(A BALLSY HISS-STORY OF THE “BAGGERS” AND OTHER LOONY TUNE MOVEMENTS)
( Pt. 2: THE “KNIGHTS” IN COTTON ARMOR)
It’s 1865 in the South and this is not the best of all possible worlds.
The South has just lost the war BIG TIME!
Major cities are in ruin. Great swaths of farmland are out of commission. About $3,000,000,000 worth of slaves have been set free. (That’s $3 billion in Yankee money. The Confederate stuff is now worth less than it costs to print.)
And, the greatest calamity of all – the “White Power Structure” is severely threatened! Those damn Yankee liberals, (i.e. Republicans) have the outlandish idea that Negroes have rights, including the rights to vote as well as hold public office. (My how times have changed.)
In most rural counties throughout the South, and in states like Mississippi and South Carolina, slaves constituted the majority of the population at the start of the war. In Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, they were almost the majority. U.S. Census, 1860, Population, pp 598-599
The “powers that were” had reason for their trepidation. As a result of all this, within a decade there would be over 600 African-American State Legislators (190 in South Carolina alone) as well as 15 Congressmen and a couple of Senators (both from Mississippi). E. Foner: Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 pp 354-5 (1988)
Bought & paid for politicians were common (Some things don’t change much.), but former slaves had a different take on “bought & paid for” as well as on the White Power Structure. If they were going to sell out, it wasn’t going to be to their former masters, and their former masters knew it.
SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE!!!! And, it was!
The KuKlux Clan (That’s what it was originally called.) was born on the day before Christmas, 1865, in Pulaski, Tennessee, a bitty burg just north of the ‘bamma border. Walter J. Fleming: Ku Klux Klan: Its Origins, Growth and Disbandment p. 27, (1905)
If you notice the pic, that’s more or less how they were dressed in the 1st go round. The white sheets came later. Also, cross burnings didn’t happen until the 2nd time around.
The founders were ex-Confederate soldiers: Captain John C. Lester, Captain John B. Kennedy, Major James R. Crowe, Private Frank O. McCord, Richard R. Reed, and Adjutant J. Calvin Jones.
By 1867, their titular leader was Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest, ex-Confederate general (and slave trader).
The Kuke’s were just one of several like-minded (That is, if you concede they had functioning minds.) groups sprouting up around the South. For instance, New Orleans had the “Southern Cross” and the “Knights of the White Camellia” operated throughout the deep south. But, the Klan either had better p.r. or bigger blabbermouths. (A lot of those yokels couldn’t even spell secrecy, let alone practice it.)
This was the 1st incarnation of the group. There have been two more. In fact, the 3rd incarnation is still around, but mostly out-slicked by more modern renditions of the same old song.
The 1st incarnation didn’t stick around too long, but it sure raised a hell of a lot of hell while it did!
The 2nd priority was to do the same thing to them damned Carpetbaggers & Scalawags. (i.e. Yankee judges, teachers, doctors and more than a few unscrupulous lawyers and politicians) (As opposed to the unscrupulous Southern judges, lawyers and politicians.)
The Kukes were quite good at it, all dressed up in their pretty robes and pointy little hoods. (Or was it the heads underneath that were pointy?) Over 2000 ex-slaves were killed or injured in Louisiana alone. Several counties throughout the south had deaths running in the hundreds.
It worked! Over the next several years, Black voting pretty much evaporated.
In a few years, however, the Klan began to wear out its welcome. Several southern states started passing anti-Klan laws. In 1870, a federal grand jury declared the Klan to be a terrorist organization. In 1871, President Grant sent Federal troops after them. Several hundred Klansmen were captured, tried in federal court and convicted.
The Klan began falling apart all over the South. Members either fled, dropped into the background or joined one of the groups such as the White League or the Red Shirts that were formed to replace the Klan.
These groups too had their day. In one case (Red Shirts) “their day” lasted until 1900.
It’s the 20th Century. February 8, 1915 to be exact.
That bastion of liberalism (Hollywood) has just released an outrageous piece of propaganda disguised as one of them new-fangled motion pictures: “Birth of a Nation”.
In it, the Negroes (portrayed by white men in blackface) were big, stupid and sexually aggressive towards them “Southern Belles”.
