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Bozeman’s hidden history with the Ku Klux Klan

By Gail Schontzler, Chronicle Staff Writer

In the summer of 1926, the weekly Bozeman Courier published a mid-sized advertisement inviting the public to a picnic at Bozeman Hot Springs put on by the Ku Klux Klan.

The ad promised a public lecture by Dr. Hiram W. Evans, Imperial Wizard of the KKK, its national leader, at the picnic on Monday evening, Aug. 9.

“Bring your lunch basket and your family and friends,” the ad read. “Dr. Evans will enlighten you as to the purpose of the Klan. Everybody Welcome.”

klan flyer.png


Robert Rydell was surprised when he happened across the Klan ad, while searching for something else in microfilm of old newspapers.

“I’d never seen mention of the Klan in Bozeman before,” said Rydell, history professor at Montana State University and head of the American studies program.

Rydell knew the Klan had been active in the 1920s in Oregon, the Midwest and eastern Montana. But this seemed new.

“The very fact the Klan was here trying to recruit indicates the leadership thought there would be a receptive audience,” he said.

Ninety years after the Klan recruited members in Bozeman, more than 50 years after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and nine years after the election of America’s first black president, the Ku Klux Klan is seeking a comeback in American public life.

About 50 Klan protesters rallied in July in Charlottesville, Virginia, opposing removal of a large statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on horseback. Then in August, hundreds of Klan members, neo-Nazis and white nationalists joined in a “Unite the Right” torchlight parade and protests that ended with the killing of one woman counter-protester and the deaths of two police officers.

Congress this week passed by unanimous consent a resolution that called the woman’s killing “a domestic terrorist attack” and denounced “White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups.” President Donald Trump signed the resolution Thursday.

The fact the Klan came to Bozeman doesn’t surprise Christine Erickson.

She has done decades of research and is writing a book, “Fraternity on the Frontier: The Ku Klux Klan in Montana during the 1920s.” Raised in Missoula, Erickson is an associate history professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

In the archives of the Montana Historical Society, Erickson found reports on Bozeman Klan No. 10.

The Feb. 14, 1924, edition of The Imperial Night-Hawk, a national Klan newspaper, printed a glowing report from Bozeman, along with brief news of thousands of new Klansmen joining in Iowa, an armory filled with recruits in Muskegon, Michigan, and the beating of a Klan salesman in Columbus, Ohio, by a gang of Italian and Irish Catholics.

“Bozeman, Mont., Klan Hears Grand Dragon” read the story’s headline. The report said that Montana’s Grand Dragon — Lewis Terwilliger of Livingston — “emphasized the fact that ours was not a gospel of hate.” He upheld Protestantism and advised members that “their greatest strength was in secrecy” and education in Klankraft.

“There was an unusually large crowd present and they received the messages of the Grand Dragon with deep-seated joy,” the report said. It concluded with the news that the Bozeman Klan gave generously to the needy at Christmas and sent “a lovely pot of flowers” to a Klansman’s daughter in the hospital with a “cheer-up card.”

At the same time the Klan presented itself like any benign, secretive fraternal organization, it held cross-burnings across Montana.

Dramatic cross-burning ceremonies, led by Klan members wearing white pointed hoods and robes, were often held for initiations of new members in the 1920s.

Erickson found reports on cross-burnings on Prospect Hill in Great Falls, Square Butte west of Laurel, Cemetery Hill in Anaconda and the Rimrocks in Billings.

“Burning crosses were certainly meant to intimidate the Klan’s enemies,” she wrote, “but they were also a signal, a reminder, that the Klan had arrived in the community.”

Nationwide the Klan reached the height of its membership in the 1920s, as the champion of “100 percent” Americans — native-born, white Protestants.

At its high point, the Klan had between 2 million and 5 million members “and the sympathy or support of millions more,” wrote Joshua Rothman, chair of the University of Alabama history department, in a recent article for The Atlantic magazine, “When Bigotry Paraded Through the Streets.”

“The Klan advocated the restoration of ‘true Americanism’ and offered members a platform that demonized blacks, Catholics, Jews, Mexicans, Asians and any other non-white ethnic immigrants,” Rothman wrote.

In the wake of World War I, the American economy slid into recession, and people were looking for scapegoats, Rydell said. “Who do you blame? How do you account for economic failure? You blame immigrants.”

The Klan was against Communism, alcohol and bootlegging, birth control and teaching evolution in schools. It was in favor of public schools as an antidote to parochial schools.

It flourished, Rothman wrote, “with the promise that energetic white nationalist and traditional morals would hold back the tides of modernity and … forces scheming to undermine the authority of native-born white Americans.”

