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Analytical Essay on Ku Klux Klan: A History of Racism and Violence

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In reality however, when considering the hypocrisy and lack of evolution after his initial revival of the organisation, he was not as important as he suggested. His ‘knights’ exercised the lynching of accused murderer Leo Frank for killing young factory worker Mary Phagan after not receiving a life sentence. Despite gaining Northern industrialist support as a direct result, this was ultimately insignificant because these groups were popular among fraternally structured organisations already and the court case that followed resulted in a slow decline in interest. In October 1921 the US House Committee on Rules considered the violent nature of the klan after a ‘New York World’ exposé, increasing short-term publicity (though negative) but loosing traction after William Simmons was acquitted; arguing again that it was still a fraternal organisation.

Regardless, William Simmons’ was important in terms of his understanding that any press is good press – separate from Edward Young Clarke. Whether consciously or unconsciously; he put the idea of an invisible empire aside, realizing that, ‘it wasn’t until the newspapers began to attack the klan that it really grew’ while, the result of the congress was ‘the best advertising we ever got; congress made us’. He was right – the Times published a statement a year before his retirement, in 1921 that they were ‘honored by being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan’. Similarly, William Simmons’ Atlanta charter took part in ‘whippings, tar-and feather raids and acid branding of the letters KKK on the foreheads of blacks, Jews and other ‘anti-Americans’. William Simmons denied any involvement of knowledge of such violence and many went under the radar because officials were either turning a blind eye or involved, he still gained from the exposure. Nevertheless, the klan ‘struggled to exist’ under William Simmons’ jurisdiction, particularly in his first five years because, despite his ideological focus on propaganda, this was actually a clawing bid to drum up membership. In comparison, membership spiked in 1920 when William Simmons signed a contract with the publicists Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler. Similarly, membership hit its highest peak in 1925 during Hiram Wesley Evans’ time as wizard (during which Edward Young Clarke still held authority).

Edward Young Clarke acted as a mediatory form of the imperial wizard in his own right, before being elected. He redirected targeted violent sentiment toward African Americans, Jews, Catholic, Asians (particularly the Vietnamese), bootleggers, sexual deviance alongside ultra-American sentiment. This was incredibly successful, with the klan growing from just a few thousand in June 1920 to 100,000 new members by the end of 1921 – of which provided a tax-free $10 each. Furthermore, Edward Young Clarke’s influence reached beyond the interior of the klan, having published the politician and ‘Birth of A Nation’ filmmaker Thomas Dixon Jr’s book the ‘Flaming Sword’ in 1939. Aside from his influence alone, this highlights Edward Young Clarke’s importance in keeping this klan alive into the 20th century. However, we must remember that, akin to William Simmons and Hiram Wesley Evans, he was not necessarily above interior klan politics – telling President Calvin Coolidge that Hiram Wesley Evans ‘turned the klan into a cheap political machine’. Regardless, he still had the ear of the president and thereby retains his importance to some extent.

Secondly, this era of klan resembled a pyramid scheme as 80% of the klan’s profits were divided between Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler – which also contributed to increasing corruptive klan practices, laying the foundations for the klan’s eventual demise after the IRS convicted them of fraud in 1965 under President Johnson. Similarly, in 1924 Edward Young Clarke acted in a truly klan-like manner, charged under the Mann Act for attacking a young woman who worked for him, diminishing his importance in terms of reputation though the klan was in disrepair by 1944. Furthermore, he was only as good as William Simmons in that they were intrinsically linked to each other. Thereby, when William Simmons was essentially ‘kicked upstairs’ after Hiram Wesley Evans simultaneously gave him the title of lifetime ‘Imperial Emperor’ in order to maintain his ‘popularity with older segments of the order’ while taking away all his practical power, Edward Young Clarke would also feel its effects. William Simmons, whose lawyer was soon murdered by Hiram Wesley Evans’ press agent which Hiram Wesley Evans denied complicity. In 1924, Evans paid William Simmons $145,000 for a promise to abandon the latter’s claim to Klan leadership. Nevertheless, Simmons was important in that he carried on this ideological legacy even after he was retired. Upon ‘leaving’ in 1924, Simmons sold the contractual rights of the klan to the klan corporation in exchange for $146,000, stating that he was ‘like general Lee at Appomattox – without the men nor munitions to carry on’. Relating himself to Robert Lee and the Confederate Army, he equates their surrender to a white supremacist struggle exaggerating his own contribution toward the cause.