Btw, there is one “urban legend” that is based on fact: males of African decent (on average) have bigger dicks then white American males. But then, so do South Americans, Middle Easterners and Canadians. Makes me wonder how much racism is based on “penis envy”. But, not to worry – we still beat the Chinese, Indians (of the India variety) and SE Asians. (And if you think I’m going to post a penis pic, forget it. I have a sneaky hunch you already know what one looks like.)
Back to the movie. (Sorry about the sidetrack. I know you are all worried about the fate of them “Belles”.)
Well, put your minds at ease. Riding to the rescue of the fair damsels, (oops, wrong period) I mean belles, were those glorious, glamorous “knights of the white cotton armor”: THE KLU KLUX KLAN!! (rah! rah!, whoopy! hurray! and various other forms of uproarious applause)
The movie is a classic. (#44 in American Film Institute’s “100 years…100 Movies”). For its day, it was an epic! a Masterpiece!! a BLOCKBUSTER!!! It was also unmitigated BULL SHIT!
The movie was based on “The Clansman” and was directed by D.W. Griffith, the son of a Confederate colonel. His sentiments showed just a bit. (A very LARGE bit!)
“As slavery is the great sin of America, so “Birth of a Nation” is Griffith’s sin, for which he tried to atone all the rest of his life. So instinctive were the prejudices he was raised with as a 19th century Southerner, that the offenses in his film actually had to be explained to him. To his credit, his next film, “Intolerance”, was an attempt at apology.” Roger Ebert: The Birth of a Nation (1915)
And, in fairness to D.W., the film was not outside the mainstream of American “prevailing wisdom” at the time.It was even endorsed by President Woodrow Wilson. (Quite a bigot himself.)
Of course, his office later issued a non-denial, denial that he did. (Take a swig of beer for every time you’ve heard one of those from a politician. But, please don’t drive for a few hours. There’s enough drunks out on the road as it is.)
Cheese, Man! You’re navigating a narration of the nation’s “naughties” and now you’re talking about a MOVIE? What’s your point Man???
The point is this: In an early indication of the power of the flickering image, the Klan became “all the rage”. Those cowardly, racist murderers morphed into the champions of the oppressed (white) people and the “Saviors of the South”.
Even worse, it inspired William J. Simmons to re-form the KKK later that year on top of Stone Mountain in Georgia. (Too bad they didn’t take the short cut back down.)They now called themselves the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
This was the “New & Improved” version of the Klan. Instead of just despising n****s, they generously expanded their hatred to include Catholics, Jews, Commies, unions and immigrants of the non-northern European variety.
(One of these posts, I’m going to have to discuss the usage of the “N” word. I could probably understand African-American sensitivity to the word, if they didn’t use it so much themselves.)
In 1920, the Klan was taken over by Edward Clark, a former journalist, and Betsy Tyler, a former(?) whore. In three years they built it up from 3,000 bigoted assholes to over 6,000,000 bigoted assholes. (There never seems to be a shortage of that type in the U.S.) This was at a time when U.S. Population was 115,000,000
In this incarnation, instead of being concentrated in the rural south, they were national in scope, although the mid-west had most of the non-southern kukes. Indiana members numbered 250,000 (30% of the white male population). They were in all the other states and Canada as well. And, they weren’t confined to the rural areas. Detroit had 40,000 members and Indianapolis had 50,000.
They were organized on a national level with the Grand Wizard as the nominal chairman with the Imperial Wizard as CEO. They were advised by a Kloncilium consisting of a Klaliff, a Klazik, a Klokard, a Kludd, a Kligrapp, a Klabee, a Kladd, a Klarago, a Klexter, a Klonsel, four Klokanns and a Night Hawk. (I guess they ran out of “Kl” words, although Klown and Klod fit quite well.)
On the Realm (state) level there was the Grand Dragon who was Head of Realm; the Realm level Imperial Wizard as the Realm’s CEO; and their Kloncilium was composed of 15 Hydras. The Congressional District level was run by A Grand Titan and his aides, the Furies. The Klavern (local) organization was headed by an Exalted Cyclopes.
Regular members were called Ghouls. (I have absolutely no problem with that!)
but the public face of the Kukes was a lot more p.r. related.