One month after the Bozeman Klan picnic, Imperial Wizard Evans led an estimated 15,000 Klansmen wearing hooded robes, both white and colored satin, marching in disciplined rows in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13, 1926.

Yet the 1926 turnout was less than half the 30,000 to 50,000 hooded Klansmen who had marched in Washington the year before at the peak of its popularity.

By the end of the decade, Klan membership fell off drastically. Yet its anti-immigrant, white supremacist ideology never entirely went away.

“I’d never be so naïve as a historian to think that the ideas of the Klan in the 1920s would go poof and disappear,” Rydell said. “Why would we imagine that ideas that were so commonplace and widely shared would, as if by magic, disappear?”

The Klan reborn

The rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s can be traced to a blockbuster film, “The Birth of a Nation.”

Today the film is viewed as racist, advocating white supremacy and opposing voting rights for blacks. But in 1915, it was a hit, the first feature film ever shown at the White House and to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rydell said.

The silent film played in movie houses accompanied by dramatic organ music, ending with the thrilling ride of hooded, gun-shooting Klansmen on horseback coming to the rescue of beleaguered settlers, Rydell said. “White audiences would stand and cheer.”

The Ku Klux Klan originated after the Civil War in the defeated South. In the 1860s and 1870s, it was a Southern terrorist organization, Rothman wrote, that tortured and murdered blacks, sending hooded night riders to strike fear into former slaves and undermine their efforts to vote and exercise political and economic freedom.

The original Klan had been defunct for decades, Rothman wrote, when an Atlanta man, William J. Simmons, inspired by the silent movie, decided to revive the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. On Thanksgiving night 1915, he and more than a dozen men lit a wooden cross on fire at Stone Mountain, Georgia.

By 1920, the Klan had attracted just a few thousand members. Then Simmons hired publicity agents and promoters, Rothman wrote. They divided up the nation into sales territories and sent out 1,000 recruiters to sign up new members, whose $10 Klectoken membership fees paid commissions to the recruiters.

Despite investigations of vigilante violence by newspapers and Congress, the Klan had signed up 1 million members by 1922. That year, Evans, a dentist from Texas, ousted Simmons as Imperial Wizard.

Klan members in the 1920s were largely middle-class — small business owners, ministers, professors, clerks, farmers, doctors and lawyers.

The Montana Klan started in Harlowtown in 1921 and was headquartered in Livingston in 1923. It was welcomed in 46 Montana communities, including Billings, Missoula and Helena, Erickson wrote. More than 5,100 Montanans joined. The short-lived Montana Klansman newspaper was published in Belgrade.

The one city where the Klan wasn’t welcome was Butte, home to large numbers of immigrant miners, Irish Catholics and committed drinkers.

“Our men have orders to shoot any Ku Kluxer who appears in Butte,” Sheriff Jack Duggan said, as Erickson reported in the spring 2003 edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Still, nearly 200 men joined the Klan chapter in Butte between 1923 and 1929.

Imperial Wizard Evans visited the Montana realm of the Invisible Empire twice, in November 1924 and July 1930, Erickson wrote. She found no evidence he attended the 1926 Bozeman picnic.

She did, however, find in the archives a flyer entitled “How to Tell a Klansman,” written anonymously by a “Bozeman Klansman.” It portrays the Klan as being as American as apple pie, and reveals the group was fighting a negative image.

“He is a White Man. He is a Protestant. He is a Gentile. He is a Christian. He is Anti-Nothing. He is a loyal American….

“He believes in freedom of worship and hates nobody. He upholds Public Schools. He is a law-abiding citizen. He upholds virtuous womanhood. He opposes immigration of the undesirable alien. He defends the American home. He stands for America for Americans.

“He has no fight with the Yellow or Black man, but stands unalterably for White Supremacy in America.”

The flyer concludes that the Klansman believes in the Constitution, law enforcement, the flag and “Liberty for All.”

“He believes in free speech, and free press as long as it speaks the truth, and does not try to tear down our government and its institutions.

“He is your best friend. Why kick him?”

Last gasp

The Klan viewed the Immigration Act of 1924 as a great victory, Erickson wrote, but ultimately it would eliminate one of the Klan’s “main rallying cries.”

Congress passed the act to limit the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States through quotas based on national origins. It completely banned immigrants from Asia, and increased visas for people from Britain and Western Europe.

The Klan counted other political successes in the 1920s. It ran hundreds of candidates for local and state offices. Voters elected Klan members as mayors, school board and city council members, sheriffs and lawmakers, Rothman wrote.

