Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

The 12 Most Corrupt Public Officials In Illinois History: S. Glenn Young

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This is the second in a series profiling Illinois' most corrupt public officials.

In the 1920s, Southern Illinois was Klan Country. The Klan was experiencing its second Golden Age, as a Nativist movement crusading against alcohol, immigrants and Roman Catholics.

As a special agent of the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Unit, S. Glenn Young was assigned to East St. Louis. He immediately proved himself to be a zealous foe of bootlegging -- so zealous that, after just four months on the job, he shot and killed a man during a raid on a still. Young was put on trial for murder, but found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense, since he claimed that the bootlegger pulled a gun on him. The Prohibition Unit fired him, not just for the killing, but for confiscating $157.50 from a gambler and keeping it for himself, and traveling with his mistress while on government business.

Young’s bosses “found him to be of a belligerent nature, prone to make threats of violence…and apparently convinced that he is a law within himself.”

That was just the kind of take-charge guy the Klan was looking for. In 1923, it recruited Young to clean up the blind pigs, roadhouses and underground stills in Williamson County. Williamson was the most lawless county in Illinois, perhaps in the entire nation. Just the year before, striking coal miners in Herrin had massacred 19 scabs -- and were acquitted by sympathetic local juries. Despite his record as a G-man, Young was deputized by the Prohibition Commissioner. Not only did he make hundreds of arrests for illegal drinking, he led violent raids on the homes of Italian Catholics guilty of nothing more than making their own wine.

After an anti-Klan riot in Herrin resulted in the murder of a Klansman’s son, Young arrested the sheriff and the mayor and declared himself acting police chief, ruling on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan.

As a result of usurping power in Herrin, Young was indicted for parading with arms, false imprisonment, conspiracy, kidnapping, assault with attempt to murder, assault with deadly weapons, falsely assuming an office, robbery, larceny, riot and malicious intent. This was too much even for the Williamson County Klan, which packed Young off to East St. Louis. He found trouble there, too. While driving to Kaskaskia, Young and his wife were ambushed and shot by bootleggers.

Young was finally expelled from the Klan for “inordinate craving for personal publicity” and “ostentatious display of firearms and braggadocio.” Even that didn’t end his career. He campaigned for Klan-supported Republican candidates in the fall of 1924; the slate swept Williamson County. Only the violence that Young embraced could stop him. On January 24, 1925, Young was shot to death in a Herrin cigar store by a deputy sheriff. Over 15,000 Klansmen and Klan sympathizers attended his funeral, where he was buried in the purple robe of a Kleagle.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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