Literary Fiction: Historical Story Helps Frame Today's Fears

In 1924, racism was open, accepted, and part of the corrupt power structure. A few fought back, some openly, some secretly. 

Down At The Radio Café is a coming-of-age story set in 1924, when the KKK was a powerful, corrosive influence across the United States. In Denver that year, young Fred Swan must decide: do the right thing, or the smart thing? 


We are living in such a polarized, divided time with racism openly expressed in a way it has not been since the early 20th century. Where did this come from? In the ‘20s, it was all out in the open: anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-anybody not white, Protestant, conservative. The KKK of the 1920s was a widely celebrated fad that had media and popular support. The election of 1924 brought hundreds of open Klansmen into office across the United States – and the laws they passed still haunt us today. The “Invisible Empire” was a financial scheme, a social club, a deeply corrupt organization that marketed itself as a vigilante law-and-order “100 percent American” group while it covered for racial violence, widespread criminality and fraud. 

Actual newspaper advertisement for the Radio Café, in 1924
Actual newspaper advertisement for the Radio Café, in 1924

Down At The Radio Café poses a real question: how do you confront an insidious political force that controls the police, the courts, and thousands of members? And how do the Jewish, African-American, and Catholic victims of this “fad” fight back?


Consider the character Edward Jones, a member of the Boulé, an actual group of African-Americans in the 1920s who worked to protect their community from the reconstituted KKK. Edward is an embedded spy and the moral center of the story.


The men and women in this book each have a distinctive point of view, and they influence Fred in different ways. Fred’s teenage admiration for the Klan is tempered by its open corruption, exhibited through the nonfictional characters of Harry Bellow and Gano Senter, and especially the KKK’s notorious “Grand Dragon.” The real anti-Klan Judge Ben Lindsey recruits Fred to box for his team, and he finds another friend there, Ron Sullivan, who influences him to think for himself—and who has a pretty sister, Lydia.

Judge Lindsey speaks to boys in the early days of the juvenile court in Denver (early 1900s) (LofC)
Judge Lindsey speaks to boys in the early days of the juvenile court in Denver (early 1900s) (LofC)

The Jewish community of Denver is victimized by the Klan, and Fred takes part in this. He subsequently meets a young, brilliant Jewish lawyer, Charles Ginsberg (also a real historical character).


Fred’s story arc requires him to decide whether to accept Harry’s grooming of him to become a Klan enforcer, or to reject that path and make a new future for himself. He must reassess what he had thought were truths, and face life with uncertainties.

Across the United States in the early 1920s, the KKK was extremely powerful
Across the United States in the early 1920s, the KKK was extremely powerful

MORE ABOUT THE BOOK

Historical Characters

Charles Ginsberg

 Down At The Radio Café  features real people from the 1920s. Learn about them here.

Historical Character List

Synopsis

KKK Cross Burning

Brief synopsis of the story in Down At The Radio Café, a 97,000 word novel set in 1924.

Read the Synopsis

Bibliography

Evans and others in Washington DC, 1924

The 1920s KKK has been well-documented. Here is a list of articles, books and other material.

List of Sources