Gov. Edward Jackson of Indiana and Gov. Clifford Walker of Georgia were Klansmen, as were U.S. Sens. Earle Mayfield of Texas and Rice Means of Colorado. The Klan controlled the Oregon and Indiana legislatures, Rydell said.

But the Klan ran into trouble when David Stephenson, the powerful Grand Dragon of Indiana, was convicted in 1925 of the kidnapping, brutal rape and murder of a young woman, his secretary. The scandal shocked members who thought the Klan was committed to high morality. In addition, Rothman wrote, Klan leaders ran local and state chapters like dictators and some stole money.

By the end of the 1920s, Klan membership had fallen drastically.

The Klan had one “last gasp” effort to attract members, Erickson wrote, when New York Gov. Al Smith, a Catholic, won the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1928.

“The violence instigated by the Klan, especially in the Deep South, as well as the intimidations, arson and cross-burnings, helped lead to the Klan’s demise,” Erickson wrote in the Autumn 2014 issue of Montana magazine. “So, too, did the pretense of championing American principles while inflicting terror on those who failed to meet the Klan’s narrow definition of what it meant to be American.”

And the Klan was expensive – members had to pay dues, taxes and buy robes and hoods, Erickson wrote. Many decided to drop the Klan, while keeping membership in the Masons, Odd Fellows or other fraternal organizations, which also offered secret rituals and business contacts.

Another self-defeating factor in Montana, Erickson said, was that Terwilliger was such a stickler for Klan rules that he kicked out some prominent members in Harlowtown for being born in Canada.


Though the Klan faded in Montana, the prejudices it championed survived.

In 1950, a famed opera singer, Dorothy Maynor, came to Bozeman to perform. Maynor, daughter of a black minister, had performed with the New York Philharmonic and Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia symphonies, according to documents found by Rachel Phillips of the Gallatin History Museum.

Esther Nelson, then a member of the Bozeman Community Concert Association, wrote that she took Maynor to the Baxter Hotel, “only to be told by the desk clerk that no blacks were allowed.” Nelson asked to speak to the owner, who affirmed, “no blacks allowed.”

“I was extremely embarrassed,” Nelson wrote. Maynor “withstood the insult gracefully,” she wrote, and stayed at the home of the university’s vocal director.

Today Montana has come a long way in fighting bigotry. Martin Luther King Day is a recognized holiday. School children celebrate Native American Heritage day. Indian Education for All is part of every school’s curriculum. Godfrey Saunders, a black educator, was Bozeman High’s principal for 13 years.

White supremacists, a tiny but persistent minority, still make headlines from time to time. In 2004, Bozeman residents awoke to flyers headlined “Missing” with a picture of a white girl, sending a message that the white race is dying out. In 2005, white separatist candidate Kevin McGuire of the National Alliance ran for the Bozeman School Board, receiving 157 votes out of more than 4,000 votes cast.

In 2009, eight white supremacists masked their faces with bandanas and sunglasses to protest on the Gallatin County Courthouse steps, giving Nazi salutes and yelling “White power!” Three weeks later, an outpouring of hundreds of Bozeman residents responded with a march for tolerance and diversity, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, all this hate has got to go.”

Erickson said we need to be careful about drawing straight parallels between the Klan of the 1920s with the “so-called alt-right of today,” because the times and context are so different.

“Certainly the anti-immigrant sentiment is there,” she wrote, “although for the Klan of the 1920s, Catholics were the enemy, and for the white supremacists today, it’s Muslims.”

This week MSU brought in speaker Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim scholar, to talk on “Islamophobia: A Threat to All.”

One Muslim woman attending the talk was Shadmani Amin, who has lived in Bozeman 28 years, is a U.S. citizen and wears a headscarf.

Amin has been active in the Bozeman Interfaith Forum for eight years, and has seen it grow dramatically. Muslims are treated better in educated college towns like Bozeman and Missoula, she said.

“There were a couple occasions people screamed at me, ‘Go back to Iraq,’” she said, smiling because she’s from Bangladesh. “But I get more positive comments than negative comments.”

On Friday, the Montana Racial Equity Project held an all-day forum at the Bozeman Public Library to discuss race and justice in Montana and to confront “our nation’s legacy of racism and the ways it persists.”

“We have certainly reached a point in American history where racism is not going to go unchallenged,” Rydell said. “The KKK, the alt-right, is not going to go unchallenged. It no longer has the podium. What’s worrisome is that it has any podium at all, or any adherents, in the 21st century.”

Our Community First: Montana Racial Equity Project

By Missy O'Malley - MTN News

For this month’s COMMUNITY FIRST recipient, we recognize the Montana Racial Equity Project. In the past two years, they have been advocating social and racial justice issues through education, information, workshops, rallies and much more.  Here's a look how they are making a difference in the valley and state. 

