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K is for Ku Klux Klan (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)


There is a substantial difference between the 1920s Ku Klux Klan and the movements with the same name of 1800s and 1960s. While the letter were more of ideological movements, the 1902s Klan was more of a big, powerful marketing operation.

The Twenties was a time of massive, fast, often shocking change, and as it will happen, this kind of change instigate anxiety and sometimes downright fear in people.
The divide between rural and city life was significant in the building of this anxiety. Lifestyle and ways of thinking moved fast in the cities, fuelled by the availability of new items and people general opened to new morals and social attitudes.
While legging behind, rural America saw all of this as an attack to their traditional way of life.

Newly arrived immigrants shaped part of the social life in the cities with their original culture. A part of them ended up in warring gangs and bootlegging. Men and women traditional roles were completely rethought, bringing about a new morality and new accepted social mores in terms of sex relation, gambling and alcohol that especially rural America – but not only – was unwilling to accept ‘without a fight’. They felt besieged by radicals, gangsters, bootleggers, fast-car loving youngsters, too explicit films, too bold young women, supermarket chains. It was an upside world.

Ku Klux Klan march in Washington in 1925

This was the feeling in large parts of the country when in 1915, William J Simmons – who had certainly read The Clansman by Thomas Dixon and may have seen D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation that same year – resurrected the Ku Klux Klan and presented it as the paladin of ‘traditional values’ and simple, hard-working life.
Roman Catholics, Jews, African Americans, immigrants were the classic target, but now the Klan advised their members to scout every single community and find what they feared the most, whatever that be. The aim? Gathering as many paying members as possible.

In the 1920s the Klan’s leaders weren’t ideologists. They were businessmen, using all the means the new consumerism society offered. They pushed all the right buttons inducing into people needs – traditional values, more sedate women and youngsters, a straighter moral life – they said they would uphold.

With such campaign, in 1925 – the peak of its power – the Klan had gathered nearly four million members and could truthfully say to be able to sway the country’s politics. Governors were elected by the Klan as were entire city halls’ member and sheriffs. They could influence the everyday life of many communities.

It was a power to reckon with.

But that was the apex the Klan fell crashing down.

In 1924 the Immigration Act was passed, which significantly limited the entrance of new immigrants in the country, which took away one of the Klan’s stronger cries of relay. By the middle of the decade, people’s feelings about Prohibition – that the Klan had strongly supported – had changed drastically and demands for repeal became vocal.

But the fatal blow to the Klan was dealt by the Klan itself. After 1925 a few of the leaders were accused of embezzlement and one of them of murder and rape. Klan’s members who had believed in a hard-working life and in the purity of women were disgusted.

By the end of the decade, of its million members, a mere 200.000 remained.

Alcohol. Problems and Solution – The Ku Klux Klan

Perrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., New York, 1992

ROARING TWENTIES AtoZ - Ku Klux Klan - There is a substantial difference between the 1920s Klan and its earlier and later counterpart. More than a ideology movement, 1920s Klan was a huge marketing operation designed to produce a profit (intollerance, social issues)


  • Mee Magnum
    Posted April 13, 2015 at 01:07

    I did not know that! Every day I learn something from your blog. Keep up the great work!!

    –Mee (The Chinese Quest)

    • Post Author
      Posted April 13, 2015 at 07:01

      People tend to have a different idea about the KKK, don’t they? Though I think this is because the 1960s Klan was very different from the 1920s one, but it’s the one people remember.

      • Lene Fogelberg
        Posted April 13, 2015 at 08:27

        Wow, I also got completely surprised by the 20s Klan. All in all it gets more and more clear that the 20s were more significant than most people probably know, in its impact on the world.

        • Post Author
          Posted April 13, 2015 at 14:52

          It was a time of great changing. I believe that’s when our modern world, our ‘short century’ was born. That’s why it’s such a fiscinating time, for me ;-)

  • Celine Jeanjean
    Posted April 13, 2015 at 08:35

    I didn’t realise that’s how the Klan started. It’s quite scary to think that at some point it was so powerful!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 13, 2015 at 14:56

      Well, the Klan actually frounded the first time in 1865, at the end of the Civil War. Though my understanding is that that Klan, and then the Klan founded once more in the 1960s, were more ideologically driven.

  • Nick Wilford
    Posted April 13, 2015 at 08:41

    I didn’t realise what a truly institutionalised force it was at this point – scary stuff.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 13, 2015 at 14:57

      I was very surprised to discover this too, when I first started studying the Twenties.

  • Tasha
    Posted April 13, 2015 at 08:45

    It was a shame it didn’t end it completely. Interesting how it was much more a business in the 20s, about making money. I suppose people are always willing to exploit fears to make money.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 13, 2015 at 14:27

    I just heard the other day that they are picketing the Westboro Baptist Church. I hope they cancel each other out… Four million? Really? I’m happy that’s over…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    • Post Author
      Posted April 13, 2015 at 15:01

      Those are staggering numbers, aren’t they?

  • Jeri Burns
    Posted April 14, 2015 at 02:02

    I didn’t realize just how a big a business the KKK was during that time. After the scandal (of course there was one, there always is) – the membership numbers dropped from millions is good, but who were those 200,000 who stayed? That part is scarier than ghost stories Sarah…

    • Post Author
      Posted April 14, 2015 at 06:34

      I suppose those were the ‘true believers’…

  • Lanise Brown
    Posted April 14, 2015 at 08:13

    It’s very sad that the KKK didn’t end entirely. The fact that the klan was started in the first place was disturbing enough but now that they still exist today… what does that say about our world?

  • Alex Hurst
    Posted April 15, 2015 at 02:33

    The 20s must have been a really crazy time. As much change as we experience now, but without the instant relay of information we get from social media and network TV. I can just imagine how thick the newspapers must have been. The idea, though, that the KKK could basically own a town is frightening.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 15, 2015 at 06:12

      Well, considering this was nearly one hundred years ago, news travelled very far and fast in those time compared to what had happened ’til only a few years previous.
      Yes, it was a time of great change, just like now. That’s why I find that time so fascinating and relevant to us.

      Well, today, there are crazy people not very far from my country that control big portions of states… and it is indeed frightening.

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