A bit of uncomfortable local history… It may not have much to do with music other than the martial marching variety and probably absolutely nothing to do with rock ‘n’ roll other than the fact that a few members would have appreciated the right-wing rabble-rousing of Ted Nugent.
The Silver Legion of America, aka Silvershirts / Silver Shirts, was a pro-Hitler paramilitary and metaphysical fraternal organization founded in 1933 in Asheville, North Carolina by author / mystic William Dudley Pelley.
The web is loaded with references, footnotes and a few photos, but a militaria collector friend of mine just made a point in our recent conversation. WE know what a Silvershirt uniform would look like. We’ve seen the photos. However, unlike the obvious implications following the chance discovery of white hoods and robes in grandpa’s trunk, most folks wouldn’t recognize Silvershirt items even if they held them in their hands.
The Travel Channel and History Channel have both aired segments in recent months depicting the Silver Shirts, so it is possible that wider public recognition of such rather non-descript items is due. After all, there were several thousand members with large posts in several major cities during the 1930s. The stuff has to be out there, though no uniform items have apparently ended up in any museum collections. There was supposedly a temporary exhibit at a small regional history museum in Chehalis or Centralia, Washington 15 or so years ago, but current curators remember nothing of the exhibit or the uniform reportedly displayed at the time.
So, my friend and I, avid long-time eBay hunters for obscure historical items, regalia and ephemera, started to brainstorm… If a person found something like this, how would they describe it in a few words? What sort of auction title would they use?
Sellers of such unknown stuff often first turn to the internet in an attempt to identify their goods. This entry, even though it would seem quite out of context on a local community radio site at first glance, seems to me a good way to become a result and point-of-contact for any such search.
The group did not have a large uniformed public presence in Asheville, even though headquartered here for its entire run, 1933-1940, and most certainly vanquished by the outbreak of World War Two and the imprisonment of its leader, Pelley, for sedition in 1942.
I knew one old local fellow, quite an eccentric and resembling Colonel Sanders when he used to haunt Pack Library in the mid-1990s, quite elderly at the time, dead for 15 years now, who WAS a Silver Shirt and made no apologies. He was a sweet little marshmallow of an old man, attended Jubilee church and was quite liberal in his worldview, nearly the opposite of what you might expect from an old Nazi. He told me that the staff around Asheville was mostly associated with the publishing end of things, distributing millions of pieces of propaganda all over the country. The publications are not as hard to find or identify.
By 1938 the printing presses were set up at 645 Haywood Rd., West Asheville, where Pineapple Jack’s sandwich shop was located in recent years. The employees work uniform was also the standard Silver Shirt attire.
So, what did it look like? What did the flag and insignia look like?
The uniform was a gray shirt with large red “L” over the left breast, navy blue tie and trousers. On parade or in the field, the get-up was topped with a military campaign hat, that is, standard drill instructor, highway patrol, boy scout, or Stetson Austral hat.
The flag was a standard dimension white banner with large red “L” in the upper left corner and was flown alongside the 48-star US flag of the day.
The insignia was again the capitol “L” surrounded by a wreath or laurel, sometimes backed by a burning torch and with long narrow wings extending straight to either side.
In 1936 Pelley started a political third party, The Christian Party, which insignia was an illuminated or glowing, shining anvil.
If a web search brought you to this post, maybe you’ve seen such things. I’d love to hear from you and talk more about what it is you have stumbled across. It could indeed be an obscure artifact from a dark chapter in American history that most would like to forget. On the other hand, as a historian, I believe that any trace of this buried history should be recognized, studied and preserved with proper context and respect.
To end, here is a word cloud which might catch off-hand descriptions of all such things:
long sleeve sleeved gray grey shirt with blood crimson scarlet red letter l letter l in red capitol letter capital L l over pocket breast heart left shoulder, uniform masonic lions club parade dress military police drill insignia vintage school college team white flag with red L antique old, fraternal organization, church group, militaria, medal decoration pin L in wreath with wings and torch, glowing anvil. pre-WW2 great depression anti-Roosevelt 1930s World War Two World War 2 Hitler Asheville sedition third party president Seattle Los Angeles San Diego Chicago. Riot rally protest anti-government nationalist nationalism extreme right wing ultra conservative historical reenactor replica in image at top of post.