Flyers promoting anti- Semitic messages pop up again

May 21, 2017, KBZK-TV


Saturday, anti-Semitic pamphlets were dropped in one of Bozeman's neighborhoods, this is the second time this has happened to those residents in 10 days.

Sunday, anyone that opposes these types of ideals was asked to march to the Bozeman Library. 

The Montana Racial Equity project and the Montana Human Rights Network organized the walk and rally to spread the word of unity among Bozeman residents.

To raise awareness to the community as a whole not only that this terrible thing has happened but that we will always resist it and oppose it and stand together as a community." Said Dan Lourie, a victim of the anti-Semitic literature.

Around 30 people marched down Main Street holding signs expressing love and equality.


May 18, 2017

As organizations who work tirelessly to combat racial discrimination in Montana, we share the concerns of the Indigenous community regarding the racially inflammatory costumes and behavior displayed during the Helena Vigilante Day Parade. The perpetuation of Native American stereotypes exemplified by the Buffalo Jump float in the parade is unacceptable. We are calling on the Helena Public Schools administration to review and update their approval policy for floats in order to provide for adequate vetting.

While student participation in a tradition that is meant to honor Montana’s history is laudable, it is the responsibility of the school district to ensure that the parade does not marginalize or misrepresent Native communities, heritage, or contributions to this state. Most importantly, the controversy that has erupted illustrates the need for a dedicated community conversation about race, discrimination, and what honoring the history of our Indigenous friends and neighbors actually means. We encourage Helena Public Schools to begin facilitating these conversations with the community and to join us in taking responsibility for providing and seeking further education regarding racial equity, Indigenous history, and the appropriate way to honor both.


Montana Human Rights Network

ACLU of Montana

Extreme History Project

Sweetgrass Society

Montana Women Vote

Montana Racial Equity Project

Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance

Montana Hate Free Zone

Montana Racial Equity Project objects to Vigilante Parade floats

May 17, 2017, Helena Independent Record

By Judith Heilman

The Montana Racial Equity Project objects to the racially insensitive floats in the Vigilante Parade that took place in Helena, Montana on Friday, May 12, 2017.

Last Friday, the City of Helena experienced its annual Vigilante Parade. The public Parade has been fielded by its two high schools for years. Though misrepresentation of Native Americans has been complained about for years to varying degrees, this year, one particular Facebook post objecting to particular Native American themed floats went viral.

It was correctly pointed out that students on the float were wearing scantily-clad stereotypical “squaw” clothing. Faces were painted red. Teepees bore gibberish symbols. And even stereotypical “whoops” were heard from the float itself and/or engendered by the floats from the crowd. That was not careful nor accurate representation; it was neocolonialist, culturally-appropriative and racist. MTREP believes that breakdowns in education and communication led to these inappropriate floats. Most of the pushback on the original post is reflective of a lack of understanding of how prejudice, bigotry, and racism reveal themselves in our society. It is very mistaken to insist that those objectionable portrayals of Native Americans were just fine.

The mission of the Montana Racial Equity Project is to advocate racial equity and justice. We know that educating and promoting awareness of the many factors that can produce insensitive actions that are very damaging to our whole society, is essential before we can even begin to change that within ourselves and our society that promotes them. Sadly, the original poster has received multiple online threats and attacks that are only reductive and harmful to any positive action. We encourage Helena Public Schools to carefully examine its Indian Education policies and institute strong changes in order to prevent such future offensive parade floats.

Judith Heilman is the executive director of The Montana Racial Equity Project in Bozeman. 

Message of love, respect highlight Bozeman anti-hate rally

May 5, 2017 | Bozeman Daily Chronicle

By Whitney Bermes Chronicle Staff Writer

Photos by Rachel Leathe, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Bozeman’s religious leaders, community activists and law enforcement wanted to make one thing absolutely clear.

Bozeman is a hate-free zone.

That was the message of an event Thursday evening at Soroptimist Park in downtown Bozeman, where more than 100 people gathered in response to anti-Semitic fliers that were dropped at homes in Bozeman neighborhoods over the weekend.

“We are a welcoming city and an accepting city,” said Bozeman Mayor Carson Taylor at the event, which was hosted by the Montana Human Rights Network and the Montana Racial Equity Project. “The only thing we are intolerant of is intolerance itself.”

Taylor commended the outrage of the folks who received the fliers, saying the city would use any means it could to protect citizens from hate crimes.

“The city of Bozeman supports, celebrates, encourages and benefits from its diversity,” Taylor said.

