In preparing for a–shameless self-promotion alert!–coming Navel Gazing profile of Orange County hate groups, I came across a stunning–though not surprising–revelation: Orange County was officially founded by the Ku Klux Klan.
This insight comes courtesy of Dr. Henry William Head, a Civil War veteran who served as a Los Angeles County Assemblymember (representing the Orange County region) from 1883-1889. Biographies on Head in the Santa Ana Library History Room and subsequent stories about him in the Orange County Register peg the good doctor as one of the men crucial to helping Orange County secede from Los Angeles' evil, evil grasp way back when. Problem is, none of them reveal Head's KKK membership–not Orange County Medical History, not Orange County Through Four Centuries or any of the main Orange County history textbooks, not even the self-congratulatory compendium of “notable” Orange County citizens printed in the 1930s whose title I can't remember but has glowing words about Head.
To find out about Head's uber-racist past, one has to delve deep into the Klan's history and read through Annie Cooper Burton's 1916 pamphlet on the Klu Klux Klan (the Santa Ana History Room has a copy), one of the first histories of the KKK and published just after The Birth of a Nation gave rise to the KKK's more-famous appearance in Orange County. Burton used Head–who she described as “a popular physician of Santa Ana, California”–as one of her primary resources, and Head–a former Grand Cyclops from the days when he lived in his native Tennessee–was more than happy to comply. Head was a Klansman almost since the group's founding 1867 convention in Nashville, by his own admission. He was in the KKK for about three years, until the Klan's reputed leader at the time, Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, ordered all KKK members to burn all “Uniforms, oaths, and rituals …because it meant death to a Klansman to have them found in his possession, so strong had grown the feeling against the Order, due to unscrupulous outsiders who committed horrible deeds in the guise of the Klan,” according to Burton. But Head kept his robes and posed for a shot (pictured above) for Burton. “It was strange how the old feeling came back to him,” she wrote. “He felt, he said, as if he were breaking his secret oath in thus displaying his uniform. Certainly he did look guilty and a little self-conscious as he emerged from the funny-looking garment.”
There you have it, folks: Orange County was founded by a racist. Surprised? Of course not? Surprised that Orange County historians don't bother with this annoying factoid? If you were, you have a lot of reading to do–and don't bother with the Orange Crate Label school of history!