They were common folk, and their commonness radiated from them like heat from a stove….The wheelbarrow handle, it was plain, was more familiar to the men in that long line than the golf-stick, and the washtub had engaged the women far oftener than the lipstick. But what of it? The klan is not a club for snobs, it is a device for organizing inferiorities into a mystical superiority.
We must remember that the KKK was a white terrorist organization that intimidated and killed African Americans to prevent their participation in the democratic process and to keep them in what would become debt peonage. The KKK enforced racial control and white dominance through well-publicized violence. The Lost Cause and Margaret Mitchell would have us believe that the great threat to the South was the freedmen and the U.S. Army. Yet the four million recently freed ex-slaves suffered from violence far more. Thousands died trying to vote at the hands of white terror groups, not only the Klan, but also its many imitators. The Lost Cause myth propagated by Mitchell and bought by white southerners for a hundred years served as the ideological underpinning of a violently racist society.
Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 38
With Knowles' testimony, an Alabama jury convicted Henry Hays of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison, but the judge, in a nearly unprecedented move, overruled the jury's verdict and sentenced him to die. On June 6, 1997, the state of Alabama executed Hays in Yellow Mama for the murder of Michael Donald. The first white person to die for murdering an African American in Alabama since 1913. Then the Southern Poverty Law Center sued the United Klans of America (UKA) for conspiracy in the murder of Michael Donald. An all-white jury found the UKA guilty and ordered them to pay $7 million to Donald's mother. The successful lawsuit bankrupted the UKA. The New York Times trumpeted, "The Woman Who Beat the Klan."
Ty Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2020), p. 106
Rick Bowers, "Superman Versus The Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How The Iconic Superhero Battled The Men of Hate", National Geographic, (2012)
SEVEN-YEAR-OLD Stetson Kennedy took a seat on the curb on Main Street in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. The air was warm, the crowd was festive, and the parade was about to begin. Crooking his neck for a better view, he immediately became engrossed in the spectacle. First came a row of men wearing white robes and hoods and mounted on great white stallions. Even the horses were bedecked with flowing saddle covers and ornamental hoods. When the riders pulled on the reins, the steeds rose up on their hind legs, whinnied, snorted, and furiously pawed the air. Following the riders were dozens of robed and hooded men marching four or five abreast. As Kennedy recalls, One of the mounted knights of the KKK bore a flaming fiery cross, while the other blew long, mournful blows on a bugle.” Kennedy was awestruck. This was his introduction to the Ku Klux Klan.
Chapter 6 ORANGE GROVES & HOODED HORSES, p.49
Kennedy was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1916. He grew up in the 14-room, white-columned house owned by his traditional southern family. The Kennedy’s boasted blood ties to Confederate war heroes and wealthy cotton planters and prided themselves on carrying on the southern way of life. Kennedy’s mother taught her children traditional values and manners and dutifully attended meetings of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. His father ran a furniture store and served as chairman of the board of deacons at the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. Insatiably curious, energetic and, and sensitive as a boy, Kennedy earned a reputation as the free spirit of the family. His grandmother used to offer him two cents to sit still for two minutes and almost never had to pay him the pennies. The oldest of five children, Kennedy spent much of his free time exploring the surrounding woods, creeks, orchards, and orange groves. He loved to write stories and poems about the birds, animals, trees and waterways that defined rural North Florida. In time he began to contemplate the lives of the people who lived on the ramshackle farms and in the small towns in the area. Sensing an injustice in the poverty that gripped the lives of so many, he began to feel a burning passion to do something about it. He was particularly disturbed by the prevailing view that “colored folk” were to be treated as subservient to white people. Although he couldn’t quite understand why, that pervasive racism got under his skin. It happened early,” Kenned would recall later in his life. “Whatever it was.” Still, he saw his family as “no more, no less, racist than the norm, par for the course, southern white.”
Shortly after attending that Ku Klux Klan parade, Kennedy began to see the truth about the men in hoods and robes. He had thought that the KKK was a club for grown-ups who got to dress up in Halloween costumes year-round until his mother told him that the organization actually kept the folks in “colored town” in line. But his real lesson occurred at the bedside of his family’s African-American housekeeper, whom Klansmen had beaten for the offense of talking back to a white streetcar operator who had shortchanged her. Hearing the woman describe the brutal attack, Kennedy realized that the men behind the masks were bullies who terrorized innocent black people. He began to detest the ingrained racism that infected the world around him and to feel out of step with those who accepted it. “I’ve always felt like an alien in the land of my birth,” he recalled later.]]
