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Ku Klux Klan: Origin, Members and Facts


Founded in 1865, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) extended into almost every southern state by 1870 and became a vehicle for white southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies aimed at establishing political and economic equality for Black Americans. Its members waged an underground campaign of intimidation and violence directed at white and Black Republican leaders. Though Congress passed legislation designed to curb Klan terrorism, the organization saw its primary goal–the reestablishment of white supremacy–fulfilled through Democratic victories in state legislatures across the South in the 1870s.

After a period of decline, white Protestant nativist groups revived the Klan in the early 20th century, burning crosses and staging rallies, parades and marches denouncing immigrants, Catholics, Jews, African Americans and organized labor. The civil rights movement of the 1960s also saw a surge of Ku Klux Klan activity, including bombings of Black schools and churches and violence against Black and white activists in the South.

Founding of the Ku Klux Klan

A group including many former Confederate veterans founded the first branch of the Ku Klux Klan as a social club in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1865. The first two words of the organization’s name supposedly derived from the Greek word “kyklos,” meaning circle. In the summer of 1867, local branches of the Klan met in a general organizing convention and established what they called an “Invisible Empire of the South.” Leading Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was chosen as the first leader, or “grand wizard,” of the Klan; he presided over a hierarchy of grand dragons, grand titans and grand cyclopses.

The organization of the Ku Klux Klan coincided with the beginning of the second phase of post-Civil War Reconstruction, put into place by the more radical members of the Republican Party in Congress. After rejecting President Andrew Johnson’s relatively lenient Reconstruction policies, in place from 1865 to 1866, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act over the presidential veto. Under its provisions, the South was divided into five military districts, and each state was required to approve the 14th Amendment, which granted “equal protection” of the Constitution to former enslaved people and enacted universal male suffrage.

Ku Klux Klan Violence in the South

From 1867 onward, Black participation in public life in the South became one of the most radical aspects of Reconstruction, as Black people won election to southern state governments and even to the U.S. Congress. For its part, the Ku Klux Klan dedicated itself to an underground campaign of violence against Republican leaders and voters (both Black and white) in an effort to reverse the policies of Radical Reconstruction and restore white supremacy in the South. They were joined in this struggle by similar organizations such as the Knights of the White Camelia (launched in Louisiana in 1867) and the White Brotherhood.

At least 10 percent of the Black legislators elected during the 1867-1868 constitutional conventions became victims of violence during Reconstruction, including seven who were killed. White Republicans (derided as “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags”) and Black institutions such as schools and churches—symbols of Black autonomy—were also targets for Klan attacks.

READ MORE: The First Black Man Elected to Congress Was Nearly Blocked From Taking His Seat

By 1870, the Ku Klux Klan had branches in nearly every southern state. Even at its height, the Klan did not boast a well-organized structure or clear leadership. Local Klan members–often wearing masks and dressed in the organization’s signature long white robes and hoods–usually carried out their attacks at night, acting on their own but in support of the common goals of defeating Radical Reconstruction and restoring white supremacy in the South. Klan activity flourished particularly in the regions of the South where Black people were a minority or a small majority of the population, and was relatively limited in others. Among the most notorious zones of Klan activity was South Carolina, where in January 1871 500 masked men attacked the Union county jail and lynched eight Black prisoners.

The Ku Klux Klan and the End of Reconstruction

Though Democratic leaders would later attribute Ku Klux Klan violence to poorer southern white people, the organization’s membership crossed class lines, from small farmers and laborers to planters, lawyers, merchants, physicians and ministers. In the regions where most Klan activity took place, local law enforcement officials either belonged to the Klan or declined to take action against it, and even those who arrested accused Klansmen found it difficult to find witnesses willing to testify against them.

Other leading white citizens in the South declined to speak out against the group’s actions, giving them tacit approval. After 1870, Republican state governments in the South turned to Congress for help, resulting in the passage of three Enforcement Acts, the strongest of which was the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.

For the first time, the Ku Klux Klan Act designated certain crimes committed by individuals as federal offenses, including conspiracies to deprive citizens of the right to hold office, serve on juries and enjoy the equal protection of the law. The act authorized the president to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and arrest accused individuals without charge, and to send federal forces to suppress Klan violence.

This expansion of federal authority–which Ulysses S. Grant promptly used in 1871 to crush Klan activity in South Carolina and other areas of the South–outraged Democrats and even alarmed many Republicans. From the early 1870s onward, white supremacy gradually reasserted its hold on the South as support for Reconstruction waned; by the end of 1876, the entire South was under Democratic control once again.

READ MORE: How the 1876 Election Effectively Ended Reconstruction

Revival of the Ku Klux Klan

In 1915, white Protestant nativists organized a revival of the Ku Klux Klan near Atlanta, Georgia, inspired by their romantic view of the Old South as well as Thomas Dixon’s 1905 book “The Clansman” and D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.”

This second generation of the Klan was not only anti-Black but also took a stand against Roman Catholics, Jews, foreigners and organized labor. It was fueled by growing hostility to the surge in immigration that America experienced in the early 20th century along with fears of communist revolution akin to the Bolshevik triumph in Russia in 1917. The organization took as its symbol a burning cross and held rallies, parades and marches around the country. At its peak in the 1920s, Klan membership exceeded 4 million people nationwide.

READ MORE: How 'The Birth of a Nation' Revived the Ku Klux Klan

Great Depression Shrinks Klan

The Great Depression in the 1930s depleted the Klan’s membership ranks, and the organization temporarily disbanded in 1944. The civil rights movement of the 1960s saw a surge of local Klan activity across the South, including the bombings, beatings and shootings of Black and white activists. These actions, carried out in secret but apparently the work of local Klansmen, outraged the nation and helped win support for the civil rights cause.

READ MORE: How Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit' Confronted an Ugly Era of Lynchings

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson delivered a speech publicly condemning the Klan and announcing the arrest of four Klansmen in connection with the murder of a white female civil rights worker in Alabama. The cases of Klan-related violence became more isolated in the decades to come, though fragmented groups became aligned with neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist organizations from the 1970s onward.