Bozeman Police Chief Steve Crawford said the fliers sent an alarming message, one that hits to the core of citizens’ sense of safety.

“This is a community that doesn’t stand for that,” Crawford said.

And the police department “is committed to keeping all members of our community safe,” Crawford said.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said regardless of religious or political beliefs, hate messages are not what this community is about.

“Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t make it right,” he said.

Religious leaders encouraged a response of love, of acceptance, of respect.

“We need to treat each other with dignity,” implored Rabbi Chaim Bruk of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana.

Dr. Ahmed Al-Kaisy said that the Muslim community of Bozeman stood in solidarity with its Jewish neighbors, condemning the “trash literature.”

“We all together will return hatred with love,” Al-Kaisy said.

Jody McDevitt, co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church and moderator of the Gallatin Valley Interfaith Association, said “it feels like a stink bomb was set off in our community this weekend.”

But McDevitt said that “goodness is stronger than evil” and if the community sticks together, the air will clear.

Rabbi Ed Stafman of Bozeman’s Congregation Beth Shalom wondered why the person or people who left these fliers behind did it in the anonymous darkness of night.

“He knows his message of hate would be flatly rejected here in Bozeman,” Stafman said. “Bozeman is a hate-free zone.”

Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network told the crowd that events like Thursday’s were the perfect response to hate.

“We come together and stand together as often as we need to,” he said.

In addition to speakers, organizers passed out posters proclaiming, “This is a hate free Bo-Zone.”


Organizers: Women’s march in Helena draws 10,000

January 22, 2017

by Cole Grant, UM Community News Service

HELENA — Organizers of the Women’s March on Montana estimate there were 10,000 people gathered at the Capitol in Helena on Saturday.

“I just want to put that in perspective, because when we first started thinking about this, we were wondering if we could get 500 people,” said Rebecca Weston, one of the organizers of the march.

People travelled from all over the state to show their support, from Florence to Billings.

By noon, the streets were filled with supporters. Men, women, and children marched around the Capitol building holding colorful handmade signs of all shapes and sizes -- signs with the sign for female power or “fight like a girl” or “respect” or “all people are equal” or “no hate.”

After a few blocks of marching, supporters gathered on the Capitol steps to hear a slew of speakers and performers, including Montana’s First Lady Lisa Bullock, Judith Heilman, the director of the Montana Racial Equity Project and Sen. Jon Tester, who joined via phone.

“We walk and stand together today to recognize that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us,” Bullock said.

Co-organizer Deb O’Neil, who shared MC duties with Weston, talked about rape culture.

“We need to shut it down. Dismissing this as locker room talk is demeaning, insulting, and does not belong in a caring, compassionate society,” O’Neil said.

A number of Native Americans also took to the steps of the Capitol, like Lauren Small Rodriguez, who sits on the board for Native American students at the University of Montana, and was the first Northern Cheyenne woman to join the Coast Guard.

“We are no longer here to just be happy to sit in the room. No we’re not. We’re going to sit on this table and we’re going to have a chance to say something and speak out. That is what we’re here to do,” Small Rodriguez said.

Weston said although there is no organization affiliated with the march, she’s planning to organize meetings in communities around the state, “so that people can use a lot of this energy, use a lot of this sense of solidarity, to then start doing things locally in their communities, then all the way up in the state.”

According to, the Montana march was one of more than 650 marches organized across the globe in response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The Helena Police Department reported no counter protests.

Montana Women's March draws an estimated 10,000

January 21, 2017

by Marga Lincoln, Helena Independent Record

The spirit was jubilant, as thousands of marchers gathered in the streets near the Capitol Saturday as part of the Women’s March on Montana: Human Rights for All in Helena.

Initial estimates put the size of the crowd at 10,000 people. 

When the crowd stepped off at noon, it was to the lively beat of the Bozeman marching band, Chicks with Sticks, whose drums were flamboyantly colored plastic buckets.

There were yells and whoops and also chants -- “My body, my vote!” and “This is what -- democracy looks like!” and “Women’s rights are human rights!”

A line of marchers was already wrapped around the Capitol, and more and more marchers kept pouring up Washington Street.

The crowd far exceeded the expectations of organizers, who had hoped that 4,000 would show, based on Facebook responses.

They danced, they chanted, they sang and they cheered.

Some came wearing their brilliant pink, hand-knitted, cat-eared 

“pussyhats” to call out President Donald Trump on one of his more infamous comments about grabbing women's genitals. 

But this particular march was never billed as an anti-Trump rally, said one of the organizers, Deb O’Neill.

“We said this is nonpartisan from the get-go. Anyone is welcome despite who you voted for, so long as you support human rights for all.”

