The KKK Becoming Powerful

William J. Simmons, founder of the second (revived) Ku Klux Klan in 1915.
Three hooded KKK members standing next to a car.
A 1925 Ku Klux Klan parade.
Leo Frank, who (perhaps wrongly) had been sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a girl, was kidnapped from prison and lynched by locals in Marietta, Georgia, in 1915.

The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915 marks the start of an era when the Klan would have a large influence on American society as a whole, not only on parts of the south. By 1925, merely a decade after the revival, an estimated three to five million people were Klan members, and it has been suggested that at least one contemporary United States president was a current or former clansman when he took the oath of the presidential office.

Whatever the president’s affiliations were, it was well-known in the 1920s that you often needed the blessing of the KKK to be elected to high political office. This was because rich Klan members donated large sums of money to their favored political candidates and Klan members constituted an important voting bloc. In addition, clansmen holding key positions in the private sector, as well as likeminded people in the public sector, could make politicians’ jobs easy or nearly impossible, depending on where the politicians had their loyalties.

Motives for joining the Klan

The KKK’s power to both elect and influence politicians was an attractive reason for joining the organization, but the Klan’s support of public education and child welfare drew in people as well. Also important for becoming a Ku Klux Klan member was the hope of finding brotherhood and sisterhood with fellow members in a type of ethnic and religious union.

Many potential enemies

In line with the concept of ethnic and religious unity, in the revived Klan, membership was restricted to, or intended to be restricted to, white Christian Protestants. People of other races or religious persuasions were seen as rivals or enemies, including Christian Catholics and Jews. Also on the list of enemies, or potential enemies, were communists, labor unions, newly-arrived immigrants and African Americans. Very dauntingly, people of these enemy groups risked being persecuted and subject to life-threatening, arbitrary mob justice by Klan sympathizers if they were perceived to threaten the power of white Protestant America. However, white Protestants who did not sympathize with the Klan existed too, and in reference to the KKK’s supposed religious fervor usually said that the Klan members’ interpretation of the bible was fragmental and non-serious.

The questioning of their members’ beliefs notwithstanding, both the physical and the political power of the Klan was great. Therefore, for a few decades, the Ku Klux Klan became much like a mafia or lobbying organization that ruled parts of the United States without officially exerting any power.