As of 2016, the Anti-Defamation League estimated Klan membership to be around 3,000, while the Southern Poverty Law Center said there were 6,000 members total.

See America’s First Memorial to its 4,400 Lynching Victims









The History of the KKK And Law Enforcement On ➾hind The Police'

On this episode of Behind the Police, Robert Evans and Jason “Propaganda” Petty tell us about the historically close relationship between the police and the Ku Klux Klan. The period after slavery was abolished, between 1865-1877, was called “Reconstruction.” More than 700 Black men were elected to public office, including 14 Representatives and 2 Senators. 1,400 Black men and women were appointed to government jobs, and they fought for things like back wages for former slaves. “This was a pickle for white supremacists,” Robert says. In response, the Ku Klux Klan was formed. At first, this was basically a loosely-formed gang of drunk white men who would dress up as ghosts or aliens and terrify Black people with beatings, hangings, dismemberment, and other violence. The costumes were intended to make the victims appear ridiculous, afraid of something silly, that they “didn’t get the joke.” President Ulysses S. Grant and his Attorney General Amos Ackerman clamped down hard on the KKK, passing the Enforcement Acts, and by 1872, the KKK was no more.

But then, in 1877, Jim Crow laws were passed. These mandated different public spaces for white and Black people, requiring separate bathrooms, schools, restaurants, beaches, and everything else, and police could arrest a Black person simply for entering a white-only space. In 1915, the Ku Klux Klan started back up again under the aegis of a minister named William Joseph Simmons, who rebranded it as a fun family club that helped police with law and order. This new iteration of the Klan had millions of members all over the country at its height, and Simmons bragged in an interview that there were members of law enforcement at every level of the organization, “and that the Sheriff was often the first to join when the Klan came to a town.” In Anaheim, California, Klan members won four out of five city council seats and allowed cops to patrol the city in their Klan uniforms instead of their police uniforms.

Remember, Robert says, that the first police department started in 1838, and Jim Crow laws in 1877. Law enforcement was founded in large part to keep Black people separate from whites. And the Klan didn’t limit themselves to Black people they also terrorized Catholics, Jews, and Asian immigrants. Robert tells many stories to illustrate the violence of the KKK in several parts of the country, then gives an overview of the Red Summer of 1919, when white people went to Black communities instigating violence and destroying their homes and businesses, and law enforcement either stood by and watched or actively assisted the white mobs. Then he draws a direct line from that day to this, telling us about FBI reports showing that members of law enforcement all over the country have ties to extremist groups or had to be reprimanded for making racist comments. When it comes to the police upholding white supremacy, not much has changed. Listen to the episode for all this history and more on Behind the Police.

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THE KLAN AND RECONSTRUCTION

When the Civil War ended in 1865, it was immediately succeeded by a political war of comparable ferocity. The principal issues were the terms under which the rebel states would be readmitted to the Union and the status and rights of African Americans in those states. Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), although he freed the slaves, was not a friend to the concept of African American equality, and his intention toward the southern states was to put the Civil War behind immediately and heal the Union as quickly and painlessly as possible. After Lincoln was assassinated, the new president, Andrew Johnson (1808–1875), took up Lincoln's moderate approach toward the South. However, the Radical Republicans in Congress, led by Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, wanted to treat the South as a vanquished foe and immediately bring the former slaves into full citizenship with suffrage and political rights equal to those of their former masters. The Radical Republicans succeeded in passing the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866 (both over Johnson's opposition), giving citizenship rights with the exception of suffrage to African Americans. In 1867 they passed the Reconstruction Acts, which added suffrage for African Americans (later made permanent by the Fifteenth Amendment), disbanded the state militias of the defeated southern states, established federal military control of the governments of those states, and required approval of the Fourteenth Amendment by each state before it could be readmitted to the Union. Congress itself was divided over these measures, as reflected by the narrow defeat of the Radical Republican effort to remove Johnson from office by impeachment. Meanwhile, the Southern states were moving in the opposite direction, acting in 1865 and 1866 to establish "black codes" (based on the pre-emancipation slave codes), by which the rights of freed slaves were so radically limited as to return them to a condition not much different from slavery. The political struggle was waged largely along party lines, with Republicans advocating federal control over the Southern states and Democrats advocating "states' rights"—that is, the rights of the states to choose their own forms of government and determine their own laws.

In this highly polarized environment it was not difficult for the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups, such as the Knights of the White Camellia in Louisiana, to attract disaffected southerners, especially former Confederate soldiers, interested in safeguarding the economic well-being and traditional values of southern society. The KKK expanded to become a statewide organization that achieved formal structure at a gathering in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1867. The former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821–1877) was named Grand Wizard, the top position in the Klan's hierarchy. Forrest, a vocal opponent of Republican policies toward the South, issued the "Prescript of the Order," specifying support for white control of state governments and denial of Negro equality.

By 1868 the KKK had spread to all the southern states. At first Klansmen were content to intimidate the black population by sweeping through the night in white robes, riding horses with muffled hooves, and pretending to be the ghosts of the Confederate dead returning to exact retribution. Soon, however, psychological intimidation gave way to whipping, beating, and even murder. The main targets were the former slaves, but many whites who sympathized with the Republican agenda were victims of Klan violence as well. Teachers, both black and white, at public schools established for African Americans by the Freedmen's Bureau (created by the federal government to aid the freed slaves) were among those frequently chosen for harassment.

The reign of the Klan was brief but effective. The main accomplishment was keeping African Americans from voting—an important factor enabling all the southern states within a few years to reject the Republican state governments imposed by Congress, install Democratic rule, and return the African American population to subjugation. Thus, the principal tenets of Forrest's "Prescript" were realized.


How the Klan Got Its Hood

Long before the artist Philip Guston was celebrated for his cartoonish paintings of pink flesh, cigarettes, and Klansmen, he was Phillip Goldstein, a member of the Los Angeles socialist Bloc of Mural Painters, and a kid on a road trip. In 1934, he and fellow painter Reuben Kadish bought a Ford coupe for $23 and drove to the city of Morelia, Mexico, where the university there had offered the artists a wall to embellish. Guston and Kadish’s fresco, depicting a swastika, hammer and sickle, cross, whips, nails, and electric chair cap, would go by many titles: The Struggle against War and Fascism The Workers’ Struggle for Liberty, as Time magazine dubbed it and The Struggle against Terrorism.

