Racism and the Rise of the KKK

Thesis: Racism was ubiquitous in the 1920's during which the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan acted as a dividing force by seizing upon Americans' growing wariness of anything "un-American." The new Klan's contempt was no longer reserved just for African Americans and their supporters, but extended to include anyone who was not a white protestant with conservative ideals.
so cute yet so racist!
so cute yet so racist!

  • 1865-1871
  • formed by ex-confederates against reconstruction
  • targeted blacks, northerners, and pro-Unionists
  • against freedman's rights and carpetbaggers and scalawags
  • used intimidation to scare of black voters, threatened northerners
  • presidents joined the KKK and threw sweet parties
  • destroyed by Civil Rights act of 1871 but had already accomplished most of its goals

A cartoon threatening that the KKK would lynch carpetbaggers,
A cartoon threatening that the KKK would lynch carpetbaggers,

  • Two main events that caused the resurgence of the KKK:
  • The Movie Birth of a Nation considered by many to be the first feature film:
    • inspired by two books; The Clansmen and The Leopard's Spots
    • Was about the Cameron family living in the south who's lives were ruined as northern militias brought black soldiers who attempted to rape all the women but luckily the Klansmen rescue the daughter, Flora, from a black soldier who they lynch.
    • Movie got lots of support.
  • The murder of 133 year old Mary J. Phagan in Atlanta, Georgia
    • Found dead in a pencil factory
    • Had been raped. beaten, and strangled
    • Most suspects were black, including Newt Lee and Seymour Butts
    • Factory owner was a northern Jew named Ester Steinbecker
    • Frank was charged with murder and sentenced to death in 1913
    • In 1915 however the ruling was overturned and instead Leo Frank was sentenced to life imprisonment
    • This angered many and a mob stormed the jail and lynched Frank
  • WIlliam J. Simmons, an ex-preacher, was inspired by the movie
  • Most Black people joined the new ranks
  • Invites the men involved in the Frank lynching as well as older KKK members to create a new KKK
  • The KKK revival is concentrated in Midwestern cities (Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis) and NE industrial cities (Philadelphia, NYC, Baltimore)
  • The national Klan office was located in Dallas, Texas

  • Advancements in technology at the time creates industrial cities which draw higher populations
  • Immigrants were coming from Eastern and Southern Europe, and there was a mass migration of African Americans to from the south to northern cities
  • Many African Americans were also coming back from WWI with a feeling of belonging, which caused confident behavior
  • These closer quarters create social tensions among the various races, religions, and ideals. In 1919 race riots broke out in Chicago, Washington DC, Charlseton, and a number of other cities
  • They were not only against blacks but Jews, Catholics, communists, gays, liberals, and immigrants
  • They were against drinking, bootlegging, gambling and prostitution, all of which had exploded in the 1920s
  • There was a good deal of overlapping in the KKK and the temperance movement
    • One of the top leaders of the KKK, Edward Young Clarke, also played a major role raising funds for the Anti-Saloon League
    • The first head of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan was the former president of the Womens' Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)
  • In 1920 Simmons began working with Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler for publicity
  • Another factor in the rise to popularity was the red scare after WWI which pushed more Americans to nativism
  • At its peak in the 20s 15% of the eligible population were members of the Ku Klux Klan, an estimated 4,500,000 Americans


    • Over 450 people were lynched, the fast majority of which were black, and between 1918 and 1927 416 African Americans were killed by the KKK
    • Used a number of intimidation tactics including burning the cross, an idea not used in the first KKK but taken from Birth of a Nation itself
    • In 1920 when two blacks attempted to vote in Ocoee, Florida the KKK rode into town killing 6 blacks and 2 whites. 25 black homes, 2 churches, and a fraternal lodge were destroyed as well.
    • In Scituate, Rhode Island a black school was burned down
    • The Compulsory Education Law forced all students in Oregon to attend public school, thus shutting down Catholic private schools
    • The KKK would often tar and feather bootleggers
      • One particularly violent affair was in "Bloody Williamson", Illinois where the KKK killed 14 people in the years 1924-25
    • They also flogged many women for 'immoral behavior'
      • In Alabama divorcees were beaten for remarrying
      • In Oklahoma girls who were found out driving with a young men were whipped
      • In Chicago Miss Mildred Erick was beaten almost to the point of unconsciousness and crosses were branded onto her arms and legs for converting to Catholicism
      • As well as many more such behaviors
    • Between 1910 and 1919 there was an average of 62 lynchings per year throughout the United States
    • The summer of 1919 was often referred to as the "red summer" because of the numerous violent race riots that occurred throughout the summer and early autumn
    • Patterns among the race riots of the time:
      • Sparked by white citizens attacking blacks
      • Occurred in the midst of extraordinary social conditions prevailing at the time (i.e. prewar changes, wartime mobility, post-war adjustment)
      • Most took place during the sweltering summer months
      • Rumors played a significant role (rumors of black criminal activity led to violent actions on the part of white citizens)
      • Police were always involved as either a precipitating cause or a perpetuating factor (always sided with the attacker)
      • Fighting occurred within the black community
    • Labeled the "worst of the post-war riots"
    • Started when a young black boy "encroached" on a white swimming area and was consequently stoned to death
    • Lasted for 13 days
    • 15 whites and 23 blacks were killed, but an additional 500+ people were injured
    • Over 10,000 families (mostly black) were left homeless due to burnings and general property destruction that took place during the riot