IN 1940 STETSON KENNEDY left his folklore-collecting job. He planned to concentrate more on his writing. He could use the information and insight gained from his childhood encounters with the poor, hi studies at the university, and his experience as a folklorist to expose deep-seated racism and the threat posed by the Ku Klux Klan. As a folklorist Kennedy knew that the Klan used its invented rituals, concocted language, and biased belief system to imbue otherwise weak men with a sense of mastery and power Kennedy knew the typical Klansman felt like a bigger man after taking part in mysterious rituals, speaking in a secret language, or attacking people judged to be inferior. Kennedy wanted to sweep away the mystique-to show the Klan as nothing more than a violent hate group selling a fantasy of the past. He wanted to expose the KKK’s false premises, bogus beliefs, secrets, and fake mysticism and to let ridicule, rejection, and scorn “melt the cultural glue” that held the club together. “The main idea was to make bigotry obnoxious.” He attacked the Klan with confidence and zeal. Naturally Kennedy was just a person who had no superpowers, but we has well aware of the power of words. His friend and frequent house guest Woodie Guthrie—the famed folksinger who wrote “This Land is Your Land” – often used a one-line answer to friends who asked, “Where’s Stet?” Guthrie would reply that Kennedy was making more ammo with his typewriter upstairs in the attic. Using that ammo, Kennedy embarked on a campaign to correct the historic and journalistic record of the KKK. He told himself to write as much as possible, focusing on exposes that revealed the real inner workings of the Klan. More newspaper articles. His pieces countered those of mainstream journalists who described KKK ceremonies with such terms as “mystic,” “eerie,” and “awesome.” More magazine articles. He criticized journalists who presented the KKK side of the story as a valid point of view in the contemporary political debate. More exposes. He criticized respected encyclopedias that described the secret order as a legitimate political organization comprised of white protestant men dedicated to protecting the white Christian race from the threat of negro uprising, Jewish dominance, and widespread immorality. He knew the Klan would fight back. After all, it had been silencing its critics for a long time.
OVER THE YEARS historians have contended that the original Ku Klux Klan was a joke. Literally. Drawn mainly from the work of southern writers who were close to the secret society’s founders and often repeated to this day, the story goes like this: The original Klan began as a social club for a handful of men with time on their hands, a taste for the absurd, and a penchant for harmless mischief. In the spring of 1866, in the town of Pulaski, Tennessee, a half dozen men met at the office a prominent attorney to dream up a diversion from the doldrums of small-town-life. Just back from the Civil War with no immediate plans for the future, the former Confederate officers decided to form a social society much like the student fraternities gaining popularity on college campuses. The founders struggled to come up with a name until one man threw out the word “kuklos” –Greek for “circle” or “band.” His fellow brainstormers quickly added the word “clan” but started it with a K to harden the alliteration and to add a touch of mystery. After a bit of back and forth the founders had their name: Ku Klux Klan. They liked the sound of it. It felt like bones rattling in the closet. Building on the mysterious name, the “circle of brothers” added weird wardrobes, unusual rituals, mysterious code words, and absolute secrecy to the group. Members were required to wear handmade robes that flowed to the floor and high, pointed hoods that added two or three feet to their height. The officers were given titles drawn from mythology or just made up on the spot. The chief officer was the Grand Cyclops, his assistant was the Grand Magi, and the rank and file were Ghouls. After outgrowing their original meeting place, as local lore has it, the Klan moved to a more alluring venue: the ruins of an old farmhouse that had been decimated by a storm, engulfed with fallen trees, and rumored to be haunted. In strange midnight ceremonies the men donned their ghostly garb, recited their rambling incantations, pledged vows of secrecy, and indoctrinated new recruits. In time, the robed and hooded figures, masquerading as ghosts of Confederate soldiers returning from the battlefield, mounted horses and rode through neighboring farms and villages. The ghastly, ghostly figures told shocked onlookers that they had not had a drink since the Battle of Shiloh and had rode twice around the world since suppertime. Soon dozens of new dens had formed throughout the region, and sighting of hooded night riders were commonplace. Major newspapers speculated that this mysterious secret order must have a greater mission-for good or evil.