The Morelia mural swarms with robed men in peaked white hoods, suggesting one particular kind of terrorism for viewers then and now. But in 1934, when the mural was painted, the Ku Klux Klan’s white hood had been standardized for only two decades. How the Ku Klux Klan’s white hood came to be an icon of hatred is the story of image-makers: parade planners and playwrights, Hollywood and the mail-order catalog. Before they came along, though, the early Klan of the postwar South really was an “Invisible Empire,” emphasis on the invisibility: covert, decentralized, lacking hierarchy or uniforms, including the now-standard white, conical hood.

As historian Elaine Frantz Parsons has written in Midnight Rangers: Costume and Performance in the Reconstruction-Era Ku Klux Klan, while some early Klansmen did wear white, and later Klan mythology would claim they’d dressed up as Confederate ghosts, they usually drew on folk traditions of carnival, circus, minstrelsy, Mardi Gras—or the mid-century “Calico Indians,” hooded and masked farmers rebelling against upstate New York land laws. Klansmen wore gigantic animal horns, fake beards, coon-skin caps, or polka-dotted paper hats they imitated French accents or barnyard animals they played guitars to serenade victims. Some Klansmen wore pointed hats suggestive of wizards, dunces, or Pierrots some wore everyday winter hoods, pillowcases, or flour sacks on their heads. Many early Klansman also wore blackface, simultaneously scapegoating and mocking their victims.

The lack of a formal uniform helped apologists like John H. Christy, a former Georgia Representative, testify to Congress in 1871: “Sometimes mischievous boys who want to have some fun go on a masquerading frolic to scare the negroes, but they do not interrupt them, do not hurt them in any way…stories are exaggerated, and it keeps up the impression among the negroes that there is really a Ku-Klux organization.” But pantomime costumes didn’t make the early Klan any less real, or brutal: one “colored” witness, Jacob Montgomery of Spartanburg, South Carolina, testified that the Klansmen who pistol-whipped, beat, and kicked him wore “white gowns, and some had flax linen, and some had red calico, and some red caps, and white horns stuffed with cotton. And some had flannel around coon-skin caps.” Another witness, Henry Lipscomb, testified that the Klan had killed two of his black neighbors and one white they’d stripped, choked, and beaten him, and thrown a fireball into his house. The original Klan, anonymous, unaccountable, and hybrid, springing up in a woman’s gown, squirrel skin, or Venetian domino mask, violated its victims, then vanished, denying that any terrorism had occurred.

As Reconstruction ended and Southern white men reclaimed political power, they dropped out of the Klan, no longer limited to secret outlets for their violence. In 1872, the old Klan made a valedictory appearance: in public, in the Memphis Mardi Gras parade, revealing a new kind of pageantry that was no less ceremonial than chilling. Local Klan leaders and representatives from all the Southern states rode their own float, wearing black, conical hats with the skull and crossbones and “K.K.K.” in white. They staged the mock lynching of a man in blackface they lassoed black spectators. The Klan itself was dying, but only because white supremacy was resurging right out in the open, with the sanction and participation of law enforcement and white society at large. Now they had Jim Crow laws. They had a criminal justice system that disproportionately punished Black people and imprisoned them in prison farms, on former plantations. They had lynch mobs, who no longer concealed their identities.

As Gwendolyn Chisholm would comment over a century later, about the white supremacists who tortured and murdered James Byrd Jr. in 1998, “They look like normal people, don’t they? That’s the way they are nowadays—they don’t wear hoods anymore.” Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century lynchers also looked like “normal people.” The complete absence of any hood, costume, or concealment presented, literally, a new face of white supremacy. Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett estimated that in the twenty-five years after the Civil War, lynchers murdered 10,000 black Americans. Starting in the 1880s, spectacle lynchings attracted crowds of up to 15,000 white participant-witnesses, who booked special excursion trains to reach lynching sites. They snatched victims’ clothing, bone fragments, and organs as souvenirs they photographed themselves, smiling, posing with their kids beside the broken, burned bodies of their victims they scrapbooked the photos and mailed them as postcards, confident that they’d never be held accountable for their terrorism. They didn’t wear hoods, because they didn’t need to.

Lynchings were not spontaneous outbursts of “mob” violence, but the predictable result of institutional support and the outright participation of political elites. The lynchers of Leo Frank, in Marietta, Georgia in 1915, included a former governor, judge, mayor and state legislator, sheriff, county prosecutor, lawyer and banker, business owner, U.S. senator’s son, and the founders of the Marietta Country Club. Frank’s atypical case—he was white and Jewish—attracted media attention that thousands of black victims never received, yet it exposed the ways that elites and authorities exonerated themselves by blaming mob violence on so-called “crackers.” Meanwhile, Mississippi governor, later U.S. senator James K. Vardaman said in 1907, “If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched it will be done to maintain white supremacy.”

Vardaman didn’t wear a white hood. Neither did the first woman U.S. senator, Rebecca Latimer Felton, who said in 1897, “If it takes lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from drunken, ravening human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand a week if it becomes necessary.” They were cloaked, instead, in state power and popular support, and what their platforms concealed was the truth: Wells-Barnett’s reporting and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) research had disproved the “thread bare lie” of the lynch mob as honorable defenders of white women. Besides the fact that the myth of the black rapist was a white supremacist fantasy, 70 percent of lynchers didn’t even bother to invoke it to justify their violence. Lynchers killed for such alleged offenses as “sassing,” wanting a drink of water, being “troublesome,” “conjuring,” and often, as in the murders of Mrs. Jake Cebrose and an eight-year-old child named Parks, no excuse at all.