And speak out, they did -- for women, for the planet, for Native Americans, for refugees, for diversity and for the LBGTQ community.

Judith Heilman, director of Montana Racial Equality Project, reminded the group “racism is real” and yes, it does occur in Montana.
Her organization trains people in how “to interrupt racism whenever it is encountered.”
Calling your legislator is another way to interrupt racism, she said.

It was a call for action in the coming years, not just one day.

“The march is just day one of this group,” said O’Neill. “This is not the end, it is just the beginning.”

Similar marches were held in more than 600 other cities and towns around the world, including 30 other countries.

In Chicago, New York and Washington, the marches drew hundreds of thousands of people -- once again, far exceeding planners’ expectations.


A reason for every marcher

Volunteer Yvonne Field of Helena, who was sporting a bright pink "pussyhat," said she got involved with the march because she works with children with special needs who have cognitive disabilities and others who are English learners. “I’m also the mother of a multi-racial kid. I want this to be a safe place for us. Some people told me that after Trump was elected they could tell me how they really feel.”

Noah Jacobs of Great Falls was carrying a sign, “We all come from immigrants.

“I just want to support all the women and immigrants in the country because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Everyone has the same rights as all our neighbors. We just have to support women -- their rights are my rights as well. What affects them affects me.”

Walt Luebeck of Missoula showed up carrying a U.S. flag and a diversity flag.

He decided to march because “there’s so much partisanship. There’s starting to be discrimination against everybody -- against blacks, Hispanics, just everybody.”

Laura Barta of Polson, wearing her hand-crocheted "pussyhat,” was dancing to music with her partner Dylan Gomes of Missoula.

“We all have to stand together,” she said, “and hope together. Revolutions start with hope.”

“I’m here to support Laura,” said Gomes, adding that the most important issue to him is climate change. “I’m a biologist and the evidence is clear,” that human-caused climate change is happening.

For every marcher, there was a reason.

Twenty-three buses came in from across the state, said O’Neill.

And according to some of those on the bus, like Paula and Eric Nielsen of Bozeman, the traffic headed to Helena stretched for miles behind them.

As they waited for the rally to start, they were talking to friends via cellphone who were inching along in a traffic queue that stretched to Townsend.

Riding on their bus were a number of people from their Universal Unitarian Church in Bozeman, who broke into singing a hymn from their church.

“I think it’s our duty to speak out about rights. ... We have to use our voices,” said Paula.

“As a man, I saw it as a people issue, not just a women’s issue," Eric said. 


A call to action

That was also the spirit of the speeches given on the Capitol steps.

“This is amazing!” said O’Neill as she greeted the crowd, telling them there were so many people marching that they needed to delay the beginning of the rally to allow all the marchers to arrive and hear the speeches.

It took an hour for the huge crowd to pour up through adjoining streets and circle the Capitol.

Among the speakers was First Lady Lisa Bullock, who told the crowd "we stand together in solidarity with our partners and our children."

She noted that it was civil disobedience by strong women that resulted in women finally getting the right to vote.

She also recognized the strength of her mother, who was her role model. “She accepted everyone into our home.” There was no exclusion, no hatred.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., spoke to the crowd via phone from Washington, D.C. "Keep marching," he said. "Our country's counting on you."

SK Rossi, director of advocacy and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, asked for a shout-out for all who were showing up at a rally for the first time -- drawing a loud response.

Rossi admitted it had taken a long time, “as a queer person,” to find courage to speak out.

“Your elected officials work for you,” Rossi told them. “If you don’t ask -- you’ll never get a yes.”

“This is the first step for many of you to find your voice. You can’t go home and turn on Netflix” and forget about what’s happening around you.

Rossi urged them to visit the ACLU website,, because the group “is going to be working our ... butts off for you.”

Montana Women’s Chorus gave a joyous musical break, singing “A Women’s Voice,” about the power of women’s voices raised and also a tribute song in honor of suffragist trailblazer Jeannette Rankin, a congresswoman from Montana. 

Towering above the chorus on the Capitol steps was the rainbow-colored street puppet, Synnovai, a modern Scandinavian goddess.

Rachel Carroll Rivas, director of the Montana Human Rights Network, told the crowd “I fight white supremacy for a living.”

Her life is one of privilege, of having a bed to sleep in and feeling safe and loved, she said. “I know this is not the case for all people.”

“You are the schemers and the dreamers that will make tomorrow a better day and human rights a reality for all.”

She urged the crowd to draw inspiration from the people of Whitefish, where people have stood up against the threats and harassment of white supremacists.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the local group Love Lives Here," she said.