Chapter 7 THE ORIGINAL KLAN, pp.57-58
BY THE BEGINNING OF 1867, with the movement spreading beyond the control of its founders, the first Klansmen invited all known dens to a secret convention in Nashville to elect a leader, to draft a constitution, and to set a course for the future. The convention elected former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest as Grand Wizard (supreme leader) and designated the entire South as the territory of the new Invisible Empire. The empire was divided into reams that generally corresponded with states, dominions that corresponded with congressional districts, and dens that would serve as local chapters. Former military officers were bestowed with such titles as Grand Dragon, Grand titan, and Grant Giant, and the rank and file remained the Ghouls. The Klan constitution-or prescript-expressed allegiance to the U.S. government but also asserted the power to interpret and enforce the law. In effect this declaration made the KKK, the judge, jury, and executioner of its own version of law and order. KKK leaders also positioned the organization as the front line of opposition to Reconstruction, the federal effort to repair the damage caused by the Civil War. The South had just lost the war, and the vast majority of white Southerners were furious about the new Reconstruction Act of 1868, which mandated northern military occupation of much of the South, invalidated most of the region’s state governments, and decreed that the rights of newly freed slaves would be guaranteed-by force if necessary. The opponents of Reconstruction dubbed the northern intruders as carpetbaggers, their southern supporters as scalawags, and African Americans as inferiors. They vowed to resist what they saw as the unfair trampling of their rights. The KKK would become their army. In the weeks after the convention general Forrest’s old soldiers transformed themselves into terrorists, forming paramilitary units to wage a guerrilla war against carpetbaggers, scalawags, and Negroes. Cloaked in white robes and hoods and armed with rifles, whips and swords, the ex-Rebel troops took their places as the foot soldiers of the KKK. The Ghouls set out on raiding parties that targeted supporters of Reconstruction, white or black. They lashed white teachers at Negro schools with bullwhips and burned their schoolhouses to the ground. Freed slaves who spoke out for equality were dragged from their homes and beaten-even burned-in front of their children. Black men charged with crimes were broken out of jail and hanged in plain view without a trial. In remote areas raiders tarred and feathered their victims. Once the tar cooled it struck to the victim’s skin, and removing it left survivors scarred for life. Many newspapers characterized the raids as acts of self-defense on behalf of the entire white race. The apologists of the Klan recast its atrocities as heroics and spread fanciful myths about its origins and purpose. For example, most white Southerners believed that the club chose the name Ku Klux Klan not because of its mysterious sound but because it simulated the sound of cocking and discharging a firearm.
By 1870 KKK atrocities had grown so extreme that editors of respected newspapers were denouncing the violence and national political leaders were demanding an end to it. In the South prominent citizens began dropping out of the organization-although common thugs filled their places and used the robes and hoods as cover for crimes ranging from chicken theft to bank robbery. Fearful of being prosecuted, General Forrest finally declared that the organization had been “perverted” and ordered his followers to stand down. He ordered that hoods and masks be burned, records be destroyed, and night-riding violence be halted. A few heeded the call. Most did not. In the end Congress launched a massive investigation, filling 11 volumes with evidence of an unprecedented reign of floggings, beatings, burnings, shootings, hangings, and torture over a four-year span. In 1872 Congress passé a law allowing Klansmen to be tried in federal court, and government troops moved in to mop up the diehards. By the mid-1880s the Klan was mostly gone-but so were the carpetbaggers and scalawags. The Reconstruction program, mired in scandal, steeped in controversy, and exhausted by struggle, was largely abandoned. The federal government let the South deal with its own problems. The old white ruling class regained power and restored white supremacy as a rule of law. Black people were essentially denied the vote, forced into servitude, and persecuted for even questioning the system. Historians generally glossed over the old KKK atrocities, while southern novelists romanticized them with elaborate tales of a valiant masked and hooded army that rode at night to save the downtrodden white race from the dual horrors of northern tyranny and black rule. As the nation moved toward a new century, the Klan remained much as it had started-shrouded in mystery.
THE PRIME MOVER of the next rising of the KKK was William J. Simmons, the son of Civil War veteran from the Deep South. His father had ridden with the original night riders during Reconstruction. As a boy growing up on his family’s farm in the hamlet of Harpersville, Alabama, Simmons first heard the romanticize accounts of valiant, hooded night riders and saw the fear of the eyes of blacks servants and field hands who had felt their wrath. As a young man Simmons let the farm, served an undistinguished tour of duty in the Spanish-American War, and returned home to make his mark. He trained to be a minister and took to the preaching circuit, only to be drummed out of the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church for “ineffectiveness and moral failings.” Still searching for a life path Simmons moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and found work as a salesman and college lecturer before taking a job promoting fraternal organizations much like today’s Elks, Masons and Shriners. Rising to the rank of colonel in the Woodmen of the World, Simmons proudly told friends and associated that he was now a professional “fraternalist”-and he dreamed of resurrecting the fraternity of the KKK.
Chapter 8 BACK FROM THE DEAD, pp.63-64
After being injured in a car accident, Simmons spent a three-month recuperation period remaking the secret order as a modern association of white, native-born, protestant men. He saw nostalgia, romance, and dollar signs in the prospect and threw himself into the task. Simmons tracked down a copy of the original Klan Prescript and repackaged it as a 54-page, novel-size handbook entitled “The Kloran”. He embellished the standard white robe and redesigned the hood to be less showy and more menacing, down to two narrow slits for the eyes. He reworded the membership oath, revise the initiation ceremony, devised hand signs and code words, restored old titles, and devised new ones. He began concocting a language that emphasized the infamous K sound. The local meeting place became the Klavern the regional convention became the Klonvocation, and the art of being a Klansman became Klancraft. The new Klan would charge $10 for membership and $6.50 for a cheap robe and hood, and it would even offer option life insurance policies. Finally,, with the flair of an artist, the diminutive promoter added the piece de resistance-the final flourish. Borrowing a literary device from the pro-Klan novel “The Clansman”, he created a central role for the burning cross. The original Klan had not used the faming cross, but it would become the ever-resent fiery symbol of the new one. After lining up more than a dozen influential men to serve in the upper ranks, Simmons copyrighted his enhancements and secured an official charter from the state of Georgia. The new Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was established as a benevolent, nonprofit, fraternal organization-at first more of a force uniting white protestant men than for attacking their perceived enemies With the pieces in place, the founder-now known as the Little Colonel-set out to dramatize the mystery of his restored empire.