Yet politicians still defended and abetted lynchers. In 1918, Georgia governor Hugh M. Dorsey wrote to the NAACP, “I believe that if the negroes would exert their ultimate influence with the criminal element of their race and stop rapes that it would go a long way towards stopping lynchings.” The “criminal element” he was referring to was Mary Turner, who had threatened to press charges against the lynchers of her husband, Hayes Turner, and of nine other men. The lynchers, as reported by the Savannah Morning News, “took exceptions [sic] to her remarks as well as her attitude.” They lynched Mary, who was eight months pregnant. Journalist Walter White, whose ability to pass as white enabled him to interview the murderers themselves, reported that they had hung Mary upside-down, set her on fire, cut out her fetus and stomped it, then shot Mary’s body multiple times. The Brooks County coroner’s jury ruled that all the victims had died “at the hands of parties unknown” and closed their cases a lyncher served as jury foreman.

It was in this context of bald-faced violence and injustice that Thomas Dixon recirculated the myth of the black rapist, pursued by vengeful robed vigilantes, for his 1905 novel and play, The Clansman. For the first edition of the book, the president of the Society of Illustrators, Arthur I. Keller, depicted the Reconstruction-era Klansmen in an anachronistic uniform of white, shoulder-length, face-concealing hoods beneath spiked caps. Dixon’s theater costumes adapted Keller’s book illustrations and added a conical white hat to the mix. Together they reintroduced pantomime, fantasy, and nostalgia to what had become a horribly commonplace spectacle for white crowds of murderers.

Then Hollywood took charge. In 1915, director D. W. Griffith adapted The Clansman as The Birth of a Nation, one of the very first feature-length films and the first to screen in the White House. Its most famous scene, the ride of the Klan, required 25,000 yards of white muslin to realize the Keller/Dixon costume ideas. Among the variety of Klansman costumes in the film, there appeared a new one: the one-piece, full-face-masking, pointed white hood with eyeholes, which would come to represent the modern Klan. Maybe it was Griffith who brought those pieces of fabric together in their soon-to-be iconic form after all, his mother had sewn costumes for his Klansman father. Or, given the heterogeneity of Reconstruction Klan costumes, maybe Griffith got the idea from another source altogether: Freemason regalia. Or maybe it wasn’t Griffith’s idea at all, but that of Paris-trained, Costume Designer Guild’s Hall-of-Famer Clare West, who worked on the film: maybe she had witnessed confraternal processions in the streets of Europe, or just made it up.

What we do know is that the blockbuster popularity of The Birth of a Nation gave free advertising to a traveling fraternal order organizer, former Methodist minister, and garter salesman, William J. Simmons. Simmons didn’t just organize fraternities he’d joined fifteen of them, including the Knights Templar and the Masons. The 1915 lynching of Leo Frank had inspired Simmons to form a new anti-Semitic, nativist fraternity. One week before The Birth of a Nation’s Atlanta premiere, Simmons received his state charter for “The Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Incorporated.” He sold hoods and robes ($6.50) sewn in a local shop, wrote a handbook—the Kloran—and, in 1920, hired publicists Edward Y. Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler to launch a massive campaign that attracted 100,000 new members in 16 months. Kleagles, or recruiters, arranged minstrel shows and screenings of The Birth of a Nation and other pro-Klan films.

In 1921, the Klan opened the Gates City Manufacturing Company in Atlanta to mass- produce regalia imitating The Birth of a Nation’s designs. The sumptuous, full-color, mail-order Catalog of Official Robes and Banners advertised all the standardized, factory-made hoods for the new hierarchy: Klansman (white cotton denim hood, red tassel) Terror (same hood, along with a red waist cord) Special Terror (white satin hood, three red silk tassels). Also for sale were ceremonial banners: The catalog’s banner samples all represent Red Bank, in the “Realm of New Jersey” (New Jersey had 60,000 members at the peak of Klan membership, more than Louisiana, Alabama, or the original Klan’s home state of Tennessee).

With black Americans’ lives already so severely constrained, or curtailed, by Jim Crow law and lynch law, the newly hooded Klan aimed much of its violence against new targets: immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, Jews, Catholics, supposed Bolsheviks, and unions. The new Klan courted mainstream Protestant, nativist, white supremacist respectability senators, Supreme Court justices, and governors joined up. So did white women: Shortly after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, the Klan auxiliary organization “Women of the Ku Klux Klan” formed. The Vermont Historical Society owns a celebratory women’s hood from that time, made not of denim but of softer, finer muslin it’s mended in several places, as though it had seen hard wear. (In the 1919 film Heart o’ the Hills, Mary Pickford dons a Klan hood to join the nightriders.)

The new hooded uniforms and the secret rituals harked back, not so much to the Klan’s early history, as to other fraternal orders, like the Masons. Anonymity wasn’t quite the point: While the hoods could assure their wearers’ personal anonymity, their force came from declaring membership in a safe, privileged identity that was anything but secret. The hoods made Klan membership cool they helped rebrand the Klan as a popular, patriotic, money-making, white clubhouse movement. Over the next few decades, the Klan would morph again, going bankrupt and facing tax evasion charges, then reviving, diminished in numbers but ferociously violent, as an anti-black terrorist organization during the Civil Rights Movement. But as the Klan waned or regrouped, the hooded uniform remained, sometimes anonymizing acts of covert violence, sometimes adorning a public, unconcealed, violent group identity. Either way, the hood signaled the interrelatedness of white supremacy, civic leadership, theatrics, and more or less overt terrorism.

Alison Kinney is the author of Hood and of essays online at Paris Review Daily, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Guardian, and other publications. She is an assistant professor of writing at Eugene Lang College, the New School.


Ku Klux Klan (after 1900)

The original Ku Klux Klan (KKK) formed sometime between 1865 and 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first acknowledged Klan leader, took actions to disband the organization in 1869. A resurgence in Klan activity occurred starting in 1915, and states such as Arkansas were home to newly forming Klan groups during the 1920s. By 1955, the threat of school integration ushered in a new Klan era even though independent Klan groups were a fixture on the American landscape in some way or another from the 1920s on.

One of the first official Klan acts in Arkansas was a donation to the Prescott (Nevada County) Christmas fund in December 1921. Shortly thereafter, other Klan groups formed with the goal of “cleaning up” local communities—an example set by groups in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Leaders used the Klan as a device to regulate morals and to uphold Victorian standards, especially for women. Bigotry, the Red Scare, and anti-unionism were also important issues for the 1920s Klan in Arkansas and other Southern states. Eventually, enforcement of the prohibition of alcohol became one of the Klan’s leading goals. In 1922, Klansmen in Union County torched saloons that had sprung up after the oil boom, and local bootleggers became a target for Klan reprisals.

