Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dark Knights in White Satin Hoods: A Ku Klux Klan Library

by Stephen J. Gertz

[SHEET MUSIC] SEALE, Walter B. and Adger M. PACE
Wake Up!! America and Kluck, Kluck, Kluck

Lawrenceburg, TN: James D. Vaughan, 1924. Quarto (32cm).
Pictorial card covers; 3pp. Also includes the Adger Pace composition
“Sweet Little Girl of Mine” inside front wrapper. A cheery little K.K.K.
recruiting anthem, beginning: “...If you want to be happy, just sing
a little song, And join the mighty army of the K.K. throng...”
Rare; OCLC gives only one location (Mississippi).

The Ku Klux Klan - The Circle of Brothers, the name taken from the Greek word 'kulkos," i.e. "circle" - first arose during Reconstruction. A vigilante group dedicated to righting the perceived wrongs of Northern oppression of the defeated South, it ran its course by the end of the 1870s.

In 1915, however, the organization was resurrected in the wake of The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith's  adaptation of Thomas Dixon Jr.'s The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), a paean to "the Great Cause" that glorified the original Klan; Leo Frank's lynching after his death sentence for the rape and murder of a white girl; and William J. Simmons re-establishment of the organization using sophisticated recruiting methods, and a modern business structure. The 1920s were the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, 4,000,000-members strong.

Constitution and Laws of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Atlanta: Imperial Palace, Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, 1921.
Narrow octavo (21cm x 10cm). Staple-bound, illustrated wrappers. 34pp.
One of four different versions of this KKK membership manual published
in 1921; this, apparently, intended as an abridged vest-pocket reference
(the other issues were of 96 and 113pp). This issue scarce; OCLC records
only two locations; none others in commerce.

The second coming of the Klan integrated the organization's traditional belief in white supremacy with anti-immigration, anti-Semitsm, anti-Catholic, anti-Communist, anti-Socialist, anti-unionism; the usual anti- laundry list. There was something for everybody; if you didn't agree with the racist element you could rally around another. Far from being confined to rural Southern states, the new Klan made its biggest inroads into cities well into the North, anywhere where Black migrants competed with Whites for employment and housing. It was during this period in the Klan's history that cross-burnings were introduced, a ceremony initially conducted to welcome new klaverns (chapters) into the fold but, soon later, used for ritual threats.

Constitution and Laws of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Atlanta: Imperial Palace, Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, 1921.
Small, square 16mo (10cm x 10cm); 96pp. Illustrated wrappers; 96pp.
One of at least three different versions of this KKK membership manual
published in 1921. With sections dedicated to organization, hierarchy,
ceremonies, and by-laws.

This modern iteration was particularly insidious as the Klan was sold and accepted in many communities as a sort of Rotary Club. Everybody joined, simply because of the business and social connections that could be made. Your friends and family were members. To not join was to risk important relationships. For some, perhaps many, morality and ethics were routinely put through a wringer.

The Seven Symbols of The Klan. Imperial Instructions Document No. II.
Series A.D. 1960, A.K. LXXXXIV. Being Official Instructions in K-uno
in the border Realm of Karacter [&c...] N.p. [Tuscaloosa, AL]:
Office of the Imperial Wizard, 1960. Tri-fold brochure, 22cm;
single sheet folded to make 6pp. Front cover graphic of a hooded
Klansman on horseback.Brief exegeses on each of the seven
“sacred symbols” of the Klan: The Bible, The Cross, The Flag, The Sword,
The Water, The Robe and The Hood. Of the latter, the author writes:
 “...Who can look upon a multitude of white robed Klansmen without
thinking of the equality and unselfishness of that throng of white robed
saints in the GLORY LAND?” An uncommon Klan item; OCLC gives
one location only (Wisconsin Historical Soc).

In a county in central Texas, for instance, the owner of the local Ford dealerships automatically joined the Klan when a local klavern was established in the early 1920s. That he taught his children to respect black people and prohibited them from ever using the N-word, was as tolerant, peaceful and non-violent a man as can be imagined, was not a racist or anti-Semite, intervened when the local doctor refused to treat a black woman on Christmas day, made no difference. He was genuinely concerned about the consequences if he didn't become a member of the Ku Klux Klan or spoke out in opposition to it, however benign. His business and social life would have been ruined. He was human and did not possess the super-strength character that would have been necessary to risk everything for his principles. While he might have done differently had he been a single man, he had a wife and two children to think about and support.

He went along to get along.  For many, I suspect, to reject the Klan was tantamount to accepting Communism, and no solid, middle-class citizen of the era was sympathetic to it.

ETHERIDGE, Paul S. (introd). Klansman’s Manual
N.p. [Atlanta?]: Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, 1924. Octavo (22.5cm).
Textured brown card wrappers, printed in black;. 86, [10], pp.
A complete manual of training for the Klan initiate, “to be instructed in
the principles and methods of the order.” Includes sections on history,
hierarchy, ceremonies, duties of officers, and a Penal Code for offending
members. Concludes with the Klan Loyalty Oath. Uncommon, and a
key early Klan document.

