A midnight meeting of the Ku Klux Klan (November, 1922).
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Remembering Our KKK Past

A dark moment in American history offers lessons for the present.
Formally reconstituted at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1915 by white men inspired by the heroic portrayal of the Reconstruction-era Klan in the film Birth of a Nation, the Second Klan was not of the hooded-hicks-on-horseback variety. The resurgent KKK was strongest in the West and Midwest, and as common in urban as in rural areas. The 1920s Klan was rooted in WWI vigilance committees and is more accurately grouped with other postwar organizations like the American Legion than its Reconstruction antecedent. Two factors distinguished the resurgent Klan from other fraternal organizations of the era, however: its use of violence and its political influence.

This new version of the Klan participated actively in politics as voters, organizers, and candidates. Militantly Protestant, the Klan was a vehicle for “Old Stock” Americans (those whose ancestors had arrived before the great waves of immigration after 1890) striving to reassert cultural dominance over an increasingly heterogeneous and secular society. Klansmen lived in a fractured and disorienting world. Their country, especially its cities, was swamped with clannish Jews and Catholics, who educated their children apart and voted together. Their wives were politically enfranchised and assertive, their sons were disrespectful, and their daughters ungovernable, especially in matters of sex and marriage. Skeptics derided their religion. The economy, and thus their livelihood, was unpredictable.

At its peak in 1925, the Second Klan boasted a membership of more than 5 million, nearly all native white Protestants, many of whom were considered respectable members of their communities. The Klan’s causes — racial segregation, nativism, anti-communism, free enterprise, patriarchy, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, Prohibition, and law and order — reflected its sense that everything was coming unglued.
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