Racism and the Klu Klux Klan

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Thesis: During the "Roaring 20's", the KKK fought against the progressive and changing society, and attempted to bring America back to its traditional roots through racism, and anti-immigrant beliefs.

The First Klan (1865-1874):
  • The original Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee by six confederate veterans in 1865.
  • The post civil war Klan was formed to resist social changes that were federally enforced, (Reconstruction), after the Confederacy lost the war.
  • The Klan used violence and terrorism to hinder social changes and re-establish white supremacy.
  • Its popularity is greatly attributed to the large numbers of bitter veterans.
  • Former Confederate Brigadier General George Gordon created the Prescript, which suggested elements of white supremacist belief.
  • The first leader was Nathan Bedford Forrest.
  • The leader of the Klan was known as the Grand Wizard.

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Nathan Bedford Forrest - First Grand Wizard (Leader of the Ku Klux Klan)

  • Klansmen are famous for their white robes and distinctive white, cone hat. These uniforms helped provoke fear in victims and concealed their identity.
  • They used violence and terror.
  • They attacked and targeted blacks, especially those who voted. In a few weeks prior to the Presidential election of 1868, the KKK killed or injured over 2000 black voters, who were all Republicans.
  • Wore masks and robes to conceal their identities.
  • Went on night rides, their primary method of attack.

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Klansmen were once called the "Ghosts of Confederate Soldiers"

The Second Klan (1915-1944): The second Klan arose after the declination of the first in the late 1800's and was founded by William J Simmons. This revival was prompted by three major factors:

1. The Film "The Birth of a Nation" was released in 1915 by Director D.W. Griffith, mythologizing and glorifying the First Klan. The Silent Film was the top grossing film of its day, and depicted KKK heroes during the American Civil War. President Woodrow Wilson even commended the film as one of his favorites.

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2. Leo Frank, a Jewish man, raped and murdered Mary Phagan, a white girl. The murder lead to huge amounts of anger, and the eventual lynching of Leo Frank.

3. The "Great Migration" of blacks to the north sparked a lot of racism in the North.

The second Klan supplemented its anti-black views with anti-catholic, anti-jewish, anti-communist, and anti-immigrant beliefs. In opposition to immigrant driven Labor strikes and unions, the Klan was anti-unionism as well. A major factor of the New Klan was its focus on urban areas. In Contrast to the rural based First Klan, the Second Klan grew rapidly in many Midwest, and Southern cities like Detroit, Memphis, Dayton, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston. The Second Klan peaked in the Roaring 20's when millions of Americans joined nationwide.

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The Second Klan adopted the ritual burning of the cross as a form of unity and intimidation

Divisiveness: The rise of the KKK divided the nation between the progressives and the fundamental traditionalists. The KKK stood for traditional society, and tried to achieve this through terror and fear, while the progressives were fighting for unity and social improvement.

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Women Klan Members Marching in Washington D.C. - 1928

Effect on Today: The progressive movement would eventually become a success and the Klans support dwindled throughout the latter half of the 20th century. But even today the Ku Klux Klan is still present, although it is now much smaller than its "Roaring 20's" support. The KKK still holds on to heavy conservative and traditional beliefs and have been labeled as an official terrorist organization.
KKK store
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Neo-Nazis Today arose from many KKK beliefs in the 1920's