That man was my maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, and I feel no little amount of shame about his Ku Klux Klan connection.  I have no idea what he made of all of this; perhaps he was too tolerant a man. Someone has to have the courage to say no in a sea of yeses. But while I like to think that I would have behaved differently, I really have no idea how I might have acted in similar circumstances. Social and financial pressures can take their toll on the strongest ethos and wear it down, The truly heroic are few and far between. For all the many advantages of small town life, the smaller the town, the more difficult it is to be a non-conformist. He lived in a community of 5,500.

The Practice of Klanishness. Imperial Instructions Document No.1,
Series AD. 1924, AK. LVIII Atlanta: Imperial Palace Invisible Empire
Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, 1924. Narrow octavo (21cm x 10cm).
Staple-bound, illustrated wrappers; 8pp. Described as a “First Lesson
in the Science and Art of Klankraft....Being Official Instructions in
K-uno in the border Realm of Karacter from the one who traversed
the Realm of the Unknown...”

The second coming of the Klan, once strong with 4,000,000 members nationwide in the 1920s, ended in 1944 after declining membership rolls and a huge tax lien forced it to formally dissolve. The social discontent that had spawned its renaissance had passed, its terrorist activities had become too much for the average member, and the pressures of law enforcement had taken their toll.

GAFFNEY, Albert Sydney. The Son of a Klansman.
Kansas City: Franklin Hudson Publishers, (1926). Octavo (19cm).
Publisher’s tan pictorial cloth boards, stamped in brown. dustjacket.
317pp; illus. An “allegorical, historical novel” set in the Kentucky
mountains and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.
A rough-hewn but decent hillbilly does battle against a scheming
rival, at home and abroad. The KKKtheme is tangential, but the
author clearly regards the values of the Klan, and its “wonderful
work in restoring peace and good will in the South after the war,”
as laudable. Of Albert Sydney Gaffney we find no biographical
information in the expected sources. Based on the book’s very detailed
(if atrociously-written) accounts of the Philippine conflict, we suspect
he had first-hand experience in the Spanish-American War.

Informal and independent iterations of the Klan with all the traditional accouterments and vile acts surfaced during the 1950s through 1960s as the civil rights movement grew and ancient fears became manifest and anxiety took firm hold. This was the era of the  modern Klan's most violent activity as the worst fears of segregationists became a reality, a streak that would end only with the Federal government's revival of the Force and Klan Acts from Reconstruction to investigate and indict Klansmen.

SIMMONS, William Joseph. The Ku Klux Klan: Yesterday Today and Forever,
[Atlanta: Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan, ca 1921].
Staple-bound pamphlet, 22cm x 9.5cm (9” x 4”). Original
pictorial wrappers. [12pp].Recruiting brochure, offering a
brief history of the Klan, the circumstances leading to its
re-birth in the 1915, and outlining the elements of the modern
Klan’s Constitution and prerequisites to “Citizenship in the Invisible Empire.”
The author was founder (in 1915) of the modern Klan and its Imperial
Wizard until 1921. This brochure undated, but makes reference to the
“recent purchasse” by the Klan of Lanier University in Atlanta;
that purchase took place in 1921.

The present-day Klan is a hodgepodge of competing factions and chapters. It has gained traction since the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency.

Ex-Grand Wizard David Duke claims that thousands of Tea Party movement activists have urged him to run for president in 2012. The Tea Party refused to endorse the NAACP's call to purge its membership of racial bigots unless the NAACP denounced the Black Panther Party, not associated with the NAACP at all, and despite the NAACP's rejection of violence of any nature from anyone.

GORDON, Rev. James L. The Destiny of the Anglo-Saxon Race.
San Francisco: First Congregational Church, n.d. [ca 1917].
Staple-bound leaflet, 23cm x 10cm; illustrated wrappers, 8pp.
The author, a Congregationalist minister, views the German War
as a trial for the ascendancy of the Anglo-Saxon race:
“...I believe that the Anglo-Saxon Race - all English-speaking peoples -
fits into the outlines of Biblical prophecy...I believe that the world
should be directed and dominated by the best race which time has
ever produced...the Anglo-Saxon race will lead the world: and its
theatre of action, for the next five hundred years, will be the
Continent of North America.”

To be sure, not everyone in the Tea Party Movement is a racist; the majority are not and appear to be very sensitive to the mere suggestion of sympathy to racism and racists. But the dregs of humanity who desperately cling to white supremacy but dare not speak its name have found a home there, and Tea Party enthusiasts who do not denounce that element within must share a burden of shame.

I love the flawed grandfather with feet of clay that I never knew but despise and categorically reject his involvement with the Klan. This is a sick gene in the pool that deserves to drown.

With the exception of The Clansman, all images courtesy of Lorne Bair Rare Books, with our thanks.

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