Black Legion

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The Black Legion (also known to themselves and the United Brotherhood of America) was an organization similar to the Ku Klux Klan that operated in the northern United States in the 1930s. Many of the members were former Klansmen who moved from the South to the North in the 1920s to take factory jobs. The group at times would rent halls under the name Wolverine Republican League.[1]

The organization is said to be founded by Dr. William Sheppard in east central Ohio in 1931. The group's total membership was estimated between 20,000 and 30,000, centered in Detroit, Michigan, though the Legion was also highly active in Ohio under the leadership Virgil Effinger.

The Associated Press described the organization on May 31, 1936 "as a group of loosely federated night-riding bands operating in several States without central discipline or common purpose beyond the enforcement by lash and pistol of individual leaders' notions of 'Americanism.'" The death of Charles Poole, kidnapped and murdered in southwest Detroit, caused authorities to finally arrest and successfully try and convict a group of twelve men, thereby ending the reign of the Black Legion.

The Black Legion was organized along paramilitary lines and had five brigades, 16 regiments, 64 battalions, and 256 companies. Although its members boasted that there were one million legionnaires in Michigan, it probably had only between 20,000 and 30,000 members in the state in the 1930s, one third of whom lived in Detroit.

Black Legion was also the name of a 1937 Humphrey Bogart film, featuring a fictionalized version of the group.

Members wore black uniforms with skull and crossbones insignia and were allegedly responsible for numerous murders of alleged communists and socialists, notably Earl Little, Malcolm X's father.

The March 20, 1938 episode of the radio show The Shadow, with Orson Welles in the title role, was entitled "The White Legion;" it was based loosely on the Black Legion movement.


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