Topeka, Kan. (AP) – Leaders of a Topeka high school are considering how the community can respond to a report from its student newspaper that the man the school is named for was a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century.
Seaman High School’s student newspaper, The Clipper, reported Friday that Fred Seaman was an “exalted cyclops” or chief ofﬁcer of the Topeka KKK.
Rumors of Seaman’s ties to the KKK had circulated for years in the Topeka district, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Earlier this year, someone anonymously sent a newspaper clipping to history teacher Nathan McAlister directly tying Seaman to the KKK. That prompted McAlister, print journalism teacher Amy Riley and seniors Tristan Fangman and Madeline Gearhart – coeditors-in-chief of The Clipper – to scour more newspaper clippings from that era.
“For the longest time, I just thought that Seaman and (school mascot) Vikings were connected, but ﬁguring out that the founder was connected with (the KKK), it was just so shocking,” Fangman said.
One Topeka Journal article published in April 7, 1925, said “Seaman and his robed brothers” were pushing several candidates favorable to the KKK in a Topeka city election.
“The Klan ticket, the ﬁrst of its kind in a Topeka city election, appeared at the election polls… the tiny two inch by four inch slips bear across the face of the endorsement of Fred A. Seaman, exalted cyclops of the Klan organization,” the Journal reported.
Seaman founded and was principal of Seaman Rural High School, one of the state’s ﬁrst rural high schools, and was considered as a potential Klan candidate for the Republican nomination for Kansas’ superintendent of public instruction.
“I think, part of the reason this is coming to light now is the fact that we’re getting to a point where more newspapers are being digitized, and so it’s easier for people to ﬁnd information in those newspapers,” McAlister said. “As this goes along and as these get easier access, I think we’re going to ﬁnd more stories similar to this.”
After they found the newspaper clippings, Fangman and Gearhart said waited to allow the board to respond to the story, during a time when the school was also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and having a teacher and basketball coach accused of sexually exploiting children online.
“But we deﬁnitely knew that we needed to share it, because as journalists, it’s our job to put the information out there, even if it’s a sensitive topic or even if it’s controversial,” Fangman said.
In statements to the The Clipper and the Capital-Journal, the Seaman Board of Education said it was planning a process for community input and board discussion about the issue.
“We are grateful our district today is inclusive as we welcome and embrace all students regardless of color, race, ethnicity, etc. and we will continue to listen and support the research of our students and teachers in this ongoing investigation,” the statement read.