On the eve of Thanksgiving 1915, Simmons invited a group of his influential friends to a meeting at the Piedmont Hotel in Atlanta. Afterward, 16 believers climbed into a tour bus and set out an eight-mile drive to Stone Mountain a slab of pure granite that climbs 800 feet above the surrounding area. Brandishing flashlights, the expedition party made its way to a ledge near the summit. There, as a cold night wind whipped, the robed and hooded men built a makeshift altar from flagstones, draped it with an American flag, and decorated it with a Bible, a canteen of baptismal water, and a sword. Simmons and his followers erected a rag-covered wooden cross, doused it with kerosene, and set it ablaze. In the light of the ceremonial fire the Ku Klux Klan was called back from the dead. THE CEREMONY on Stone Mountain reawakened the sleeping giant. Now it was time to fire up the masses. Simmons had that figured out too. He planned the public announcement to coincide with the Atlanta premier of “The Birth of a Nation”, a two-hour silent-film spectacular set in the South during the tumultuous aftermath of the Civil War. Filmmaker D. W. Griffith had used state-of-the-art cinematic techniques to drive home his controversial message that white vigilantes has saved decent white families. Simmons reserved space for ads introducing “The Greatest Fraternal Organization on Earth” adjacent to the movie promotion in the “Atlanta Constitution”. Then he waited.
On December 6, 1915,at 8.p.m.-two weeks after the Stone Mountain ritual-“The Birth of a Nation” debuted to a standing-room crowd at the majestic, red carpeted Atlanta Theater. The love scenes were presented in dramatic close ups. The epic battle scenes appear in sweeping panorama. A 30-piece orchestra performed a swelling musical score. The audience was spellbound. A graying Civil War veteran wiped a tear as the camera scanned the desolate smoldering wasteland of his defeated homeland. A middle-age woman cringed as a band of lustful, ravenous Negroes clawed at the door of a remote cabin in pursuit of an innocent, terrified white girl. A teenage boy slapped the back of a man in front of him as a bugle blast rose form the orchestra pit and a long line of hooded riders thundered onto the screen, their path illuminated by a burning cross. The entire audience cheered as the Ku Klux Klan rode to the rescue of white womanhood, white power, and white supremacy. Finally the crowd breathed a final sigh of relief as the robed avengers dispensed with the threat by castrating and lynching the black villain. And the show did not end with the final scene. As the audience filed out of the theater, a bonus scene awaited them on Peachtree Street. More than a hundred men in white robes and hoods stood in military-style formation, rifles raised into the air. Thanks to the Little Colonel, the Ku Klux Klan was back-and this was no movie.
IN THE SPRING OF 1920 Simmons walked into the offices of the Southern Publicity Association in Atlanta. The leaders of this pioneering firm had built its reputation by devising successful publicity and fundraising programs for clients ranging from the Anti-Saloon League to the Red Cross. The firm’s inseparable male and female partners were also becoming known for their creativity, connections, and can-do spirit- even if their close personal relationship was raising eyebrows. Bessie Tyler provided the passion for the company. She stood close to six feet tall, swore like a sailor, and usually dressed in black, from her patent0leather pumps to her broad, flowing cape. Tyler knew how to make people sit up and take notice-and how to turn adversity into advantage. Her partner was Edward Young Clarke, the business brains of the outfit. Clarke was a spin doctor before the term existed, a master of deception who never let the truth get in the way of his client’s needs. Clarke knew how to turn negative publicity into positive headlines-and how to turn controversy into cash.
