On this dayJun 07, 1920

Ku Klux Klan Mounts Publicity Campaign to Attract Members

On June 7, 1920, a white Ku Klux Klan leader named William Simmons hired publicists to grow membership for the white supremacist organization.

Confederate veterans founded the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1865. From beneath white hoods, they terrorized formerly enslaved Black people and their political allies with threats, beatings, and murder. The KKK strived to undermine Reconstruction and restore racial subordination in the South. Faced with federal opposition, the Klan dissolved by the 1870s but reemerged early in the next century.

In 1915, William Simmons revived the Klan atop Georgia’s Stone Mountain. That same year, the film The Birth of a Nation debuted, presenting Klansmen as saviors of white man’s civilization and white women’s chastity. President Woodrow Wilson screened the film at the White House.

Beginning in June 1920, the Klan launched a new public relations campaign that exploited white anxieties following the First World War. The “100 Percent Americanism” campaign promoted the Klan as defenders of the white American nation from defilement by Black people, Catholics, Jewish people, foreigners, and “moral offenders.” This “neat package of hatred” caught attention quickly, and within 16 months, nearly 100,000 new members had joined.

In 1921, public pressure prompted Congress to put on the appearance of investigating Klan violence and undue influence in local and state governments—but Congress quickly ended its inquiry when Klan officials denied the allegations. Immediately thereafter, new Klan membership applications jumped to 5,000 per day. By 1924, there were three million active members nationwide, including 35,000 in Detroit, 55,000 in Chicago, 200,000 in Ohio, 240,000 in Indiana, and 260,000 in Pennsylvania.

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