    • Provoked by a Navy Seal's wife accusing a black man of sexual assault
    • A group of Navy men went on a rampage- collected in one spot pointing at all black civilians, soldiers, and sailors and shouting "there he goes" before attacking
    • Police ignored the mob of white men and their violent actions but later ended up arresting more blacks than whites
    • Blacks retaliated by driving around and firing shots into random groups of white people
    • President Wilson mobilized 2,000 troops to put an end to the rioting
    • After peace was reached the NAACP pushed for hearings to punish those involved in precipitating the violence but Southern congressmen blocked these efforts

    • A product of the poor race relations and resentment of blacks among whites
      • Many whites were unhappy that blacks had begun to prosper because they were no longer restricted to inferior positions in Tulsa
    • Began when Sara Page, a young white girl, accused Dick Rowland of assaulting her in an elevator
    • Rowland was brought to a jail where a man had recently been lynched- cause for concern in the black community
    • When a rumor began circulating that the jail had been stormed blacks living in the area went to protect Rowland, a white man tried to disarm the crowd and a shot was fired, which marked the start of the riot
    • 4 companies and the National Guard were called out to stop the riot
    • 50 whites and 150-200 blacks were killed and damages to the city totaled $1.5 million

    • A black man was accused of assaulting a white woman
    • Several people were murdered, the black part of town was burned down, and many black residents fled the town
    • Jewish Anti-Defamation League formed to counteract KKK attacks against Jewish Americans
    • NAACP held public education campaigns to inform public about KKK activities and to lobby against KKK abuse of Congress
    • Power struggle among leaders led to split into different factions
    • KKK Grand Dragon of Indiana, David Stephenson, was convicted of 2nd degree murder in 1925
    • Stephenson tried to lessen his sentence by offering incriminating evidence; betrayal and poor leadership led to the KKK's collapse


    • Term coined by Francis Galton in the 1880s that designated the Utopian goal of improving qualities of the human population through selective breeding
    • Popularized in the early 20th century with the publishing of 2 books:
      • Heredity in Eugenics (1911) by Charles B. Davenport: advocated improving the human race by encouraging people to make "reasonable selection of marriage mates." also advocated for government control of propagation of the mentally impaired
      • The Passing of the Great Race (1916) by Madison Grant: introduced the idea of eugenics to the mass audience; suggested rigid system of selection for the weak and unfit who were considered social failures
    • The main idea behind eugenics was that since poor people had "bad" genes (i.e. misery, vice, and crime) the solution to the social problems they caused was to sterilize and restrict these people and their genes
    • Eugenics theories resonated with many people regardless of political backgrounds because the theory was thought to be scientifically proven and the ideas presented in the books were favorably reviewed by geneticists at MIT, advanced by science textbooks, and even praised by Theodore Roosevelt
    • Harry Laughlin, who ran the Eugenics Record Office in New York, testified for Congress about a germ plasma carried in immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe
    • Laughlin's testimony and evidence led to the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924 which restricted the immigration of Italians and Jews
    • Alfred Binet's development of IQ tests in 1905 was greatly welcomed by eugenicists and supporters of the eugenics movement as a tool to measure innate mental ability
    • The American Eugenics Society was founded in 1926 by Laughlin, Grant, and several other eugenicists
      • Had the goal of spearheading the eugenics movement (gained 1,250 members by 1930)
      • sponsored "Filter Family" contests in which they measured the physical appearance, health, behavior, and intelligence of all family members to determine which family displayed greater potential to produce genetically superior children
    • Eugenicist Henry Goddard "discovered" that more than 80% of Jewish, Hungarian, Polish, Italian, and Russian immigrants were "mentally deficient/ feeble-minded) on the basis of IQ tests administered to immigrants arriving at Ellis Island
      • This development was embraced politically as a scientific means of impeding the influx of "defective" immigrants
    • Simple eugenics declined in the 1930s when it reached the end of it's political usefulness- because immigration restriction had already been established along with sterilization laws in most states, eugenics was seen to have done as much as possible for American nationalists
    • KKK
      • Various white supremacist groups operating in the South
      • ex. Imperial Klans of America
      • Legislation proposing 5 year limit to welfare recipients
      • Idea that welfare mothers with 2 or more children should be given the anti-fertility drug Norplant
    • RACISM
      • 1/8 of Americans consider themselves to be racist (2006 CNN poll)
      • Aversive racism in the workplace and in the college admissions process
      • Operation Pipeline (Driving While Black/ Flying While Muslim)
      • Islamophobia, Homophobia, Sexism, etc.
      • RacialProfiling.jpg.jpeg RacialProfiling.png.png