Tennessee Tech's Michael Birdwell featured on History Channel's 'Histories Mysteries'

During the 1930s, a secret, pro-Nazi group known as The Black Legion terrorized the Midwest and was responsible for 57 killings.

On Monday, April 10, at 7 p.m. and again on Saturday, April 15, at 1 p.m. the History Channel will take a look at this sinister group on its popular feature series, History's Mysteries, based on the writings of Tennessee Technological University adjunct professor Michael Birdwell, who wrote the recently published Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism.

"Terror in the Heartland," the History's Mysteries episode title that takes much of its subject matter from Birdwell's book, explores the formation of The Black Legion, the group that claimed guardianship of white Christian values and was rumored to have more than 130,000 members.

In conjunction with the television show, Birdwell is teaching a non-credit class through TTU's Extended Education called "You Know This Means War" to be held Mondays, April 17-May 8, from 6-8 p.m. Call 372-3300 to register. Cost is $39.

Birdwell was part of the filming of the History's Mysteries episode last October that began in Detroit, where a strong faction of The Black Legion was stationed, with additional filming done in Washington, D.C. Birdwell was also featured extensively on a recent A&E special about Sgt. Alvin C. York.

Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism, details the Warner Bros. film studio's conscious decision to embark on a virtual crusade to alert Americans to the growing menace of Nazism.

The movie studio produced the movie "The Black Legion" starring Humphrey Bogart in one of his earliest and least-known movie roles. Bogart plays a factory mechanic whose expected promotion to foreman is instead given to a foreign-born worker. His association with the pro-Nazi group ends up having him put in jail. The movie is now out on video.

Running through the literature and rhetoric of the Black Legion was the fear of an international Communist takeover of the United States. Legionnaires were ordered by their superiors to be prepared to take over federal government buildings with arms at what they called "zero hour," the date and time that communists would rise up throughout the United States and launch their attack on the country. In truth, however, the legion was led by unsophisticated men, "petty men," as one researcher has noted, who were most interested in the "pettiness of personal reform."

By and large, the typical Black Legionnaire was a lower-class, Anglo-Saxon male, poorly educated with few industrial skills, and were Southerners transplanted to the Detroit area during the heyday of the city's industrial growth during the 1920s. -30-