Strikes on the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad brought the Ozark region of Arkansas to the attention of early Klan organizers. They effectively targeted the communities of Paragould (Greene County), Jonesboro (Craighead County), Harrison (Boone County), Heber Springs (Cleburne County), and Marshall (Searcy County) as sites for Klan activity. Local resentment toward strikers, as manifest especially in a Harrison riot, enabled the Klan to become entrenched in this part of the state. With support from concerned citizen groups, the Klan was able to gain a following in non-urban Arkansas based on restoring the local economy, severely sanctioning union strikers and their sympathizers, and running bootleggers out of town. However, opposition did emerge, most notably in the publication of The Eagle, an anti-Klan newspaper based in Marshall in the 1920s.

According to historian Charles C. Alexander, the first chartered Arkansas Klan organization was formed during the early 1920s in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The group reportedly retained 7,800 male members during its zenith. More typical of the urban Klan movement of the time, the Little Rock Klan organization was powerful enough to influence local and county politics through “elimination primaries.” In 1922, a slate of Klan-endorsed candidates gained control of Pulaski County politics. Little Rock was also home to a national women’s Klan order that formed in 1923 as an adjunct to the men’s group. Two junior Klan groups were established in 1924 in Little Rock and Arkadelphia (Clark County) as well.

Internal battles and money troubles eventually weakened the Little Rock Klan, and it was in shambles by 1926. Economic woes brought on by the Great Depression further weakened Klan groups throughout the South, and the national Klan organization in Georgia ceased operations in 1944 due to tax problems. During the years following school integration and the end of Jim Crow, Klan groups across the South fragmented due to infiltration by law enforcement, internal conflicts, and lawsuits by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

According to the SPLC, a number of KKK groups are active in Arkansas. The group in Boone County, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, operates under the auspices of Pastor Thom Robb’s Christian Identity ministry. Also known as the Knights Party, the group is considered to be one of the better-organized Klan organizations in the South. Robb’s group is relatively active and continues to sponsor annual events for its members and invited guests, such as a retreat held in April 2009 in the area of Zinc (Boone County) and South Lead Hill (Boone County), which reportedly attracted about fifty people.

In 2016, the Arkansas-based Klan organization made national news when Thom Robb, writing in the Klan newspaper Crusader, endorsed Republican Party candidate Donald Trump for president of the United States.

For additional information:
Alexander, Charles C. The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Arkansas Ku Klux Klan Materials. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Barnes, Kenneth C. “Another Look behind the Masks: The Ku Klux Klan in Bentonville, Arkansas, 1922–1926.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 76 (Autumn 2017): 191–217.

———. Anti-Catholicism in Arkansas: How Politicians, the Press, the Klan, and Religious Leaders Imagined an Enemy. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2016.

———. The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas: How Protestant White Nationalism Came to Rule a State. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2021.

———. “The Ku Klux Klan in Faulkner County, 1921–1924.” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 56 (Fall/Winter 2014): 20–39.

Blevins, Brooks R. “The Strike and the Still: Anti-Radical Violence and the Ku Klux Klan in the Ozarks.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 52 (Winter 1993): 405–425.

Conant, Eve. “Rebranding Hate in the Age of Obama.” Newsweek, May 4, 2009.

Cope, Graeme. “‘The Master Conspirator’ and His Henchmen: The KKK and the Labor Day Bombings of 1959.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 76 (Spring 2017): 49–67.

Deaton, Ron. “The Clark County Ku Klux Klan Debates of 1922–23.” Clark County Historical Journal (2015): 33–39.

Holley, Donald. “A Look behind the Masks: The 1920s Ku Klux Klan in Monticello, Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 60 (Summer 2001): 131–150.

Jackson, Kenneth T. The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930. Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1992.

Lancaster, Guy. “Many a Civil Monster: Lynching and the Ku Klux Klan in Hot Springs, 1922.” The Record (2019): 4.1–4.22.

MacLean, Nancy. Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

McVeigh, Rory. The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.


6-10 Ku Klux Klan Facts

6. The KKK was denied the permit to Sponsor a segment of Interstate 55 in Missouri when the federal court declared it unconstitutional and the KKK was given the sponsorship the Missouri Legislature renamed the segment “Rosa Parks Highway”. – Source

7. Muhammad Ali once spoke at a KKK rally where he stated that Nation of Islam, and he himself, also shared their ideas on racial segregation. – Source

8. A Catholic priest was kidnapped and castrated by KKK members, including the Gainesville mayor and police chief, at the University of Florida in 1924. – Source

9. Daryl Davis, a black musician, is credited with dismantling the entire KKK network in Maryland. He did this by befriending many members, even going so far as to serve as a pallbearer at a Klansman’s funeral. – Source

10. In 1996, a black teenager, while marching to protest a KKK rally in Michigan, protected a white man, who had an “SS” tattoo and a confederate flag shirt, from the attacks of a crowd. She threw herself on him to deflect the mob’s strikes, due to her belief that “nobody deserves to be hurt.” – Source


A Summary of the Solid South Switch

To summarize the above claims before we get to the details:

In 1860 the Democratic Party Platforms were about Small Government and States’ Rights, and the more aristocratic Republican Platform about Federal Power and Collective Rights, but by 2016, the opposite is true (see platforms from the 1840’s to 2016).

This is because the “conservative south” and “old Republican Progressives” can be said to have “switched parties” in reaction to events that occurred from the Gilded Age to the Bush and Clinton years. These changes that are well symbolized by the 1968 election, but not explained by that alone.

To understand what changed, we must become familiar with people like W. J. Bryan, Teddy, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, Henry A. Wallace, Strom Thurmond, FDR, MLK, and Hoover. We must look at the Red Scare, the Dixiecrat States’ Rights Parties, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Nixon’s Southern Strategies, the New Deal Coalition and Conservative Coalition, etc. See Democrats and Republicans Switched Platforms.