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Alternatively, Hiram Wesley Evans was the most important leader for the development of the klan outside the South, while being a ‘ranting’ but nonetheless passionate figure – even appearing on the front cover of ‘Time Magazine’ in 1924. Unlike the Reconstruction Klan – which was almost exclusively democratic and confined to the deep South, under Hiram Wesley Evans’ leadership all 48 states were covered. Moreover, in June 1924, Hiram Wesley Evans, the national leader or ‘Imperial Wizard’ of the klan, successfully used the ‘Republican National Convention’ in Cleveland as a way of getting a foot in the political door – bringing 60 other klansmen as a collective act that was far from ‘invisible’. Moreover, his feature spread on the front page of the Times in June 23rd of 1924, he militantly argued that ‘he would not allow any political party to own or disown the Ku Klux Klan’; attending the Democratic Convention in New York City later that year. In this sense, Hiram Wesley Evans was more important; building on William Simmons’ legacy with a wider cooperative outlook in exchange for wider reach and more indirect political influence.

Although William Simmons targeted industrialists, Hiram Wesley Evans was more specific – condemning them for ‘transforming workers into commodities’ and aiming publicity more toward skilled laborers and small-scale proprietors undergoing economic hardship. Hiram Wesley Evans was speaking to the context in which ‘unskilled labour lowered American standards of living’, after immigrants resided in the cities. . Nevertheless, this restricts his importance as a leader because, although fitting with white supremacist, isolationist ideology, it limited potential industrialist klan outreach. Furthermore, Hiram Wesley Evans furthered interior feuds; particularly with William Simmons both before and after his retirement – reducing both their levels of importance. Such feuds prevented the klan from being a coherent, evolving entity with one joint cause, while it tarnished their reputation among political circles. Similarly, after his forced retirement, William Simmons attempted to create similar white supremacist organization for women which only furthered the feud after Hiram Wesley Evans responded by making another women’s group and suing his group. On the other hand, Hiram Wesley Evans’ decision to move the klan’s offices to Washington D.C emphasizes his importance as a tactical leader – the move was a means of reducing publicity regarding the murder of William Simmons by Hiram Wesley Evans’ lawyer in

On the whole, defining what constitutes an important leader of an organization that takes pride in its ‘invisibility’ isn’t simple because we cannot necessarily decipher who was or wasn’t involved. Upon retirement, William Simmons embodied this implicatory sentiment – saying ‘I can never retire from the real klan’. We also can’t pinpoint to what extent the ‘invisibility’ was a threatening cover up of the actual, much less powerful reality of both the revived organizations complicit with bias and self-important leadership. For instance, William Simmons’ embellishment that his klan had 5 million members would, seemingly, make him seem like the most important figure however this figure comes into question when other estimates suggest it ranged from 2.5 to 5 million – making 5 million a huge leap. Similarly, Edward Young Clarke also exaggerated numbers; making a statement that in three months 48,000 new supporters were added to klan rosters. Taking into consideration what can actually be known, Hiram Wesley Evans’ era as wizard saw the highest peak of klan membership (in 1925) using what is seemingly the most accurate membership records, even if embellished.

Statistically speaking, Edward Young Clarke was nonetheless the main catalyst in increasing membership, making him particularly important in 1921 when membership became national. Receiving two dollars and fifty cents for each new sign up, Edward Young Clarke would have ‘occasionally yielded thirty thousand dollars per week’. Moreover, although it may seem as though he was just economically riding off the klan’s re-establishment – having worked with the Red Cross and Anti-Saloon league beforehand, he successfully carried both eras of klan into militant, uncompromising and cooperative organizations. He launched the Watcher on the Tower klan publication, bruised himself with expanding the treasury (as was typical of pyramid schemes in the 1920s) and he invested in real estate. His approach was more practical in comparison to William Simmons’ ritualistic, yet empty, speeches and Hiram Wesley Evans’ ‘costly and elaborate’ parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington as a ‘spectacular last grab to scotch rumours that the klan was dying’. This desperate attempt to, once again, make the klan seem bigger than it was with 22 men side by side in the parade to add false depth to the klan’s membership reduces Hiram Wesley Evans’ importance.