After hearing out Simmons, Tyler and Clarke made a round of calls to newspaper and magazine editors across the country to test the waters. To their happy astonishment, most of the newsmen were more than open to running stories about the new Ku Klux Klan. Even better for the publicity mavens, the interest from the press was not limited of the South. Editors from the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast asked for regular released about the revived Klan too. Tyler and Clarke were confident that a bold new message-coupled with an aggressive membership campaign-could drive growth nationwide. Their challenge was to make the job lucrative enough for themselves-particularly sine working for the Klan would mean the loss of their Jewish clientele. Over a two-week period in 1920, Tyler and Clarke worked out an astounding contract with Simmons. The public relations duo would get four of every five dollars in new membership fees plus profits from merchandise sales for the life of the campaign. Seeing dollar signs, Tyler and Clarke went to work. THE FIRST STEP was to refocus the Klan’s message for the modern world. It was the aftermath of World War I, and change was in the air. Immigrants were pouring into the country and taking good jobs at low wages. Women had won the ote and were demanding more influence in public affairs. Black men were mustering out of the military and pressing for equality in their own country. Morals were changing too, as the focus of American life shifted from the small town to the city. Young people flocked to nightclubs nd speakeasies, whiskey flowed like water, jazz played on the radio, and divorce became more of an option for unhappy couples. Many white men feared that their traditional place atop the social order-even their status as heads of their own households-was endangered. The Klan had to speak to those people and tap into their fear. So, to the well-known goal of stamping down blacks and Jews, Tyler and Clarke added new targets: Catholics, Asians, Mexicans, labor unionists, socialists, and greedy Wall Street tycoons. To the Klan’s historic opposition to racial integration and religious tolerance, they added the evils of dope, booze, sex, corruption, nightclubs, roadhouses, and violations of the Sabbath. Seeking to differentiate the Klan from other fraternal organizations, they positioned it as the most militant enforcer of morality and decency in communities across the country. Then they pushed the new message through the media. The PR team persuaded newsreel producers to make short, pro—Klan films for movie theaters. They hired a Chicago advertising agency to design newspaper ads and billboards and placed them coast-to-coast. They organized elaborate Klan ceremonies, speeches, and rallies that drew hundreds of new recruits and thousands of onlookers. Tyler coached Simmons to talk less about white brotherhood and more about black inferiority, Jewish greed, and the plans of the Roman Catholic Church to dominate America. Simmons delivered the expanded message in interviews with major newspapers and in crowded meeting halls full of potential members. At one event he stepped forward to deliver his message to a group of influential men who could serve in important roles in his organization. Standing behind a bare table in the front of the room, Simmons at first said nothing. Then he placed his Colt automatic on the table. Then he placed his revolver on the table. Then he placed his ammunition belt on the table. Then he plunged his bowie knife into the tabletop. Then he said, “Now let the Niggers, Catholics, [and] Jews…come on.” THE TACTICS PROVED a stunning success. A year into the campaign, more than 100,000 men had paid their ten-dollar Klektoken )initiation fee)-and all the taking were tax-free because the KKK was chartered as a charitable organization. Traveling promoters called Kleagles were offered a cut of the dues to sign up new members. Driven more by the money than the message, most Kleagles targeted any white protestant man willing to part with ten dollars. As one journalist put it, the prospect list included “the poor, the romantic, the short-witted, the bored, the vindictive the bigoted and the ambitious.
Chapter 9 A BOLD NEW MESSAGE, pp. 70-72
As dues poured into Klan bank accounts, merchandise poured out of its warehouses. The new mandate was sell, sell, sell. The product line included more than 40 newsletters, bottles of initiation water, and a pocketknife-“a 100-percent knife for 100 percent Americans.” Sell more! For the romantic Klansman there was even a gift for the wife or girlfriend: a jewel-studded pendant in the form of a fiery cross. Sell more! The demand for robes and hoods became so great that a dedicated roe factory had to be set up in Atlanta to fill the orders. Sell more! Within a few short years of the Tyler-Clarke campaign, more than four million Americans had joined the KKK, and revenues topped $75 million. Despite the success, Simmons would soon be ousted in a contentious coup led by his number two man, Hiram Evans. In exchange for grudgingly turning the organization over to Evans, Simmons retired with a $146,500 buy out and a house dubbed Klan Krest. Now that the Klan had the muscle of a huge membership and vast income, Evans wanted to make the organization more than just a hate-mongering money machine. By staking out positions on political issues and placing Klansmen in government offices, the KKK could become apolitical powerhouse. In August 1925, 40,000 Klansmen marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., as a show of strength during the Democratic National Convention. By then the KKK controlled dozens of mayors, judges, police chiefs, state legislators, congressmen, and senators.
Surprisingly, the biggest growth of the KKK did not occur in the South. The smooth-talking Grand Dragon of the Realm of Indiana, David Curtis Stephenson, built membership in his state to more than 450,000, and the organization tapped him to recruit new followers in 20 other states. Stephenson increased the ranks to more than 300,000 in neighboring Ohio, where he owned a vacation home on Buckeye Lake in rural Licking Country. More than 75,000 people turned out to hear him speak at a KKK Konklave on the lake in 1923, and an equal came back for the 1925 gathering. The Klavern in Akron, Ohio, claimed 52,000 members, making it the largest local chapter in the country.