The full story aside, in the early days:

  1. Populist social liberals (like Jefferson) used to ally with the populist socially conservative solid south (an extreme faction of which is the KKK).
  2. The social liberal elite like Gouverneur Morris and Alexander Hamilton were in the Federalist party with classical conservative Tory-like figures and factions.

The Anti-Federalist populist liberals didn’t unite because they agreed on an issue like race, they united because they were both opposed to “Federal Power.” The parties are best thought of as “big tents” with many factions who agree on some key issues.

That pairing of factions is either hopeful or a blight on history, depending on your perspective.

Putting aside the many oddities of the other party and much else in history, we can say that despite the past, platforms have obviously changed.

Today the Republicans have the platform-in-action (and to some degree on-paper) that most resembles the Platform of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (that is verifiable fact), and the Democrats are taking a more “Federalist” position on most issues.

The Republican platform is based on small government, being strict on immigration and crime, anti-gun control, pro-Protestant, white “traditional values,” against “liberal Hollywood,” against the “international banks,” and against globalism, etc. The Democratic Party platform takes the opposite stance.

That said, not everything changed. The northern Republican Know-Nothing types and conservative anti-Communist Hoover and McKinley factions never swapped sides. Likewise, the Democrats retained some of their “Redeemed and Reformed” or otherwise more progressive Southern conservative Gore, Clinton, and Byrd types.

Today we can only see shades of the Lincoln and Hamilton types in rare figures like McCain, while we can see more than just shades of the Solid South in the Republican Party. Platforms aside, all we need to do is look at voting maps over time to confirm all this.

TIP: As you can see in the quote below, while the KKK is not “like either major party,” they have more an extreme form of the modern Republican platform than the modern Democratic party platform.

Enemies from within are destroying the United States of America. An unholy coalition of anti-White, anti-Christian liberals, socialists, feminists, homosexuals, jews [sic] and militant blacks have managed to seize control of our government and mass media. This gang of criminals and degenerates has declared war on the hard working, tax paying, White citizens. White Americans have become second class citizens in the country our ancestors built from nothing. The liberal dictatorship seeks to disarm us and leave us at the mercy of savage rapist and murders.” – The Platform of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan 1999 this is reminiscent of Solid South platforms in any era but far less polite. It is obviously not the “the same” as what one would find in the Progressive 2016 Democratic Party Platform. In historic terms, the DNC platform is more like a Bull Moose platform of 1912 than George Wallace’s American Independent platform of 1968 or Trump’s Republican platform of 2016.

FACT: The KKK was one of the first modern fascist right-wing movements. Like the fascist movements of the World Wars era Europe, they grew out of a liberal left-wing party. This doesn’t make them liberal or left-wing on most issues (aside from the issue of Federal power). Instead, these progressive social conservatives used their liberal environment to thrive. Thus we can say, the KKK are right-wing the same way that Hitler was right-wing, despite having liberal roots. Fascism is a good example of why Plato’s warning that Democracy leads to tyranny was not misguided the other example is Communism. Extremes of liberty and equality are corrupting. Tyranny never looks very “left-wing” in action (despite the on-paper philosophy of a given faction). [11] [12]


5 The Secret Handshake

What is a club without a secret handshake? The Ku Klux Klan had their special handshake to let other members secretly signal each other that they were in the club. Funnily enough, the handshake was not all that secret because someone shared the handshake with the papers and it was published in 1921 as &ldquopart of the most carefully guarded mysticisms of the order.&rdquo


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The KKK in Colorado

June 17, 1921: The Colorado KKK announces its presence in Colorado via an open letter published in the the Denver Times newspaper.

May 15, 1923: Klansman Ben Stapleton is elected mayor of Denver. He installs Klansmen at many levels of city government.

Nov. 10, 1923: The KKK lights crosses on fire across Denver, including the steps of the Capitol, to commemorate Armistice Day.

Aug. 15, 1924: Stapleton defeats a recall election to stay in office.

Jan. 16, 1925: Gov. Clarence Morley, a Klansman, takes office.

June 1925: Grand Dragon John Galen Locke is jailed for contempt of court in connection to an investigation of tax evasion.

July 15, 1925: National Klan leadership ousts Locke from the organization. He goes on to form a new, similar group called the Minute Men and splits Denver’s KKK.

Sources: History Colorado, “In the Shadow of the Klan: When the KKK Ruled Denver” by Phil Goodstein, ColoradoHistoricNewspapers.org, the Colorado Encyclopedia

It was also a time when Black people in Denver were moving into white neighborhoods and the city’s immigrant population was growing, including Jewish and Catholic communities. These changes made the white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants who had long held power in the city nervous, Goodstein said.

The Klan of the 1920s was distinct in some ways from the organization that terrorized the South in the 1860s after the Civil War and was responsible for lynching hundreds and suppressing the Black vote. This Klan largely disappeared from the public view by the 1870s.

The second wave of the Klan, which began in 1915 under new leaders, was inspired in part by the movie “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Reconstruction-era Klan’s actions and falsely recast the terrorist organization as a patriotic defender of law and order. While still fervent believers in white supremacy, the second iteration of the KKK expanded its targets to include Catholics, Jews and immigrants of any kind. The new Klan also was far more organized.

“The Klan had a cafeteria of appeals,” Goldberg said. “They would go into a community and find out what the problem was and how they could sell themselves to that community.”

In Denver, the white Protestant majority saw public safety, bootlegging and immigration as the problem. People joined the Klan for a range of reasons, Goodstein said. Political opportunists from both parties wanted to use membership to their political advantage. Others wanted to be a part of a quasi-secret society and relished the ritualism and feeling of participating in something with a “patriotic aura,” he said.

“They realized that those with great power and fortunes received an inordinate share of society’s honors while most politicians were bought puppets of the ruling elite,” Goodstein wrote in his book, “In the Shadow of the Klan.” “But they never questioned the essential setup. On the contrary, they turned their wrath on those who sought equality with them. An intense patriotism and religiosity filled voids in their social and psychic makeups.”

Denver’s Klan began secretly in well-connected circles but soon went public and spread to thousands of middle-class households, Goldberg said. Working-class neighborhoods tended to have higher membership rates because those people were more likely to live near or work with immigrants, Jews, Catholics and Blacks, said Tom Noel, director of Public History, Preservation & Colorado Studies at the University of Colorado Denver during a discussion hosted by History Colorado.

