In the early 20th century, America was experiencing the growing pains of a new century; waves of immigration, the increasing boldness of newly empowered Black veterans returning from World War I, the demographic shifts of the Great Migration, and a new and exciting Jazz Age culture. To many white Protestant Americans, these changed did not represent progress but rather an attack on socio-political institutions that were necessary for the survival of America. In other words, to white America, these “growing pains” meant that the very fabric of American society was being ripped apart.
Since the birth of the Second Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1915 in response to the murder of 13-year old Mary Phagan in Atlanta, Georgia, two schools of thought have attempted to describe and analyze the KKK. The first school of thought, established at Dartmouth in 1924, describes the Second Klan as a direct rebirth of the “Reconstruction-Era Klan.” The second school developed a revisionist account of the Klan in response to the 1924 school, stating that the Klan was, for its time, culturally and politically central in its values, attracting the support and participation of America’s “petite bourgeoise”. Through the writings of the Second Klan’s founder William J. Simmons, Catholic response to the Klan found in editorials and new articles, and Black newspapers in Midwestern urban centers, a more authentic understanding of the role of the KKK within the broader historical and contemporary American context may be reached. The ultimate aim of this project is to examine how aware these victims were of the Klan’s activities, how seriously they viewed the ideological commitments of its members, and how legitimate they considered the Klan’s threats and accusations in comparison to revisionist historians’ accounts of the Klan.