She quoted a Whitefish friend who said “we might not have much say nationally. But we can make Whitefish a better town. And if we do that all around the country, I think the national narrative can change.”

O’Neill spoke of being raped and how the victim gets blamed.

“Rape culture needs to end,” she said. “We can change culture and victim blaming.” She urged the crowd to reach out to elected representatives so that the Violence Against Women’s Act continues to be funded.

Michelle Mitchell, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and an Academic Achievement Coach for American Indians at Great Falls High School, spoke of the importance of education and also of how prevalent racism is on the Flathead Reservation.

“Education is about making tomorrow better,” she said. She also praised former Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau’s championing of the Graduation Matters program and the importance of the Indian Education For All program that teaches all Montana schoolchildren about the unique culture and heritage of American Indians.

Lauren Small Rodriquez Tsitsistas, who is the first Northern Cheyenne woman in the U.S. Coast Guard, spoke of the importance of protecting clean water and to support the protesters at Standing Rock. “Do not be afraid to stand up now,” she said. “We must unite to protect the future of our world.”

Bree Sutherland, a trans and queer advocate and activist, talked of the pain and struggles of being transgender. “I got angry and I got active. I became an activist because I do not want to be a statistic,” Sutherland said, adding that the suicide rate of transgender people can be over 45 percent.

“Hello, nasty women!” said Laura Terrill of Planned Parenthood of Montana, referencing a comment Trump made about former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Terrill spoke on behalf of the thousands of women who come through the doors of their clinics. “Patients don’t come to make political statements, they come for health care.”

One in five women will come to Planned Parenthood sometime in their life for health care, she said. “We are going to fight like hell to keep our doors open.”

Mary Poole, director of Soft Landing Missoula, which works to find homes in Montana for refugee families, spoke of looking out for each other.

She recalled her experience as a rafting guide, where each guide not only looked out for their own boat, but pointed a safe way for the raft behind it. Rafters call it “point positive.”

The river ahead may be rough. “You will point me positive. I will point you positive and we will make it through stronger on the other side.”

Judith Heilman, director of Montana Racial Equality Project, reminded the group “racism is real” and yes, it does occur in Montana.

Her organization trains people in how “to interrupt racism whenever it is encountered.”

Calling your legislator is another way to interrupt racism, she said.

The rally concluded with a call to action by Kellie Goodwin McBride, director of the YWCA Helena.

She asked people to listen to each other, for them to find their voices and call their representatives, and to take action one hour a week on an issue that’s important to them.

O’Neill told the crowd that the Women’s March website,, will be posting announcements of meetings, gatherings and calls to action.

“The march went very, very well,” she said in a follow-up interview. Not only did it draw a huge, enthusiastic crowd, but it was peaceful.

There were a few counter protesters, she said, but they saw the huge crowd and left.


Advocate talks about the need for racial equity

By Alex Ross, Havre Daily News

January 16, 2017

A Montana civil rights advocate spoke during an event Friday at Montana State University-Northern celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. about the progress, setbacks and continued struggle for racial equality.

The event, which also included a meal for the community, was organized by Northern's Office of Diversity Awareness and Multicultural Programs and assorted community volunteers.

Judith Heilman, a former police detective who is now executive director of the Montana Racial Equity Project, a Bozeman-based group that seeks to promote racial equity and social justice, gave the presentation  with the assistance of a PowerPoint.

Heilman's 32-minute long presentation was titled "Racial Equity and Justice: Then, Now and Future."

"We've made progress, and lots of progress in some ways, but some of those successes have been rolled back and are being taken away," she said.

At the start of her presentation, she told the audience that some of what she had to say would cause discomfort, but that none of it should be interpreted as personal insults.

"The cause of any discomfort is being confronted by something you may have had no idea about or have had a misunderstanding about," she said.

It is widely believed that the civil rights movement ended with desegregation and the signing of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, Heilman said, but added that is not true. The issues of race and racism have remained in society, but just recently returned to the political forefront, she said.

Heilman said that rather than marking the birth of a post-racial society, the campaign, election and presidency of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president "set what had been a smoldering fire of bigotry, racism and prejudice to flame."

The notion of colorblindness, where people claim they don't see race has been something people say has been something in American society to be proud of, she said. However, she said, it should not be, and the idea of colorblindness is racist because in America white culture is the default, the dominant, culture. She said that to subscribe to the belief that black, brown, Native and other people are treated equally and have had the same experience as those who are white is not true.

"Black folk have had a life experience and a cultural heritage that is very different than America's current majority do not have," she said. "Living in a black body, living in a brown body, living in a Native body is a completely different existence in many, many ways than living in a pale body."

She said that the Black Lives Matter movement, formed in the wake of several police shootings of blacks, was meant to highlight racial tension.