Although the Klan sometimes painted itself as a volunteer and social organization, its exclusionary and white supremacist ideals were plainly iterated in its writings. The “Creed of the Ku Klux Klan,” as printed on Jan. 31, 1925, in the Boulder KKK publication The Rocky Mountain American, states that one of the organization’s core principles was “white supremacy” and “limitation of foreign immigration.”

At its peak, at least 30,000 men were part of the KKK in Denver — nearly a third of the 107,000 white, U.S.-born men recorded living in the city at the time of the 1920 census. Chapters opened in other Colorado cities, with Denver’s Klan acting as the central hub.

And though their names aren’t in the ledgers, at least 11,000 women joined Klan groups in Colorado, with the largest chapter in Denver, said Betty Jo Brenner, who is working on a book on the women of the Klan.

Under the leadership of John Galen Locke, Grand Dragon in Colorado, the Klan quickly grew in power and took top positions in the city, state and federal governments, as well as rank-and-file jobs in those systems. The ledgers show that at least 186 Klansmen worked for the city of Denver, not including the 53 police officers and 37 firefighters, a Denver Post review found.

Influence extended beyond the government. More than 40 Klan members listed hospitals as their workplace as well as more than a dozen Klansmen who said they worked for public middle and high schools or the school board. At least 45 Klansmen listed a local newspaper as their employer — including 19 who said they worked for The Denver Post. It wasn’t clear what roles they played.

The Klan met regularly in the foothills outside Denver, where they burned crosses to be seen for miles. They hosted picnics and car races and frequently marched. Few acts of physical violence have been directly tied to the Denver KKK during this time, but the organization waged a campaign of intimidation through letter writing and cross burnings. It also pressured members to not shop at stores not owned by Klansmen and to fire employees who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, join the KKK.

But the Klan fizzled in the summer of 1925 after Locke was jailed in connection to tax evasion — a contradiction to the man of law and order he pretended to be. His downfall and the failure of the Klansmen in the legislature to pass bills related to the KKK’s goals, like repealing the state civil rights act, contributed to the KKK’s diminishment in Denver.

“The Klan was not defeated in Denver,” Goldberg said, noting there was never any broad uprising against the group. “The Klan died of self-inflicted wounds in Denver.

An oral tradition

Descendants of Black, Jewish and Catholic families who lived during that time still tell stories their predecessors passed down about the Klan’s reign — and how people stood up to the KKK.

Denver’s small Black community countered the Klan through the local branch of the NAACP and its newspapers, the Denver Star and the Denver Statesman, where writers repeatedly condemned the group. At the time of the 1920 census, 6,075 Black people lived in Denver, which had a total population of 256,491.

One Black physician with light skin, Dr. Joseph Westbrook, joined the Klan and was able to keep tabs on the group’s plans and share them with the Black community, said Terri Gentry, a docent at Denver’s Black American West Museum.

Gentry’s family has been telling Westbrook’s story for four generations. Westbrook was her great-grandfather’s best friend and godfather to her grandmother.

“There were threats to the Black community and the Black community still looked after itself and made sure it increased and strengthened,” Gentry said.

The Klan sent the NAACP president a letter ordering him to leave town, which he refused, and burned a cross in front of his home, according to History Colorado. The KKK also boycotted companies that hired Black employees.

Gentry’s grandmother lived in the Five Points area, like most Black Denverites at the time. Gentry’s grandmother loved her neighborhood and neighbors, but leaving the confines of the area could be a threat.

“You have this double-edged sword: Your community’s a safe haven, but your radar’s up all the time,” she said. “Because if you step outside of your house you have to pay attention. And that hasn’t changed. My radar is still up high.”

Even though Bobbi Furer wasn’t born until a few years after the KKK’s fall, she still felt the fear the group instilled in her parents. They didn’t tell her many stories about living as a Jewish family in Denver in the 1920s, but a sense of fear remained even after the Klan fell out of power.

“They said to me, ‘Don’t talk about it and don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish,’” Furer said.

Her family had to walk a difficult line. They needed customers at their downtown gift and frame store and feared that the Klan would boycott them if the group found out they were Jewish — or worse. For years, her great uncle bought a Christmas tree for his house so that he would blend in with the Christian majority, Furer said.

It wasn’t until she was a teen in the 1940s that she felt comfortable sharing her faith with people who were not Jewish.

The Catholic press issued condemnations of the Klan, which spread conspiracies that all Catholics were allegiant to the pope and not the U.S., said Kevin Jones, a Denver-based staff writer at Catholic News Agency.

Jones’ great aunt was a ticket taker at a Denver theater who once had to hide in a closet because the theater was hosting a Klan event, he said. His grandma once saw KKK members trying to set up a cross to burn in front of a Catholic church.

“We can say there was a lot of anxiety and fear,” he said. “The Klan was a secret society. There was a concern about who was in the Klan — if your employer was in the Klan, you had to watch your step.”

A reckoning

For several nights last month, George Sparks struggled to sleep.

The digitization and release of History Colorado’s membership ledgers revealed one of Sparks’ predecessors, the first director of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, as a Klansman.

Someone noticed Jesse Figgins’ name in the ledgers and flagged the museum’s leadership, who on May 4 issued an acknowledgment of the “abhorrent history” that influenced the operations of the museum’s first years.

“For the people in this building, learning about Jesse Figgins was a shock to the system,” said Sparks, the museum’s president and CEO.

Since then, the museum’s archivist has been sifting through Figgins’ correspondence and papers to figure out what Figgins believed and how those beliefs affected the operations of the museum. Figgins ran the museum from 1910 to 1935 and he would’ve personally been involved in curating and creating exhibits, Sparks said.

The museum took Figgins’ name off a collections room, took down a plaque that bore his name and hosted a town hall for staff to talk about the news. Personally, the revelation has left Sparks with a sadness, he said.

“You don’t get to pick your predecessors, but you want to admire them,” he said. “And I don’t admire Jesse Figgins.”

A similar review of History Colorado is underway after the state’s pre-eminent history organization found a former curator, Albert Sanford, and members of the board in the KKK membership rolls. The museum is reviewing Sanford’s work and also looking to see if donors or volunteers were Klansmen.

Overall, History Colorado has received only positive feedback about the release of the ledgers, Chief Operating Officer Dawn DiPrince said. The ledgers are the only document of their kind and size in the U.S. known to the museum. People are eager to learn more about issues of systemic racism, she said.

“This is the form white supremacy took in the 1920s in Colorado, but it’s such a powerful force, it’s got this shape-shifting to it,” DiPrince said. “It just finds new ways to continue thriving in our society.”

Mementos of the old ways of white supremacism remain in Denver, too.


Ku Klux Klan

The infamous Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was organized in May or early June of 1866 in a law office in Pulaski by six bored Confederate veterans (the “immortal six”). The Ku Klux Klan was, in its inception, a social club for young men seeking amusement and entertainment. It adopted similar oaths and rituals popular with college fraternities of the day, including oaths of secrecy, mystical initiations, outlandish titles for officers, costumed ceremonies, and pranks. The name “Ku Klux” was a derivation of the Greek word kuklos, meaning “band” or “circle.” For the remainder of 1866 there is little evidence that the Klan was involved in vigilantism as new “dens” were formed for social purposes in many of the surrounding counties.

In February 1867 Tennessee enfranchised freedmen, and Republicans established local chapters of the Union League, a political arm of the party, to mobilize the new black voters. In some respects the KKK became the conservative ex-Confederates’ answer to the Union League, a rallying point for white Democrats determined to drive freedmen, Republicans, and their allies from the polls. During the spring of 1867 the KKK’s innocent beginnings began to give way to intimidation and violence as some of its members sought to keep freedmen in their traditional place.

The official reorganization of the Klan into a political and terrorist movement began in April 1867, when the state’s Democratic Party leadership met in Nashville. An invitation sent by the Pulaski den to others in the state called for a gathering of members at the Maxwell House hotel, where Tennessee’s conservative Democrats provided for greater control of an expanding KKK. A prescript established administrative protocols and emphasized the need for secrecy. Subsequently, former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was elected the first and only Grand Wizard. In 1868 a revised prescript declared the Klan the defender of the Constitution of the United States and the protector of the orphans and widows of Confederate dead. Klansmen were required to swear that they had never been members of the Union army, the Union League, or the Republican Party, and they supported re-enfranchising ex-Rebels and upholding the South’s constitutional rights.

Prior to 1868, however, the KKK essentially assumed a defensive posture aimed at protecting the white community from the perceived threats represented by Union Leaguers and the state militia. Indeed, early in 1867, some white conservatives still hoped to win over black voters to the Democratic cause. When the freedmen flocked to the Republican banner during the elections of that year, however, conservative Democrats, incensed over their political losses, decided that a new strategy of intimidation and violence was needed.

The violent tactics of the KKK soon spread to parts of Middle and West Tennessee, where bushwhacking and general lawlessness were already common, and throughout much of the South in 1868. Klan activity was especially strong in Giles, Humphreys, Lincoln, Marshall, and Maury Counties in Middle Tennessee, and Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, and Obion in West Tennessee. The Klan was less successful in Unionist and Republican East Tennessee, with the exception of some activity in the vicinity of Bristol, a pocket of pro-Confederate sentiment.

Irrespective of time and place, a major problem of the Klan’s expansion from a leadership standpoint was a lack of control. Once the dens set aside social activity as their primary purpose and took up political terrorism and racial violence, they fed on local reaction to threats to conservative political control and white supremacy rather than to any coordinated direction on the state, or even county, level. This aspect of the KKK’s character became clear when the violence did not disappear after the elections of 1868 but continued with little or no link to political activity. Klansmen attacked, whipped, and murdered black men and women whenever they found their activities offensive, no matter how innocent or trifling these putative transgressions were. Freed people who exhibited too much independence, established schools, or assumed positions of leadership were singled out for harsh treatment.

In an effort to curb the violent acts of the KKK, Governor William G. Brownlow called for an extra session of the legislature which, following the investigation of a Ku Klux Klan committee, reestablished the militia and gave him the power to declare martial law in any county necessary. Members of the Klan and other secret societies engaged in terrorism were subject to arrest by any citizen, a five-hundred-dollar fine, and imprisonment for up to five years under a so-called Ku Klux Klan Act. Brownlow, who wished to see prominent KKK leaders and ex-Confederates tried and convicted in order to make examples of them, employed a Cincinnati private detective, Seymour Barmore, to infiltrate the Klan and gather names. When Barmore’s body turned up in the Duck River on February 20, 1869, with a rope around his neck and bullet hole in his head, Brownlow declared martial law on the same day in nine counties in Middle and West Tennessee. Five days later Brownlow resigned as governor to fill a seat in the U.S. Senate. Subsequently, Nathan Bedford Forrest, believing that the Klan had served its purpose, called for the members to destroy their robes.

After a hiatus of almost fifty years, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1915 stimulated a new interest in the KKK in Tennessee, the South, and the nation. In the aftermath of World War I, the Red Scare, the Scopes trial, and rising nativism, many conservatives saw the KKK as the protector of traditional American values. Many working-class whites in Tennessee’s urban areas, feeling threatened by economic competition from blacks and immigrants, joined the Klan. By 1923 over two thousand white men had enrolled in Knoxville, for example, and soon became involved in local and statewide elections. The political influence of the KKK in Tennessee helped elect Governor Austin Peay in 1923 and U.S. Senator Lawrence D. Tyson in 1924. Membership declined sharply during the Great Depression, however, and the Klan disbanded as a national organization in 1944.

During the post-World War II years various groups of individuals have organized under the Klan name and in turn have disbanded, depending upon conservative white reaction to perceived threats during the civil rights and school desegregation movements. Jerry Thompson, a journalist for the Nashville Tennessean, infiltrated the KKK and in 1980 and 1981 produced an award-winning series of newspaper articles on Klan activity. In 1997 the U.S. Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc., received incorporation from the secretary of state’s office as a nonprofit organization at Camden, Tennessee.