On May 17, 1924, the Benefit Street Arsenal was the site of an illegal meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. Although often associated with the South, the Klan was relatively active in Rhode Island during the 1920s. Klan members arranged a meeting at the State Arsenal that attracted about 200 men. The group had not obtained a permit to meet on state property but had gained access to the building by claiming it was hosting a religious meeting. Later, however, Rhode Island’s Governor William S. Flynn** denounced the Klan and subsequently banned the group from using state property for meetings.
Two hundred men! Keep in mind that the area around the north end of Benefit Street — from Prospect and down to North Main Street — was host to a large Black community. The sight of these menacing goons in their neighborhood must have been terrifying.
A month later, the Rhode Island Klan was holding a clambake and field day in the western part of the state. Learn more at ‘Rhode Island’s Dark History’ by Phil Eil.
*Providence’s Benefit Street was written by Elyssa Tardif and Peggy Chang for the Rhode Island Historical Society.
**Flynn was a progressive Democrat with an impressive legislative record as well, having served as a state rep for over a decade. (Jews in the ACI can thank Flynn for their Kosher food.)