer (who ran a state program to combat illiteracy), all leading to her suicide attempt and eventual death. Among other atrocities, Stephenson had ferociously bitten her so many times that one man who saw her described her condition as having been “chewed by a cannibal.” The jury convicted Stephenson of second-degree murder on 14 November 1925, on its first ballot. Stephenson was sentenced to life in prison on 16 November 1925.

In vengeful response to his conviction and to the refusal of Governor Jackson to grant clemency or to commute his sentence, on 9 September 1927 Stephenson released lists of public officials who were or had been on the Klan payroll.

On 7 January 1941, the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger reported that Democratic Governor Townsend was considering granting an early parole application by Stephenson; if so, this application was rejected.

Stephenson was paroled on 23 March 1950, but violated parole by disappearing on or before 25 September 1950. On 15 December 1950, he was captured in Minneapolis, and directed in 1951 to serve a further 10 years in prison. In 1953, he pleaded for release from prison, denying that he had ever been a leader of the Klan. On 22 December 1956, he was paroled again, on condition that he leave Indiana and never return. In 1961, he was arrested on charges of attempting to sexually assault a sixteen-year-old girl, and released after paying a $300 fine.

Stephenson is credited with the quote, “Everything is fine in politics as long as you don't get caught in bed with a live man, or a dead woman.” He was infamous for having claimed "I am the law in Indiana."

Stephenson died in Jonesborough, Tennessee. He is buried in Johnson City, Tennessee.


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