Book links founder of Bob Jones U. with Alabama Klan

The Associated Press/March 17, 2000
By Jay Reeves

Birmingham, Ala. -- The founder of Bob Jones University was a Ku Klux Klan mouthpiece who preached against Catholics and foreigners in Alabama decades before his school's policies became an issue in presidential politics, the author of a new book said Friday.

Bob Jones Sr., the son of Alabama sharecroppers, actively campaigned for Klan-backed political candidates in the 1920s, says the book, "Politics, Society and the Klan in Alabama: 1915-1949."

"He was very well known at the time," author Glenn Feldman said in an interview. "He managed to involve himself in most of the political races of the time. When he spoke, people listened."

Jones, a fundamentalist preacher, traveled the state espousing Klan views and once accepted a $1,600 donation from a south Alabama Klan group after speaking, the book says.

A moderate judge of Jones' time "compared the preacher to Judas Iscariot and accused him of selling out his party, perverting his religious mission, fomenting intolerance and prostituting his frock for Klan silver," states the book.

"He made money off it, but I think he was also a true believer," said Feldman, who did not look for evidence that Jones was a Klan member. Jones went out of state to start his school. He founded Bob Jones College in College Point, Fla., in 1927, according to the university's Web site. Feldman said he did not research the question of whether Klan money went into the school. The racist organization likely had money to spare back then: It claimed 150,000 members in Alabama in the mid-20s, including many business people, politicians and ministers.

The school's official history makes no mention of any ties between its founder and the KKK.

Neither spokesman Jonathan Pait nor other officials at Bob Jones University immediately returned phone messages left Friday seeking comment. Jones' grandson, Bob Jones III, is president of the nearly 4,000-student university, now located in Greenville, S.C.

The school's positions against interracial dating and Catholicism became an issue in the GOP presidential campaign last month following an appearance there by Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

The university has since lifted its widely criticized ban on mixed-race couples. But it still asks students to notify parents if they become seriously involved with someone of another race. The school's site on the Internet refers to both Catholicism and Mormonism as "cults."

The school claims its practices are based on the Bible, not racism and hatred. But the author said the university reflects many of the positions its founder once preached for the Klan.

"I think it's more subtle. It's a little more politically correct. But, unfortunately, it's essentially the same," said Feldman, an assistant business professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

During the 1928 presidential election, Jones actively campaigned against Democrat Al Smith, a Roman Catholic from New York. The book says Jones portrayed Smith as the candidate of "foreigners," a reference to the many Roman Catholics immigrating from Europe at the time.

"`If Democrat Al Smith is elected,"' the book quotes Jones as saying, "`the gates to immigration will be thrown open. I had rather see a saloon on every corner ... than to see foreigners elect their candidate."'

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