The Ku Klux Klan began as a terrorist group in the South after the Civil War. It’s had a very long shelf life and is still in existence today, one of a reported 917 U.S. hate groups.
A new book by historian Linda Gordon focuses on the Klan of the 1920s, when it was completely reinvented. Gone was the secrecy from the early days.
This new Klan was a national organization which advertised openly. It was highly profitable and claimed 4 to 6 million members. It controlled about 150 publications. And it gained great political power, electing 11 governors and 45 congressmen, who ran openly as Klan members.
Its political power led to the passage of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924. The quotas enacted were an exact reflection of the Klan’s racial hierarchy.
The KKK became part of the social fabric of communities nationwide. The picnics, pageants, secret rituals, and parades were huge fun for the white Protestant men, women, and children who paid their dues and bought their robes.
But the KKK still trafficked openly in hatred of the “other.” Only now the list had expanded from “Negroes” to include Catholics, Jews, Asians, Mexicans, Italians, and Eastern Europeans. They were stealing jobs and destroying the moral fabric of America.
It is hard to read Gordon’s book and avoid seeing echoes of our own time.
I’m Deborah Booth, and that’s my perspective.