For instance, check out their 1925 Klan Manual. If you don’t read too close or don’t know the code words, it sounds like a swell fraternity of hale, well-met fellows who were deeply patriotic and very devout. What you saw was not what you got.
With their 6,000,000 membership and millions of ‘fellow travelers”, the Klan amassed a great deal of political power.They controlled legislatures in Indiana, Oklahoma, Oregon (oh, the shame of it) and Texas.
Indiana Governor Edward L. Jackson was an active member who used his office to facilitate Klan goals. Linda C. Gugin: The Governors of Indiana pp 274-279 (2006)
Alabama Governor David Bibb Graves was reported to be the Exalted Cyclops (local head) of the Mongomery klavern. Glenn Feldman: Politics, Society and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949 p138 (1999)
West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd rose from Kleagle (recruiter) to Exalted Cyclops before he entered politics. Ironically in his final years he rated a 100% from the NAACP. (Some people really do grow up.)
Early in his career, Harry Truman (my idol, ol’ “Give ’em hell” himself) joined briefly for political reasons (he wanted to be re-elected). He reportedly never even went to meetings and in fact, became a target of the kukes when he allied himself with the dominant Kansas City political machine, which was predominantly Catholic. Plus, one of his best friends (and business partner) was Jewish.
As President, in 1948, Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which ordered the racial integration of the armed forces. The conservative/bigot reaction was almost exactly the same as their current reaction to the integration of Gays and Lesbians into the military. (Some people really don’t grow up.)
The above were all self admitted members of the Klan. Of course, if you believe the Klan (which I don’t) there were several other illustrious names on their roster:
Robert E. Lee (1st Klan) Other than a purported letter of support, there seems to be no evidence that he was ever active. Probably more of a “fellow traveler”, if even that.
Supreme Court Justice Edward White Somebody said that he told them he was back before “Birth of a Nation”. No corroboration anywhere on this one. He may have been in the first Klan, but since he was Catholic, definitely not the second.
President Warren G. Harding This is another somebody said that somebody said. He was conservative and corrupt (Teapot Dome Scandal and other “not legal” naughties), but he was basically pro-civil rights, which would have made him a very bad fit for the bigoted bunch.
They also claim William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge, but this is getting boring.
They did manage to kill the 1924 Democratic nomination of Al Smith (of the Catholic Smiths) but Al nabbed the 1928 nomination (for all the good it did him.)
On August 8, 1925, they staged the largest march (50,000 participants) in Washington D.C. up to that date.
The header says 1928, but that’s incorrect.
So, with all that political muscle, why aren’t we living in “The United Realms of America”? (Here’s a hint: By 1930, Klan membership had dropped to 30,000.)
For the answer to that we have to go “Back Home in Indiana”.
(Any excuse to integrate a good tune. The print is backwards, but the song isn’t. Btw, two of the Mel-Tones were a very young Les Baxter, and a very young Mel Torme.)
D.C. Stephenson was the Grand Dragon of Indiana and 22 northern states. By 1925, the Klan was hot, its political power was rampant, and the money was rolling in. D.C. was proclaiming “I am the law in Indiana” and then he went and raped a woman and caused her death.
Stephenson, who preached the prohibitionist gospel and was a self-proclaimed “defender of Protestant womanhood” kidnapped, forcibly intoxicated and then raped his secretary Madge Oberholtzer which led to a suicide attempt and her eventual death.
Stephenson was convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In retaliation for his conviction, Stephenson released a list of public officials on the Klan’s payroll. The resulting uproar over the trial’s revelations and the subsequent trials of various politicians seriously eroded Klan support.
Then in 1927, the Alabama KKK launched a wave of terror against blacks and whites they accused of immorality and racial shenanigans.
Civic groups started publishing Klan membership lists. Newspapers started attacking the Klan. Sheriffs cracked down. Politicians ran like scared jackrabbits. The membership fled like rats deserting a s(t)inking ship.
All this signaled the demise of the 2nd Klan incarnation. They would be back, but never again be a force. Current membership is around 6,000.
Well, that wraps up this episode. Stay tuned for part 3 when we emerge from WWII into a brand new world of weird.
And, once again for those of you who feel insulted that I would link the Kukes to the baggers in this series, I’ll leave you with this: