1936 : Black Legion Murders Detroit WPA Worker

May 22, 2022 all-day

Black Legion regalia included this high powered rifle and a leather-bladed bludgeon used to beat their vict

A 22-year-old Detroit WPA worker was kidnapped, shot ten times, and his body left lying on a rural road. The murder investigation exposed and destroyed a statewide organization called the “Black Legion,” an underground society that used guns, group vengeance and terrorism against those who opposed their anti-Jew, anti-black, anti-communist, anti-Catholic philosophy.

Sources :

Michigan History

Tom Stanton, “Violent secret society plagued 1930s Detroit“, Detroit News, June 1, 2016.

David J. Krajicek, “Wrongful murder in 1936 led Black Legion leader Dayton Dean’s confession“, New York Daily, May 29, 2010.

History: The Black Legion, Where Vets and the Klan Met“, Veterans Today, November 28, 2012.

Terror in the city of champions : murder, baseball, and the secret society that shocked Depression-era Detroit / Tom Stanton.

Black legion / [presented by] Warner Bros. ; directed by Archie L. Mayo ; screenplay by Abem Finkel and William Wister Haines ; story by Robert Lord.  Burbank, CA : Distributed by Warner Home Video, [2008]   1 DVD videodisc (approximately 80 min.) : sound, black and white ; 4 3/4 in.  DMC 4 West  PN1995.9.S62 B55 2008 VideoDVD   In “Black Legion,” Frank Taylor (Bogart) joins the Black Legion, a Ku Klux Klan-like group, after losing a promotion to an Eastern European immigrant. He then is implicated in a murder and becomes the key witness for the prosecution. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay (where it lost to “A Star is Born”) and was named by the National Board of Review as the best film the year.  The film is based on actual events that occurred in Detroit in 1935, when members of the Black Legion, a white supremacist group that targeted Jews, blacks, Catholics, Communists and Eastern Europeans, were charged with crimes ranging from murder to arson. Ultimately, 48 members were convicted of crimes, including 11 for murder.  Newspapers and newsreels across the country covered the trial, garnering the attention of Warner Bros., which became known for its anti-fascist movies. When the movie opened at Lansing’s Capitol Theatre in January 1937, dark, garish movie posters depicted a black-hooded man holding a whip with the headline below it, “Death to squealers.”  The Black Legion had arisen out of the Ku Klux Klan, switching out white robes and hoods for black outfits that included piratelike hats and black robes. The group, which was estimated to have a membership of more than 10,000, had members in Detroit, Pontiac and several other Michigan cities, including Lansing. It was rumored that the Black Legion was responsible for the death of Earl Little, the father of Malcolm X, who was killed in a 1931 streetcar accident in Lansing.  Summary by Bill Castanier, “History in black and white : Film screening revisits local nationalist group”, Lansing City Pulse, February 15, 2017.

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