The Second Coming of the Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s by William Rawlings. Macon (GA): Mercer University Press, 2016.
"Founded as a men's fraternal group in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1915, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan eventually became one of the largest social and political movements in American history, attracting perhaps as many as four million members during the 1920s. In this excellent book William Rawlings examines the complex factors that grave rise to this unusual organization, the key individuals who were responsible for both the Klan's rise and decline, and the place of the 1920s Klan in American history. In contract to other recent scholarship on the second Klan that largely consists of detailed studies of KKK activities at the local level, the author focuses on the important, and often, sordid, developments that took place in the group's national headquarters.
"Nearly a third of the book is dedicated to detailing the historical factors that made the second Klan possible. In a series of brief but informative chapters, the author looks at the social and cultural impact of Reconstruction, the activities of the first Klan, and the gradual development of a Lost Cause mythology that convinced many Americans to see the Confederacy and the original Klan in a favorable light. This shift in opinion was well demonstrated in 1915 by the incredible popularity of the famous silent film 'The Birth of a Nation,' which completed the process of romanticizing the Klan of Reconstruction. Recognizing that the time was auspicious, William J. Simmons, an experienced recruiter for men's organizations, formed the new Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta shortly before the local premiere of 'The Birth of a Nation,' going so far as to sue artwork from the movie's posters in Klan flyers and designing robes for the new group that were virtually the same as those used in the film.
"For the first few years of its existence, the new Klan limped along with only a couple thousand members. As Rawlings emphasizes, the sudden upturn in group's fortunes in 1920 should be credited to Edward Young Clarke, an Atlanta advertising executive who completely overhauled the KKK's recruiting procedures and financial practices. Under Clarke's guidance the Klan became a huge money-making machine, raking in tens of millions of dollars. While this fueled the group's rapid growth across the nation, it also led to vicious infighting among the Klan's leaders and set off a stream of lawsuits and counter-lawsuits that discredited the secret order at the very moment that its size and influence were peaking. Although the KKK's new leader, Hiram W. Evans, attempted to reform the Klan and make it a more stable and mainstream organization, continuing disillusionment and scandals resulted in a rapidly dwindling membership. By the early 1930s, the second Klan had become largely insignificant in American life.
"This is a well-researched and splendidly written book. It should greatly interest both general and academic readers who want to know more about the dark tradition of organized intolerance in American history."
Book Review by Shawn Lay, Coker College in The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. XCV, No. 1 (January 2018.
"Fifty years after the end of the Civil War, William Joseph Simmons, a failed Methodist minister, formed a fraternal order that he called The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Organized primarily as a money-making scheme, it shared little but its name with the Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction Era. With its avowed creed of One Hundred Percent Americanism, support of Protestant Christian values, white supremacy, and the rejection of all things foreign, this new Klan became, for a brief period of time in the mid-1920s, one of Americas most powerful social and political organizations. This original and meticulously researched history of Americas second Ku Klux Klan presents many new and fascinating insights into this unique and important episode in American History."
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