K.K.K. Essay, Research Paper
The rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan started a new wave of white supremacy in the United States. Under a different leader as well as a distinctly fresh creed, the second Klan began its reign after World War I. This Klan, unlike the Klan during the years of Reconstruction preyed upon more individuals and also struck a cord within the realm of politics. Also, the second Klan made its way into the North and was even quite popular in Michigan, particularly in Detroit, Lansing and Kalamazoo.
Director D. W. Griffith helped to ignite the start of the Ku Klux Klan with his 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation. Inspired by Thomas Dixon’s novel, the Clansmen, it portrayed the KKK as the savior of the South after the years of the Civil War. Running two hours and 45 minutes, this film was first shown to President Woodrow Wilson who stated, “It is like writing history with lightning.” With the President’s support The Birth of a Nation opened to audiences around the country in March of 1915 and ran for 47 straight weeks including 280 sold out shows in New York.
D.W. Griffith’s film spawned a new generation of the KKK. William Simmons was the first to seize upon the white supremacist feeling that swept the nation. On Thanksgiving night in 1915, Simmons and some of his friends climbed Stone Mountain in Atlanta, Georgia. There, they stood before, ” a burning wooden cross and before a hastily constructed rock altar upon which lay an American flag, an opened Bible, an unsheathed sword and a canteen of water.” From that moment on, the Ku Klux Klan began its reign of terror in the United States for a second time.
Simmons laid out his plans and policies for the KKK in his booklet, the Klansman’s Manual. Within it are the organizational techniques of the KKK as well as aims, goals that every member should know. Simmons explains the six features of the Klan: patriotic, military, benevolent, ritualistic, social and fraternal. From these six ideas sprung the purposes of the organization that includes: mobilization, cultural patriotism, fraternal order, beneficent, protective, racial white supremacy, instructive, commemorative and cooperation with the law. The whole basis and goal of the KKK can be seen in their creed. It reads:
“I believe in god and in the tenets of the Christian religion and that
a godless nation can not long prosper.
I believe that a church that is not grounded on the principles
Of morality and justice is a mockery to God and to man.
I believe in the eternal separation of Church and State.
I hold not allegiance to any foreign government, emperor, king or any
Other foreign, political or religious power.
I hold my allegiance to the Stars and Stripes next to my
Allegiance to God alone.
I believe in just laws and liberty.
I believe in the upholding of the Constitution of these United States.
I believe that our Free Public School is the cornerstone of good
Government and that those who are seeking to destroy it are enemies
Of our Republic and are unworthy of citizenship.
I believe in freedom of speech.
I believe in the free press uncontrolled by political parties or
By religious sects.
I believe in law and order.
I believe in the protection of our pure womanhood.
I believe that laws should be enacted to prevent the causes of mob violence.
I believe in closer relationship of capital and labor.
I believe in the prevention of unwarranted strikes by foreign
I believe in the limitation of foreign immigration.
I am a native born American citizen and I believe my rights
In this country are superior to those of foreigners.”
By reading this creed it is rather easy to pick apart and decipher the KKK’s aims and motivations. After World War I, the American people began to fear many things including immigration, separate religions such as Catholicism, alcohol, employment and their basic freedoms. By playing on people’s fears, the KKK began a rise to prominence. Simmons as well as new leader, Hiram Wesley Evans promoted a 100% Americanism agenda in which they were strictly for the rights of Americans. They were for morality, Protestantism, liberties as well as temperance and restrictions on immigration as can be seen from reading the creed.
When a Klan was to start in a city, the KKK would look for a specific kind of individual, one who would adhere to the creed. This included a white male who was a middle-aged Protestant Republican who was not upper class. These men were for temperance and against gambling, prostitution and crime. Furthermore, the individual usually had roots in the Midwest, was a small businessman and was most likely a former Mason. Once the new members were recruited a 20 to 30 foot cross was burnt on a hillside to announce the coming of the Klan. From there, the new “Kluxers” would proceed to a local church with donations, flowers and a Bible. The initiations were in the darkness of the night sky at a farm or park. Cars with their headlights on would encircle the recruits while the new members would kiss the American flag while reciting the creed as well as other songs and poems. This was followed by a parade through the center of town with floats and a band as well (Goldberg, p. 57).
These same types of initiation ceremonies as well as the fears as discontentment plagued the state of Michigan. In the 1920’s, African Americans flocked to Detroit for work in the auto industry. The entire population of Detroit tripled in 1920 to make it the fourth largest city in the U.S., but 25% of the people were foreigners. The city became so crowded that the foreigners began moving into white neighborhoods and caused an uproar among the white population. Playing on this agitation, the Klan became the center of Klan strength in Michigan.
C.H. Norton became the first Kleagle (leader) of the Wayne County Provisional Klan. The Detroit Klan remained secretive because of threats and criticism. At meetings there were three sets of locked doors to get through as well as gunmen around the exits. In 1923, Manly L. Caldwell took control and helped bring the Klan out into the public. He helped increase membership greatly and prompted the first outdoor demonstration on April 4, 1923 at a farm in Royal Oak in which a cross was burned (Jackson, p. 69).
Despite it’s strength, the Klan in Detroit received great opposition from the laws as well as the media. Burns law was enacted in the early 20’s and “prohibited public meetings of masked men.” (Jackson, p. 71) Despite this though, the Klan did get some help from local authorities who often turned their heads. In resistance to their critics, the Klan often demonstrated openly. On November 6, 1923 they placed a burning cross directly in front of city hall on election day. Also, on December 24, 1923, a six-foot cross was put on the steps of the County Building along with a rally. A masked Santa Claus led the group of 4,000 in the Lord’s Prayer (Jackson, p. 73).