However, many who are not black have tried to spin the phrase from Black Lives Matter to All Lives Matter, something she said is meant to quiet and invalidate the concerns and views of the movement.

Though all lives do matter, she said, the Black Lives Matter movement is about the recognition of the rights of black people and their battle for full social, civil, political, economic and legal equality with others.

"Do people who change Black Lives Matter to All Lives Matter run to a cancer fundraiser  and say 'There are other diseases too?'" she asked.

Much of that pushback against the addressing of concerns brought up by the Black Lives Matter movement stems from white privilege, she said.

Heilman said that when a group has been in the majority and accustomed to privilege for so long, demands for equality can sound like calls for oppression against the privileged.

She quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said that "Since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system."

Heilman said that notion is critical to working to end racism and gain racial equity and access.

She said that up through 1968, lynchings of black men were fairly commonplace in the U.S. with as many as 84 taking place between 1882 and 1968.

Though the practice is widely condemned today, she compared it with cases such as the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott. Scott, a black South Carolina motorist was shot by a police officer five times, three times in the back as he was running away from the officer after being stopped for a broken tail light.

Heilman calls the incident "a modern-day lynching"

Though the shooting was captured on video, a mistrial was declared last month in the case due to a hung jury. The officer will be tried again.

Heilman, a retired police detective. said that someone should not get the death penalty for having a broken tail light and fleeing police,

"How is that justified? And I am saying that as a retired detective sergeant," she said.

She said that in 1963, four white men bombed a black church in Alabama which resulted in the death of four young girls who were attending Sunday school classes and wounded 17 others.

Back then, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a foe of the civil rights movement, hampered the investigation into the bombing, Heilman said. The case was not resolved until the early 2000s.

She contrasted that case to a recent act of racial violence against a black church. Dylan Roof, a white man, opened fire on a group of African-Americans at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. He was tried and later sentenced to death by a federal grand jury. Heilman said the state charges are still pending.

The bodies and wounded victims of the 1963 bombing were not transported from the scene to the hospital or morgue until segregated ambulances could arrive, Heilman said. She compared that to the 2014 death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was shot to death by a police officer, which sparked protests in the city of Ferguson, Missouri.

Heilman said the body of Brown was left on the street for four hours before the corner took it away.

"The disregard and disrespect of black bodies continues even in death," she said.

Heilman talked about how in 1965, 50 people were hospitalized in March after protesters were beaten by police during a demonstration for voting rights in Birmingham, Alabama.

One of those injured protesters was then-young civil rights leader and future Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga,, whose skull was fractured in the incident by a blow from a police baton.

Two years ago, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of that incident, known as Bloody Sunday, Lewis, joined by President Obama, former President George W. Bush and many others walked across the bridge made famous in the 1965 march in a show of unity, Heilman said.

However, she said, this unity is a distortion of reality. Despite the removal of Confederate flags from some state capitals as well as the statues of men once celebrated as Confederate heros, systemic racism still exists.

"Systemic racism must end or ... the racism of daily life will continue to thrive," she said.

There are several areas where gains in equity for African-Americans and desegregation seem to be being rolled back, she said.

Though Brown vs. the Board of Education, the landmark case that ruled that legal segregation in schools was unconstitutional, the growing popularity of charter schools could increase segregation, Heilman said.

She said charter schools in diverse cities tend to be more racially segregated than public schools and could lead for public schools to be more segregated than they otherwise would be.

And despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years has struck down key provisions that protected the right to vote, she said.

Heilman said state legislatures around the country have tried to pass stricter voting laws, such as the Montana Legislature's attempt to do away with early voting, all of which would adversely affect a range of groups including racial minorities.

Negative depictions of African-Americans continue in the media, Heilman said.

In her PowerPoint presentation, she juxtaposed a 1952 ad for dress shirts with an ad from what she described as the gun lobby.

The ad from 1952 showed drawings of four white men dressed in the shirts and an African dressed in stereotypical tribal garb. She said the ad portrays African Americans as "uncivilized savages."

The gun lobby ad shows the hand of an African American holding a gun in the foreground with a frightened white person in casual wear in the background.

Heilman said that the gun lobby ad is a subtle scare tactic known as "dog whistle politics" that seeks to promote an us vs. them mentality.

She said that the movement for racial equity has and needs support from whites who make up the current majority in America.

To advance racial equity, she said, whites can do so by dropping their own frame of view and putting themselves in the shoes of another marginalized group.

"Listen to what marginalized and disenfranchised people have to say. Listen to their experiences from their point of view living in a black or brown body 24/7, 365." Heilman said.