The Ku Klux Klan are America’s leading terrorist organization—there isn’t really much competition, it wins that contest by a wide margin. If you want a quick ‘n’ easy way to find out everything about the darker side of our country’s history, you really can’t beat a tour of the KKK, and if you have any real problem with my description of the KKK as a terrorist organization, you need to go read any random four pages of Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.
Rebecca Onion at Slate posted this incredible find yesterday—it’s an application to the Ku Klux Klan from (most likely) 1921. The KKK’s status as America’s foremost secret organization obscures the fact that in the early decades of the twentieth century, the Klan was almost respectable—it was the second resurgence of the group, the first obviously coming right after the Civil War (the third would come during the Civil Rights Era). Bolstering the theory that this application derives from 1921, we have this chunk of text from Wikipedia:
Starting in 1921, it adopted a modern business system of recruiting (which paid most of the initiation fee and costume charges as commissions to the organizers) and grew rapidly nationwide at a time of prosperity. Reflecting the social tensions of urban industrialization and vastly increased immigration, its membership grew most rapidly in cities, and spread out of the South to the Midwest and West. The second KKK preached “One Hundred Percent Americanism” and demanded the purification of politics, calling for strict morality and better enforcement of prohibition. Its official rhetoric focused on the threat of the Catholic Church, using anti-Catholicism and nativism. Its appeal was directed exclusively at white Protestants. Some local groups took part in attacks on private houses and carried out other violent activities. The violent episodes were generally in the South.
According to the same page, by 1924 the enrollment of the KKK had risen to nearly six million from almost nothing. Just a few years earlier, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which extolled the KKK, had become the world’s first monster box office hit; President Woodrow Wilson famously described it as follows: “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Baseball fans interested in history get upset about supposed racist Ty Cobb while generally ignoring the KKK membership of Hall of Famers Tris Speaker (allegedly) and Rogers Hornsby. The point here is that KKK membership in the 1920s was not incompatible with being one of the most famous athletes in the country. In his book The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James notes:
The KKK in the 1920’s had a populist phase in which it toned down its racism, and drew in hundreds of thousands of men who were not racists, including Hugo Black. When Larry Doby broke the color line in the American League, Speaker was strongly on his side, worked with him daily in the outfield, encouraged and supported him, and was remembered by Doby in his Hall of Fame induction speech…
Doby’s speech, by the way, is here. That, more than anything, explains the semi-official and semi-innocuous tone of this document. If not for the content, the form is in many ways indistinguishable from the kind of information HR’s gonna need for you to start getting a weekly paycheck for your cubicle job. Of course, at the same time, simply reading the questions will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the Ku Klux Klan.
Here are the questions:
1. Is the motive prompting your inquiry serious?
2. What is your age?
3. What is your occupation?
4. Where were you born?
5. How long have you resided in your present locality?
6. Are you married, single or widower?
7. Were your parents born in the United States of America?
8. Are you a gentile or a jew?
9. Are you of the white race or of a colored race?
10. What educational advantages have you?
11. Color of eyes? Hair? Weight?
12. Do you believe in the principles of a PURE Americanism?
13. Do you believe in White Supremacy?
14. What is your politics?
15. What is your religious faith?
16. Of what church are you a member (if any)
17. Of what religious faith are your parents?
18. What secret, fraternal orders are you a member of (if any)?
19. Do you honestly believe in the practice of REAL fraternity?
20. Do you owe ANY KIND of allegiance to any foreign nation, government, institution, sect, people, ruler or person?
This is a weird thing to confess, but I was always a good test-taker in school, and as I read through this list I find myself idiotically looking for the smoking gun question that will disqualify me. “Aw, shoot! My mom was born in Austria, was half-Jewish and a socialist! Darn! Just missed!”