May 22, 2003 News » Cover Story

The man who fought back 

There is [a] gentleman from Colorado that many of you have heard of, maybe some of you haven't. His name is Billy Adams. He was from Alamosa. Billy Adams was first elected to public office as county commissioner in Conejos County in 1882. Four years later he was elected as a representative from Alamosa; after one term in the House he was elected to the state Senate where he served, in this chamber, for 38 years. Billy Adams was a Democrat and almost all of his long tenure he served as a member of the minority party.

When he came to the Legislature, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge of the state and its history that astounded other legislators. He read every bill introduced, fought for simplicity in laws and carried on an unending fight against purely political legislation...

The pinnacle of his legislative career came when the Ku Klux Klan came to dominate the Republican Party and swept to power in the 1924 election. The Klan supported Clarence Morley for the governorship. Only two Democratic candidates for state office, both endorsed by the Klan, survived the Republican landslide. In the 1925 legislative session, 1,080 bills were introduced, many "patriotic measures" promoting the Klan philosophy. But in the end the Klan and their followers failed; they failed in their attempts to understand and manipulate the legislative process. While in the House they managed to secure passage of some bills only by allying themselves with non-Klansmen; in the Senate under the leadership of Billy Adams they failed miserably.

Nine holdover Republicans who owed nothing to the Klan courageously refused to go along with the Klan-supported governor. No administration promises, conferences or threats could budge them.

The Klan employed punitive measures and incredible pressure against those rebels. Senators who failed to toe the line were ostracized in the Capitol and on the street. Every morning a copy of the unofficial KKK newspaper was laid on legislators' desks. It prominently displayed their "Roll of Dishonor," listing legislators who voted against the Klan's "patriotic measures."

When the Legislature adjourned on April 15, 1925, 85 percent of the Klan bills had gone nowhere. Only two Klan-endorsed measures became state law. Schools were required to fly the American flag and the ownership and operation of a still became a felony.

There was only one thing the Klan could do and that was take out their petty revenge on those who had defeated them. As for the minority leader Billy Adams, who with courageous Republican senators so effectively blocked consideration on so many of their bills, the Klansmen used their influence to kill an appropriation bill and cut off funding for Adams State Teacher's College in Alamosa.

They were successful, but Billy Adams wouldn't surrender to their terms under any conditions. He went back home to the San Luis Valley and the residents of Alamosa and the San Luis Valley put up their own money and made voluntarily contributions.

They kept the school open despite the Klan's best efforts. In 1926, when the voters in Colorado saw that bigotry and hatred were in power, they threw the Klan out at the polls. Billy Adams was elected governor and served three terms.

Gov. Adams served in public office for a full half century. His integrity never wavered and his courage never flagged, and in 50 years, he never lost an election.

-- From the Opening Day remarks of Colorado State Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, Jan. 7, 1998


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