Klambakes

Article in NYRB by Adam Hochschild, worth a look, about the rise of the Klan in the 1920s.

The Klan came back around the second time, started up by an Atlanta doctor named Simmons, who was inspired by Birth of a Nation, in 1915. But it didn’t really take off until a pair of hucksters got hold of him and his group and encouraged him to expand his audience by widening the range of targets for his hate-spew to include not only Afro-Americans but Jews, Catholics, immigrants, big city elites, and -this is the crucial bit- turn the operation into a money spinner, charging $10 to join and then flogging the faithful all kinds of official Klan merchandise (including of course those carefully-tailored and logo-emblazoned robes and hoods).  The hucksters, Elizabeth Tyler and Edward Clarke, got Simmons to sign a contract turning over to them personally 80% of all revenue, which earned them, in their first 15 months, the equivalent, these days, of 11 million dollars. Like Fox News, it was all about milking low hate for big $bucks$.

By 1924 there were 4 million paid up members. Who could buy Klan insurance, go to Klan Bible study, watch Klan car racing, send their kids to Klan summer camps, and yes, chow down at official Klambakes.

One of the biggest jumps in membership -of something like a million new members- surged only after The New York World published a pulitzer prize winning expose.

Business was run along the lines of a pyramid sceme, with a heirarchy of recruiters (Kleagles at the bottom, then King Kleagles, then Grand Goblins and so on) all keeping a cut of the dues. There was even a special section for Klan womenfolk: The Ladies of the Invisible Empire.

Trump’s red MAGA hats are just an updated version of those pointy hoods (his head masked by one of which, at Klan march through Queens on memorial day in 1927, his own father was arrested).

4 Responses to Klambakes

  1. bluthner says:

    Also in the article: in 1925, in Wichita, a Klan team played a Negro League team (and lost). Now there’s a Coen Bros movie waiting to get made. The article doesn’t relate but I’m guessing the winners made sure to get out of town pretty quickly afterwards.

  2. NatashaFatale says:

    Story. My father, born in 1911, was (as far as I know) the only Jewish kid in Richmond, Indiana. (How his old man got there is a Coen Brothers’ movie in itself, or at least a good five minutes from one.) By the time my father reached the 2nd or 3rd grade Indiana had the largest Klan population in the country – a little-known fact, but a fact nonetheless. In the ’20s you couldn’t be elected to any office in the state, from dog catcher to governor, unless you were a member and had at least the Klan’s tacit endorsement – tacit as in “He”d be okay”. (Twenty years later Mike Pence would be born there.) So my father must have had a pretty hard time of it, right?

    Not a bit of it. He was an object of fascination: Gee, you play marbles just like we do! But that was mostly all. True, some kids weren’t allowed to play with him, but nobody’s friends with everybody and the friends he had were enough. The pack he ran in was the usual size.

    There were three reasons for this. First of all, the Klan was mostly after Catholics. There were enough Catholics to go around, so everybody and his buddies got one to pick on: if you were a kid, on account of how they eat babies and all, and after you grow because they’re after your job – being, you know, mostly of immigrant stock. (Maybe a clue why Future-President Pence, born a Catholic who for a while aspired to the priesthood, joined the thumpers as soon as he left the childhood cocoon.) The second reason was that my father’s old man sold the best shirts and hats and ties in town. He clothed the Kleagles and the King Kleagles and the Kludds and the Klabees. He was the one okay Jew in a million (think Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Junior).

    But the third reason was that, as Hochfield says, in many ways the Klan was just another club, like the Elks and the Rotary. And if you want to let your friends hang around the clubhouse, who’s to stop you?

    End of story. It remains to point out that the Klubbiness didn’t go away when the Klan mostly dissolved. The Klubbiness and what went on in the Klubhouse and especially the benefits of being tight with your fellow Klubbers was the good part, and why in the world would anyone who had it want to give it up? So the Klubbiness persists in Kountless Klubs that are still going strong today, and if you live anywhere that once was a province of the Invisible Empire you don’t have to look very hard to find a nice, friendly Klub near you.

  3. bluthner says:

    I for one had no idea how mainstream or how much of a money-making operation the Klan was in the 20s, and found that part of the article actually shocking. We always had Klan lurking where I grew up, but they were looked down on even by all the stone racist white people I knew.

  4. KevinNevada says:

    When I grew up in California, one of the larger such Klan networks was in our state. That pyramid scheme was popular out there, too.

    Stockton was a hotbed for it, along with the San Joaquin Valley farmlands, and Orange County too. The Klan specialized in hatin’ on the brown folk down there, damned Catholics you know.

    Later, an early militia movement called Posse Comitatus was also big in Stockton. (That has evolved into the Oath Keepers gang, now quite large and full of Trumpians.)

    More on Orange County California: a predecessor case ahead of Brown vs. Topeka, for the USSC was a suit against that county’s public schools. They were segregated, but it was against Latino kids – they had them little monsters in separate schools from the nice white children.

    And those schools had a program appropriate only for servants and low-pay workers.

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