Plot to overthrow the government

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Since 1812 there have been several attempts to terrorize or overthrow the government of the United States with violent attacks on our capitol. I covered this in detail in my column dated Jan. 20, 2021.

I recently read about a plot to overthrow the government in the mid-1930s that I was unaware of. It revolved around a group called the Black Legion.

In August, the Warden family took a short vacation to the great state of Michigan. We traveled a couple of hours northeast of Chicago, close to Lake Michigan, where we stayed in an airbnb in what was formerly a grocery store.

 On our last day, we visited a bookstore in St. Joseph, where I found a couple of good historical reads. One is titled “Terror in the City of Champions.” Set in Detroit, Mich., during the depression, this book by Tom Stanton is a thrilling story that combines sports, crime and history. 

Motown is the only city where its sports franchises won the World Series, the National Football League Championship (before the Superbowl) and the Stanley Cup in one year — giving them the title City of Champions.

It was the middle of the depression, 1935, when the Tigers, under the direction of their player-manager Mickey Cochrane, beat the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 to win the World Series. That same year the Lions defeated the New York Giants 26-7 to take the NFL title. The conclusion of the 1935-36 season saw the Red Wings claim the Stanley Cup. They beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Red Wings were strong enough to repeat their feat the following season. It was 1945 before the Tigers won their second World Series. The Lions’ next championship was in the 1950s.

Interestingly, the Tigers played the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series in 1934. As Cardinals fans know the Red Birds came out on top in that series.

When the Tigers won the World Series, the broadcaster for the Cubs was Ronald Reagan.

Another prominent sports figure rising in the middle 30s was Detroit native Joe Louis, who would go on to hold the heavyweight boxing title longer than anyone else, reigning from 1937 until his temporary retirement in 1949.

 Most of the pages in Stanton’s book weave the story of the Tigers with that of the Black Legion in the Motor City.

The Black Legion, as Wikipedia describes, “was a white supremacist terrorist organization which was active in the Midwestern United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s.” With a membership estimated between 60,000-100,000, concentrated in Michigan and Ohio, their enemies included all immigrants, Catholics, Jews and blacks, nontraditional Protestant faiths, labor unions, farm cooperatives and various fraternal groups.

It was hard to turn down membership in the Black Legion. They frequently lured potential recruits to meetings with lies. If that didn’t work, they would kidnap you. Once at a meeting, recruits were made to swear loyalty to the group at gunpoint.

Its enrollment reportedly included members of the police, court systems and elected officials.

Anyone threatening to quit or tell the authorities was beaten. According to the Associated Press, the group was suspected of killing as many as 50 people in 1936 alone.

The Black Legion’s ultimate goal was to overthrow the president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

According to Stanton, one of the organization’s leaders, Major-General of the Black Legion, Bert Effinger “often talked about how much better the nation would be without Roosevelt. At a meeting in January [1935], Effinger mentioned for the first time his plans to overthrow the US government. ‘They did it in Russia with 30,000 men, and we are stronger than that here in the United States and are better equipped,’ he said. He set the date for Sept. 16, 1936.”

Fortunately, fate stepped in when the secret organization was exposed during the murder trial of Charles Poole. Poole was murdered by a gang of Black Legion members who mistakenly thought Poole, a French Catholic, beat his pregnant wife, a Protestant.

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History is more interesting than fiction. Most live in a bubble of time, never looking at life before they were born. I am currently reading the second book I found in Michigan. It’s on the life of one of America’s most successful generals — Robert E. Lee.

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