A review of Kenneth T. Jackson’s “The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930” (Oxford University Press, 1967) noted the commonly held view that Klan membership drew from older American stock “from villages and small towns.” Two studies published in 1965 disputed this interpretation – Charles C. Alexander’s “The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest” and David Chalmer’s “Hooded Americanism.
Jackson wrote that the primary reason why the Klan attracted membership was the fear of “change that would destroy the traditional values, religion and way of life of an older America.” It should be noted that the Klan of 1915 that marched with US flags, bore little if any resemblance to the original of the late 1860s, and which carried no flag.
“Ragen’s Colts” below, originated as the athletic club of pitcher Frank Ragen, who hired out team members to Chicago Democrat politicians to facilitate various forms of election fraud.
Hooded Capitals of the Nation
“The Klan’s major source of membership and influence, these authors asserted, was in American cities. Jackson’s most significant contribution [is] his analysis of the sources of Klan membership and the motivation of its members. Of the more than 2,000,000 people who became affiliated with the Invisible Empire between 1915 and 1944, at least 50 percent lived in cities with populations exceeding 50,000 [and] a majority had probably lived in cities for years.
The “hooded capitals of the nation,” Jackson has observed, were Indianapolis, Dayton, Portland, Oregon, Youngstown, Denver and Dallas, for in these cities large proportions of the people became Klansmen. The Klan also gained many thousands of recruits and temporary political power in Northern metropolises like Chicago and Detroit as well as in the Southern cities of Atlanta, Knoxville and Memphis.
Chief among the culprits were Catholic and Jewish immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, and Negroes from the South. It is interesting to note that anti-Catholicism was the primary impetus to Klan growth, and that the notion of white supremacy was not seriously challenged even by many organizations that opposed the Klan. In 1919 for example, the Ragen’s Colts, a gang of Irish youth in Chicago assaulted Negroes viciously on numerous occasions. Two years later the Colts hanged in effigy “a white sheeted Klansman.”
Jackson’s purpose is not to revile the Klansmen as fanatics, but rather to explain the popular appeal of the Klan and to provide a narrative of its rise and fall. Klansmen dreamed of restoring the social cohesion they thought had once existed in America. It sought assiduously to project the image of itself as the champion of morality and “law and order.”
(Journal of Negro History, William M. Brewer, editor, Volume LIII, Number 2, April, 1968, excerpts pp. 102-103)