By expanding the ranks of the Invisible Empire in the Midwest, Stephenson amassed a personal fortune of more than $3 million from his cut of dues and merchandise sales In short order he owned a lavish mansion outside Indianapolis, a yacht on Lake Michigan, a private railroad car, and an airplane. Backed by his own private police force-the Horse Thief Detective Association-Stephenson virtually took control of Indiana’s state government. “I am the law in Indiana,” he liked to brag. In his public speeches he defended Prohibition and the sanctity of womanhood. In private he was an alcoholic and a womanizer. BUT TH WEALTHY ORGANIZERS at the top had a problem. Rank-and-file members in cities and towns across the country were taking the vicious, antiblack, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic rhetoric to heart. As had happened during the first rising of the Klan after the Civil War, violence was drawing negative attention to the organization. Klan raiding parties flogged black political candidates in North Carolina, harassed Jewish businessmen in New Jersey, attacked Catholics in Oregon, and used acid to burn the initials KKK into the foreheads of victims in Texas. And not all the victims were black, brown, Jewish, or Catholic. KKK members also targeted white protestant families for alleged immoral behavior or supposedly betraying their race or gender. In Alabama perpetrators flogged a white divorcee with two children for the crime of remarrying. In Oklahoma Ghouls lashed teenage girls for riding in cars with young men. When newspapers exposed the violence, public support began to wane. Political leaders condemned the attacks, and antimask laws went on the books to deter hooded gatherings. By the late 1920s Klan membership was falling as fast as it had risen But the kiss of death proved to be the hypocrisy of their leadership. Newspapers were having a field day with stories o the duplicity. After all, how could a fraternal organization that stood for law and order resort to vigilante violence? How could a handful of promoters become rich while the rank and file worked for nothing? How could people with questionable morals run a militant enforcer of strict morality? That question arose following news accounts of sexual escapades by Klan leaders. Even the intrepid Clarke and Tyler, the PR duo who had sparked the membership spike, made salacious headlines. The two were arrested-with alcohol on their breath and their clothes on the floor-in a suspected house of prostitution. The most infamous sex scandal involved the high-flying Grand Dragon in Indiana, David Curtis Stephenson, who had not responded well to a young woman’s rejection of his marriage proposal. Stephenson had his thugs kidnap the woman from her home and deliver her to his waiting train. As the train sped toward his hideaway in Chicago, Stephenson viciously beat, raped, and mauled her. Then his henchmen took her, near death, back home to Indianapolis. Two weeks later, the battered woman died from an overdose of pills, and Stephenson was charged with murder. In a highly publicized trial he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. KKK membership went into a nose dive.
As the anti-comic book crusaders railed against fictional characters a far more sinister force was stepping out of the shadows in the real world. The Ku Klux Klan was talking of revival and aligning itself with other racist hate groups. The sleeping giant was stirring again. FOLLOWING THEIR RISE to influence in the 1920s, the national Ku Klux Klan leadership had found themselves steeped in controversy with the federal government breathing down their necks. So the secret order of hooded vigilantes employed the approach it always turned to in times of trouble: It played possum. In the 1930s the national organization dissolves its charter, shut down the Imperial Palace, and told the world it was out of business. The KKK leaders hunkered down to operate in the shadows and keep the flame of hate and bigotry alive in the United States. While many Ku Klux Klan chapters did shut down, others continued operating as independent local groups still dedicated to white supremacy, Christian dominance, and rigid morality. While many continued to use the KKK name, language and garb proudly, others adopted new names to obscure their identities. As the White Cross Clan pressed its racist agenda in Oakland, California, other Klan front groups attacked minorities and preached hate in other cities. By maintaining only loose ties with national KKK leaders, these local groups avoided possible prosecution in federal court as well as the requirement to pay federal taxes. Like-minded local politicians often protected the newly named chapters. Even as the national press wrote the KKK’s obituary, local newspapers were writing about radical racist groups operating in their midst. Then, in the summer of 1940, a bizarre and frightening development took place. As Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime flexed its muscles far away in Europe, resurgent Ku Klux Klan factions began flirting with a new breed of Nazi hate groups in the United States. The Klan was cozying up to the German American Bund, an association led by Nazi sympathizers who praised Hitler, preached fascism, wore Nazi uniforms, and snapped off stiff-armed salutes to flags decorated with a swastika. The powerful and resilient New Jersey Klan led the negotiations with the Bund and arranged a joint rally at a Bund training camp outside Andover, New Jersey. On August 14, 1940, more than a thousand robed and hooded Klansmen and several hundred gray-shirted Bundsman assembled on the grounds of Camp Nordland for a day of anti-Semitic speeches and Negro bashing. As the Bundesfuhrer moved to center stage and proclaimed, “The principles of the Bund and the principles of the Klan are the same,” the KKK Grand Giant from New Jersey stepped forward and clasped the Bundsman’s hand in a show of unity. After the speeches a Klan wedding was held beneath a fiery cross, as if to symbolize a new union between the international and American forms of fascism. As the event reached a crescendo, hundreds of incensed citizens from nearby Andover decided they had had enough of the Nazis and the Klan in their own backyards. The mob gathered at the camp gate and screamed chants like “Burn Hitler on your cross.” The forces of hate were threatening to get out of control.