Nevertheless, William Simmons was more important than Hiram Wesley Evans for laying the ideological foundations for the klan and successfully getting the State of Georgia to grant a ‘charter’ for the ‘origination’ of the ‘invisible empire’ as a fraternity. This made him important because it acted as an excuse for the years that followed, allowing the klan to remain adaptable in a variety of scenarios, using specific contexts for to further their own purposes. Nevertheless, this judgement isn’t substantiated without point out that importance also correlated to different presidents with William Simmons’ klan having easier ideological relations with the segregationalist and lost cause fighter – president Woodrow Wilson. Whereas, Hiram Wesley Evans’ klan had to contend with Warren G. Harding who’s the anti-lynching bill was antagonistic to the white supremacist cause. In conclusion, following its disappearance as a coherent entity by 1944, the klan was ‘never as unified’ nor as productive as it was in the 1920’s – when the most important leader for the klan’s propaganda movement its economic and political and development, Edward Young Clarke signed his first klan contract.

Bibliography

  1. Alexander, Charles C., The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest’, (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2015)
  2. Baudouin, Richard, ‘Ku Klux Klan A History of Racism and Violence’, Southern Poverty Law Centre Klanwatch Project, 6 (2011), 4-55.
  3. Blee, Kathleen M., Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (California: University of California Press, 2008)
  4. Caldbick, John, ‘The Ku Klux Klan in Washington, 1921-1925’, The Free Encyclopaedia of Washington State History (2019) [Accessed 21st October 2019]
  5. Gregory, James ‘The Ku Klux Klan in Washington State’, The University of Washington Civil Rights and Labor Consortium (2018) [Accessed 27th October 2019]
  6. Harcourt, Felix, Ku Klux Kulture: America and the Klan in the 1920s, (University of Chicago Press, 2017)
  7. ‘How Has the Ku Klux Klan Lasted So Long?’, BBC Radio 4, 4th September 2017, 4:06 pm [ Accessed 1st November 2019]
  8. Jackson, Charles O, ‘William J. Simmons: A Career In Ku Kluxism’, The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 50, 4 (1966).
  9. Jackson, Kenneth T., The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992)
  10. Lewis, George, ‘An Amorphous Code: The Ku Klux Klan and Un-Americanism, 1915-1965’, Cambridge University Press, 47 (2013), 971-992.
  11. McGirr, Lisa, ‘How Prohibition Fueled the Klan’, New York Times (2019) [Accessed 24th October 2019].
  12. McVeigh, Rory, ‘Power Devaluation, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Democratic National Convention of 1924’, Sociological Forum, 16 (2001), 1-30
  13. Patton, R. A, ‘A Ku Klux Klan Reign of Terror’, Current History, 28 (1928), 51-55
  14. Pegram, Thomas, One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011).
  15. Sequeira Sandra, Nunn, Nathan, Qian Nancy, ‘Migrants and the Making of America: The Short- and Long-Run Effects of Immigration during the Age of Mass Migration’, 1 (2017), 1-49
  16. Simcovitch, Maxim, ‘The Impact of Griffith’s Birth of a Nation on the Modern Ku Klux Klan’, Journal of Popular Film 1 (1972) 45-54
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  18. Young, Julia G, ‘Making America 1920 Again? Nativism and US Immigration, past and Present’, Journal on Migration and Human Studies, 5 (2018), 217-235

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Analytical Essay on Ku Klux Klan: A History of Racism and Violence. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/analytical-essay-on-ku-klux-klan-a-history-of-racism-and-violence/> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
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