Its goal was to preserve the white, Protestant civilization and instigate the re-establishment of white supremacy. The second era of the KKK promoted the ideology of 'Americanism' and targeted African Americans, Mexicans, 'New Immigrants', Asians, Jews, Catholics, Asians and any radical "un-American" groups. The rebirth and resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan peaked at 4 - 5 million members but by 1928 its membership had dropped to a few hundred thousand members.
1920's KKK Facts: Fast Fact Sheet
What explains the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s? The rebirth, rise and resurgence of the 1920's KKK was due to the massive rise in immigration, the movement of African Americans from the south to the northern cities, race riots, strikes, problems caused by industrialization and Urbanization, the anti-immigration and anti-radical hysteria of the Red Scare and a series of terrorist attacks in America.
What groups were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s?
Who was the leader of the 1920's KKK? The leader of the 1920's KKK was William J. Simmons, a former Methodist preacher, who founded the new Ku Klux Klan in 1915 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Facts about 1920's KKK
The resurgence of the new Ku Klux Klan was led by William J. Simmons (May 6, 1880 – May 18, 1945), a former Methodist preacher from Atlanta, Georgia, in 1915.
The second era of the KKK began when fifteen robed and hooded "charter members" of the new organization, met at Stone Mountain November 25, 1915 to create a new iteration of the Ku Klux Klan.
William J. Simmons was inspired to reorganize the second Ku Klux Klan after seeing the 1915 silent movie the "Birth of a Nation".
The three hour "Birth of a Nation" was directed by D. W. Griffith and based on the novel and play 'The Clansman' by Thomas Dixon, Jr. and glorified the original Klan and its 'gallant and heroic' Knights.
The goal of the new Ku Klux Klan was to preserve the white, Protestant civilization and the re-establishment of white supremacy. The second era of the KKK promoted the ideology of 'Americanism' encompassing the notions of patriotism, loyalty, allegiance to the USA and the promotion of its culture, traditions and customs.
The resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan organization adopted a burning cross as its symbol. The concept of cross burning was introduced in the 'The Clansman' by Thomas Dixon, Jr. The Members of the KKK wore the insignia, robes and hoods associated with the Klan and participated in rituals and initiation ceremonies featuring altars draped with the American flag.
The rebirth of the second Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s was well organized. The second KKK held rallies, picnics, parades and marches all around the United States.
Targets: The groups targeted by the Ku Klux Klan included African Americans, the 'New Immigrants', Jews, Catholics and any other groups who represented "un-American" values or beliefs such as organized labor.
Membership: At its peak in the 1920s, Klan membership exceeded 4 million people nationwide.
The membership levels were small at the start of the rebirth. This changed in 1920 when William J. Simmons hired two public relations entrepreneurs called Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler
William J. Simmons paid Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler a commission of $8 of every $10 initiation fee
Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler adopted the strategy of dividing the nation into regions and paid more than 1,000 salespeople, the "Kleagles" to promote the second Ku Klux Klan. They adopted an aggressive public relations campaign using a theatrical flair in various events to gain the attention of local and national newspapers and attract new members to the KKK.
The most famous event staged by the Ku Klux Klan was the march down Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington on August 8, 1925 which succeeded in attracting national attention. The KKK parade marshaled between 50,000 to 60,000 members all wearing the robes and insignia of the Ku Klux Klan.
Religion: The Protestant Religion became the centerpiece of the platform for the second Ku Klux Klan - the vast majority of its members adhered to the forms of the Protestant religion. Klansmen showed their allegiance to their faith through church attendance, speeches and writings and the recruitment of ministers as KKK members. Financial donations were collected from Klan members at churches and social events to show their commitment and further the cause.
Fundamentalism: Many Protestant Americans feared the nation was losing its traditional religious values and morals which gave rise to the Fundamentalist movement, which was firmly supported by the KKK.
WW1 Great Migration: During WW1 between 300,000 - 500,000 African Americans, attracted by job opportunities due to Industrialization and the war effort, moved from the south to the cities of the north in the 'Great Migration'. They settled in cities such as New York which saw the establishment of the ghettos in Harlem - a result of poor planning and rapid urbanization. This led to increased racism in the north allowing the KKK to gain a foothold in the northern cities.
