9 – The KKK’s Popularity Surged
The original KKK was formed as a social club in Pulaski in 1866. Former Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was named as the first ‘grand wizard.’ It wasn’t well organized, and in 1870, it was classified as a terrorist organization. Although racism was prevalent in the Southern states during and after the Reconstruction era, the Klan faded from view.
The KKK was revived by William Joseph Simmons in 1915. Unlike the original version, which remained shrouded in secrecy, the second Klan was out in the open, and it used to advertise in the newspapers. It sponsored sports teams and college fraternities, and even hosted beauty pageants. Aided by a smooth marketing machine, along with hostility against Jews, African-Americans, and a skepticism of science, the new KKK tried to come across as a bastion of morality bent on healing society’s ills.
Of course, they were little more than thugs for hire who enjoyed committing violent acts without risk of censure. The Klan reached its peak in the 1920s when it had an estimated four million members. The prevailing idea is that the KKK was filled with backward rural types. In reality, about half of the Klan’s membership lived in cities. Chicago alone had 50,000 members. As well as continuing the reign of terror against African-Americans, the Klan added Jews, Catholics, and non-Nordic immigrants to its list of targets.
The organization was flowing as new members had to pay fees. At one point, the Klan was earning $25 million a year, equivalent to over $340 million. Eventually, the general public and the government saw the danger and President Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge spoke out against the Klan while. The group’s membership dwindled markedly towards the end of the 1920s and returned to the shadows from whence it came. Today, the Klan is active in up to 22 states amidst fears that white supremacist movements may return to the fore.