Chapter 11, “Mayhem Murder Torture and Abduction”, pp.89-90
THERE were many other important voices rising up against the Klan, and many of those voices emanated from the KKK stronghold of Atlanta. Taking on the KKK with the power of his pen, Ralph McGill, the crusading editor of the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution”, often wrote to his readers in the tone of a parent assuring his children that their fears and prejudices were unwarranted: There are not many Catholics in Georgia which is a pity in a way because they are almost invariably good Christians, good citizens and worthwhile members of the community., something which has not been possible to say because of all the members of the Ku Klux Klan klaverns in the state .. There are not many Jews in Georgia either but they, too, are good citizens. Their contribution is one of hard work and decency. There is no reason to have an organization formed to promote hate and antagonism to Catholics, Jews, foreign-born citizens or any minority groups…If you could get through all the mumbo jumbo business of the kleagels, Cyclops, nighthawks and al the claptrap, you would still find it to be silly, unchristian and dangerous to the peace and dignity of the people”. Assistant Attorney General Daniel Duke of Georgia also took on the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta. The hard-charging prosecutor had sent a number of Klansmen to prison for violent attacks against blacks and accused moral backsliders in the 1930s and early 1940s, and he was determined to see the guilty parties serve out their sentences. Late in 1941 Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge suggested granting clemency to the convicted floggers. This triggered a showdown between the fiery prosecutor and the race-baiting governor, who had long pandered for votes from KKK leaders and their followers. At a public hearing on the proposed pardons, Duke held up two leather whips with KKK etched into the handles and waved them in Talmadge’s face while making the point that the Klan’s weapon of choice could stop a bull elephant. Unmoved by the argument, Talmadge stated that he was familiar with such whips because he had once used one on a black man. Talmadge would go on to curry votes from the Klan and Duke would stand against them for years to come.
Chapter 14, “Fighting Hate at Home”, pp.107-108
THE EVENTS OF MAY 9, 1946, in Atlanta were not fantasy. Late that night-a 300-foot-tall wooden cross burned on a granite butte near the top of Stone Mountain. The lames cast a glow over more than a thousand men clad in white robes and hoods. Distinguished by his flowing green robe, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Samuel Green presides from a makeshift altar made of flagstones, draped with an American flag, and bedecked with an unsheathed sword, a canteen of water, an a Bible open to Romans 12: The Christian Life. As plumes of flame leaped into the night and a half moon rose in the distant sky, the Grand Dragon delivered a blistering call to arms in defense of white rule Bringing his racist rant to a crescendo, he cast his gaze on several dozen men kneeling before him in plain clothes. After leading the new recruits in the sacred oath of initiation, he declared them knight of the Ku Klux Klan. He also warned that betrayal of the organization’s secrets would result in the ultimate punishment: death at the hands of a brother. As the ceremony ended Green cried, “We are revived!” Grand Dragon Green was elated with the Stone Mountain coming-our party. More than 200 new recruits had been initiated that night, and more than a thousand spectators had trekked up the mountain to witness the event Major newspapers, national wire services, and a nationally circulated magazine had covered it, and most reporters had used adjectives like “eerie,” mysterious,” “awesome,” and “haunting” to describe the goings-on. In fact, the next issue of LIFE magazine featured a four-page photo spread under the headline “Ku Klux Klan Tries a Comeback. It Pledges Initiated in a Mystic Pageant on Georgia’s Stone Mountain. “Now millions of readers across the country had the message that Green wanted them to have: the LL was rising again. Green-a 54-year old physician with wire-frame spectacles and a small, bushy white moustache-planned to follow the public relations coup with a highly organized national membership drive that would attract legions of new followers to the reviving order. A longtime Klansman and dedicated follower of the late colonel William Simmons Doc Green planned to apply the historic philosophies, rituals, and methods of the Klan to the emerging social conditions of post-World War II America.
Chapter 16 RETURN TO STONE MOUNTAIN, pp.125-126
In preparation for the revival, Green had done his homework. Traveling the country to test public sentiment, he had found reason to believe that millions of white protestant men from Connecticut to California, from Michigan to Mississippi, would respond to the call With black military veterans mustering out of the service and seeking equal rights in the country they had fought for, Green wanted to tap in to white fear. To avoid potential entanglements with the federal government, he named his organization the Association of Georgia Klans, and he accepted the role of Grand Dragon of the Georgia Realm (as opposed to Imperial Wizard of the entire empire) for the time being. At the same time, he began strengthening ties to KKK realms in Tennessee, Oregon, California, New Jersey, and many other states. After pulling together Klan groups across the country, he planned to reestablish Atlanta as the imperial capital and reign over the entire organization. There was evidence the revival was taking hold. In Mississippi, Hodding Carter, crusading editor of the Delta Democrat-Time”, warned that the Invisible Empire was “sloshing over like an overfull cesspool from its stronghold in Georgia.” What Green didn’t fully understand was that his organization had been badly compromised. The Georgia Department of Law had placed undercover agents inside Klavern No. I, and the FBI was watching and listening too.
DESPITE KENEDY’S best efforts to infiltrate, however, the author and activist was only going to get so far inside the Klan He needed help. By the spring of 1946, Kennedy had the help he needed to forge a direct pipeline into the deepest secrets of the Atlanta Klan. As part of his services to the ANL and ADL, Kennedy worked as the handler for a top-secret, deeply embedded mole who was operating under the alias John Brown. “This worker is joining the Klan for me,” Kennedy wrote in one memo to his employers in early 1946. “I am certain that he can be relied on.” Brown was a former Klansman who had committed himself to lifting the cover off its violent actions and conspiracies. He still had the complete trust of the KKK leadership, and he used it to burrow deep into the inner sanctum o the infamous Nathan Bedford Forrest Klavern No. 1, which met every Monday night at a cavernous union hall at 1981/2 Whitehall street. Brown’s reports detailed KKK plans for the major revival that took place a year later on Stone Mountain, attacks on Negroes moving into white neighborhoods, and the involvement of Atlanta police officers in KKK violence. By Brown’s own count, 83 of the 200 men in Klavern No. 1 were Atlanta police officers, many of who regularly directed traffic and provided security at cross burnings. Brown’s reports were chilling. In a dispatch dated April 29, 1946, he reported that Grand Dragon Samuel Green was advised to “write a letter of appreciation to a policeman named ‘Itchy Trigger Finger’ Nash … in connection with the slaying of a Negro he has killed in his line of duty. It seems that Dr. GGreen would like to decorate these policemen who kill Negroes with the Klan.” Brown even infiltrated the paramilitary flog squad that carried out midnight whippings, beatings, and murders of selected targets. Or, as handler Kennedy reported to the ANL on May 6, 1946, “our informant is now a member of the Klan’s inner circle, and Klavalier Klub.” Kennedy went on to note, “”[O]ur informant has learned that Green is an honorary members and bears card No. 000 … Obviously the Klavalier lub is the Storm Trooper arm of the Klan and there is some effort to divorce the regular Klan officials from responsibility of its actions.” Brown even got inside the secret subunit of the Klavalier Klub that called itself the Ass Tearers and printed on its calling card the image of a corkscrew-its implement of choice for torturing and disemboweling its victims. The infiltrators’ reports painted a haunting picture of KKK conspiracies and violence, as well as the paranoid mentality that pervaded the Klavern. The reports detail hit lists targeting anti-Klan journalists and even plots to steal weapons caches from government stockpiles to use in an all-out onslaught against African Americans. Even the mundane matters described in the reports are eye-opening, from membership drives and publicity campaigns to ham dinners put on by the ladies’ auxiliary to raise money for their husbands’ work. The moles centered much of their attention on Grand Dragon Green and his top henchmen of the Associated Klans of Georgia. An overseer of Klavern No. 1, Green had virtually invited the scrutiny of investigators with his militant call for white protestant men across the country to rise up and take the antion back from the Negroes, Jews, Catholics, and liberals. While Green insisted the Klan was breaking no laws, the undercover operatives knew that beyond the violent raids that the KKK was varying out, Green and company were also acting as the central players in a resurgent national KKK movement, coordinating with Klaverns in other states and even supplying them with membership forms and propaganda pamphlets printed in Atlanta. If the Klan busters could prove that the Atlanta Klavern was acting as the center of a national program, they could push Georgia to revoke the organization’s state charter, thus leaving Green and company open to federal income tax debt and possible prosecution in federal court. And to top it all off, a kids’ radio show was about to lift the mask off the KKK for a generation of children.
In time the Anti-Defamation League stepped forward to make sure its man on the scene-or behind the scene-got credit. The “ADL Bulletin” of February 1947 reported, “It is now revealed that Superman’s informant was Stetson Kennedy, brilliant young Southern liberal who had joined the Klan and the (neo Nazi) Columbians under the assumed name of John S. Perkins. Nowadays Kennedy is telling the whole ugly story of racism in the South and its dollar hungry peddlers, who charged him $10 for a moth-eaten, second hand Klan uniform.” Kennedy even held a press conference in full KKK garb at the ADL offices in New York. His antics apparently did not sit well with Grand Dragon Green. An April 7, 1947 report by an unnamed KKK informant claimed that Green “circulated a picture of Kennedy and said his ass is worth $1,000 per pound.” And in response to the rank and file’s criticism of “failing to provide floggings, crossburnings, etc in ’47,” the Grand Dragon promised “a hot year in ’48 if they could catch the spies.” In the years that followed, Kennedy and other infiltrators redoubled their efforts, and the negative press continued to flow. By 1948 the Klan had become a kicking dog for a host of enemies. The governor of Florida responded to a KKK parade by calling the marchers “hooded hoodlums and sheeted jerks.” And “Time” magazine reported that “a bigoted little obstetrician named Samuel Green’ was becoming desperate to “prove to everybody that his movement wasn’t on the skids.” “Time” also noted that Green was under withering attack from such powerful opponents as the Junior Chamber of Commerce and a local group of churchwomen. Despite a 1,500-guest birthday party for Samuel Green and despite Green’s claims (reported by infiltrators) that he had 5,000 requests from all over the country to open KKK chapters, the talk of revival turned out to be just that-talk. The secret order was riddled with infiltrators, hounded by investigators, buried in bad press, and out of step with the modern mainstream of America.