Urbanization: The new immigrants and the African Americans who had moved during the Great Migration flocked to the industrialized cities. The effects of Urbanization led to rapid growth with lack of planning, inadequate basic facilities in squalid housing, poverty, lack of control and segregation. The poor living conditions led to riots and strikes and the KKK capitalized on the problems in the cities and attracted white, middle class Americans to their cause.
WW1: Soldiers returning home from the war needed jobs and intolerance towards African American and the 'new immigrants' grew due to high unemployment levels.
WW1: The impact of the Great War on the United States saw great political, economic and social changes. The Ku Klux Klan provided an outlet for the militant patriotism of white Americans aroused by World War I .
Unions: During the war, the number of workers in Labor Unions increased dramatically and workers were given the right to strike.
Immigration: Between 1901 - 1920 a total of 14,531,197 immigrants had arrived in the US. The majority were classified as 'New Immigrants'. The predominantly Catholic 'New Immigrants' from southern and eastern Europe were accused of bringing radical socialist and communist ideas into America and blamed for the strikes, violence and civil unrest.
Old Immigrants vs New Immigrants: The membership of the Ku Klux Klan attracted the 'Old Immigrants' from Northern or Western Europe who were predominantly Protestant. Their views on the 'New Immigrants' were influenced by the official Dillingham Commission Report that had concluded that the 'New Immigrants' from countries such as Italy, Greece, Poland and Croatia were "inferior, uneducated and posed a serious threat to American society".
Rise of Nativism: There was a rise of Nativism in America that encompassed the belief that the interests of established US citizens should be given a favored status compared to new immigrants - an ideology that supported the white supremacy views of the Ku Klux Klan.
Eugenics movement: Racism and Nativism were supported by the Eugenics Movement. Eugenics ideology claimed the superiority of the original American stock of the "Old Immigrants" and advocated the promotion of higher reproduction of people with desired traits. The pseudo-scientific ideology of Eugenics was used to justify the philosophy of the Ku Klux Klan.
Xenophobia: The rise in xenophobia (the irrational fear of foreigners or strangers) led to racism, ethnic conflict and the belief in the inherent superiority of one culture. The rise in xenophobia was used by the KKK to attract hundreds of thousands of new members.
Decline in Morals: Many Americans believed that the morals of the nation were in sharp decline that had led to the period of Prohibition. The decline in morals and family values in the nation was emphasized by the publicity machine of the KKK.
The Red Scare: The nation became engulfed in the anti-radical and anti-immigrant hysteria of the Red Scare (1918–1920) fueling fears that Communists ("Bolshies" or "Reds") and anarchists were conspiring to start a workers revolution in the America. The period of the Red Scare led to the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of new KKK members.
Strikes: 1919 saw a massive wave of strikes in America in what was called the 'Red Summer'. During 1919 there were more than 3,600 strikes, that involved over 4 million workers, protesting against high inflation levels, high unemployment and wage cuts. Americans began to associate all Socialists and Communists with being unpatriotic, which fitted in perfectly with the Ku Klux Klan platform.
Race Riots: African-American veterans exhibited greater militancy and pride as a result of serving in WW1 and younger African-Americans rejected the traditional passive approach to racism. In 1919 twenty-five race riots broke out in the cities of the United States, the most serious being the 1919 Chicago Race Riot. The Race riots played into the hands of the second Ku Klux Klan.
Acts of Terrorism: Ordinary Americans were terrified by Acts of Terrorism such as a series of mail bombs and the carnage caused by the Wall Street bombing. The government responded with the Palmer Raids that involved mass arrests and the deportation of immigrant radicals. Rumors and propaganda were spread during the Red Scare which were used to 'legitimize' the Ku Klux Klan political platform.
All the above reasons provide an insight into the rebirth, rise and resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and explain why four million Americans joined the organization. The membership fell rapidly and by 1928 its membership had fallen to a few hundred thousand members.
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