Perhaps the largest demonstration by the Detroit Klan came on October 21, 1924. James A. Colescott was the new Kleagle at the time and he increased membership to 32,000 at the time of the riot. The Klan as a whole supported Mayoral write-in candidate Charles Bowles. On the 21st, there was to be an anti-Klan rally on Woodward Avenue. In response, 6,000 Klan members began marching down the Avenue shouting, “Bowles, Bowles, Bowles.” The Kluxers placed stickers of the KKK as well as Bowles on people’s cars and well as buildings. The rally was delayed for over 30 minutes until the crowd dispersed (Jackson, p.80). Bowles was finally elected in 1929, but was later recalled eight months later.
Although the Wayne County Klan of Detroit did enjoy a peak in the early 20’s, a decline started in 1925. The main problem came with the issue of money. Donations were constantly asked for in order to build things such as a temple, a subdivision, an airplane and a record company, but nothing ever materialized. Individual Klan members became caught up in the aspect of financial gains and disputes were even brought to court on some occasions. The Klan did gain strength again with the issue of segregated neighborhoods, but by 1934 the Klan was virtually non-existent.
Along with the Detroit Klan, the Ku Klux Klan was also prominent in other areas of Michigan. As Chalmers writes, “The Invisible Empire was particularly strong around Flint, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Muskegon.”(Chalmers, p. 196) Some groups had to hide behind a front such as the Public School Defense League of Michigan, but some could be openly out such as in Kalamazoo. An Official Bulletin of the Kalamazoo Klan was found in Robert Anderson’s collection. In it the Klan of Kalamazoo describes its organization in an effort to gain new members. Within their offices on the third floor of 171 Portage Street, the Klan consisted of three factions under the Knights of the Green Forest. These included the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Junior Klansmen and Women of the Ku Klux Klan. In the Klavern (offices and meeting house), there was no dancing allowed, but yet there was an orchestra, band and a women’s drill team. Each group met five nights a week to discuss issues such as morality, charities, as well as the basic problems of temperance, religion and immigration. The main leader of the WKKK was Alice Shroeder. She was a prominent citizen in the area and held many titles including Grand Tribunal, Past Excellent Commander, Past Grand Klaiff, Grand Officer and Past Kleagle. Other members of the KKK organization included John C. Shroeder, Claude Parr, and B.C. Pond.
Robert Anderson’s scrapbook contains many interesting clippings, poems, and pictures from Klan activities throughout the country. The cover is decorated with an American flag with the words “Kluxer” above it. On the back is a cross and the letters “KKK” above a red brick schoolhouse with smoke coming out of the chimney. Above the doors of the schoolhouse is the phrase, “One flag, one country, one school, one law.” (Anderson). Also within the Anderson collection is a songbook from the KKK. One song in particular seems to sum up the Ku Klux Klan as a whole. It reads:
Oh when you see those noble Klansmen
come a marching into town,
All dressed up in their snowy white gowns,
And the band begins to play,
It will make an awful sound.
There’ll be a hot time in your old town tonight.
Oh, the Klansmen they are growing,
Yes, their growing day by day,
Now please don’t go get excited
For they’re not going away,
I want to tell you one and all, that
The Klan has come to stay.
There’ll by a hot time in your old town tonight.
Oh the Klansmen were accused of
Some things that was a fake,
They accused them of killing 2 men
And throwing them in the lake.
But after it had come to trial
They found it was a mistake.
So there was a hot time in the old town that night.
Oh, yes there was an election
In the year of ‘24
The Klansmen were elected
And elected by the score,
So, in the year of ‘28 there going to
Elect some more.
There’ll by a hot time in the old town that night.
Some people they are worried and
They don’t know what to say,
To think those noble Klansmen are
Going to win the day.
You can see it very plainly things
Are coming around their way.
There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.
Now when the fight is over and
The battle is won
We’re going to take those Hunkeys and
Put them on the run.
And when we get them to the pond
There’s going to be some fun.
There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.
Yes, we’re going to load those boats
From the bottom to the top,
With the Chinks and Japs, and Hunkeys
And a race they call the Wops;
And then their to push them
Out, They don’t care where they stop.
There’ll be a hot time on the old boat that night.
This song portrays the Klan just as they are, white supremacists who will do whatever they can to get what they want. They saw themselves as noble, innocent men who are fighting for what they deserve. The “hot time” referred to in the song is most likely related to the burning of the crosses in towns. Despite what the songwriter thinks in that the Klan is growing and here to stay, a decline soon occurred.
In 1925, the KKK began a sharp downward trend for many reasons. The Imperial Wizard, Hiram Wesley Evans was a good leader, but not powerful or charismatic enough to keep all the state and local factions together. Individual groups began going their own way with their own agendas and therefore the unity dissipated. Also, within each group there wasn’t enough clarity when it came to goals and directions. Beyond that, in dealing with the population of American, the people were no longer as discontented. The postwar tensions ceased. The immigration quota bill of 1924 helped to slow down immigration and people also lost faith in the Prohibition law. Because of these events, the Ku Klux Klan lost their fears to prey upon and people were no longer looking for an easy solution.
The second Ku Klux Klan spread fear among many foreign as well as American citizens. Yet, it also gave many people comfort in a time of tension and upheaval in American society. It gave its members organization, companionship and a reason for living, a purpose in life. Although it was an unlawful and hatred filled group many Americans looked to the Ku Klux Klan to solve the problems that their government was solving.