Ku Klux Klan
The KKK experienced a resurgence after WORLD WAR I, reaching a peak of 3 or 4 million members in the 1920s. David W. Griffith's 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation, based on Thomas Dixon's 1905 novel The Clansman, served as the spark for this revival. The movie depicted the Klan as a heroic force defending the "Aryan birthright" of white southerners against African Americans and Radical Republicans seeking to build a Black Empire in the South. In particular, the movie showed a gallant Klan defending the honor of white women threatened by lecherous African American men.
William J. Simmons renewed the KKK at a Stone Mountain, Georgia, ceremony in 1915. Later, Christian fundamentalist ministers aided recruitment as the Klan portrayed itself as the protector of traditional values during the Jazz Age.
As its membership grew into the millions in the 1920s, the Klan exerted considerable political influence, helping to elect sympathetic candidates to state and national offices. The group was strong not only in southern states such as Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, but also in Oklahoma, California, Oregon, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Strongly opposed to non–Anglo-Saxon immigration, the Klan helped secure the passage of strict quotas on immigration. In addition to being racist, the group also espoused hatred of Jews, Catholics, socialists, and unions.
By the end of the 1920s, a backlash against the KKK had developed. Reports of its violence turned public sentiment against the group, and its membership declined to about 40,000. At the same time, Louisiana, Michigan, and Oklahoma passed anti-mask laws intended to frustrate Klan activity. Most of these laws made it a misdemeanor to wear a mask that concealed the identity of the wearer, excluding masks worn for holiday costumes or other legitimate uses. South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia later passed similar laws.
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