Opinions on war through religious perspectives

Opinions on war through religious perspectives

Evangelizing Klansmen, Nationalizing the South: Faith, Fraternity, and Lost Cause

Religion in the 1920s Klan* Kelly J. Baker

University of Tennessee, Knoxville TN 37916

“We, the Order of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, reverentially acknowledge the majesty and supremacy o f the Divine Being.”—The Ku Klux Kreed (1916)’

The language o‘־ f symbolism is the language o f soul.”— William J. Sim- mons (1923)2

All o‘־ f Christian Civilization depends upon the preservation and upbuilding of the White Race.”— Ideals o f the Ku Klux Klan3

The second Ku Klux Klan began with a dream. William J. Simmons, a de- frocked Methodist minister, fraternal organizer, and eventual Imperial Wizard of the Klan’s Invisible Empire, claimed that his reinvention started with an aus- picious vision on a hot summer night in Alabama.4 While gazing out his window, Simmons “caught sight of something mysterious and strange in the sky.” A “row of horses seemed to be galloping across the horizon,” and their riders were distinct “[w]hite-robed figures.” As the clouds scattered, “a rough outline of the United States appeared as the background.” Simmons looked on as each “big problem” in “American life” shifted across the celestial map. The horses and their riders remained a part of the troubling tableaux. Simmons “fell to his knees and offered a prayer to God.”5

In his prayer, he promised to “solve the mystery of the apparitions he had seen in the sky” and vowed to build “a great patriotic fraternal order” as “a memorial to the heroes of our nation.” The heroes of his vision were the

*Many thanks to Edward J. Blum and Chris Baker for their excellent suggestions and revisions and to Mike Altman who encouraged me to think more about the Klan’s evan- gelicalism.

1William J. Simmons, Kloran (5th ed; Atlanta: Ku Klux Press, 1916), 2. 2Idem, The Klan Unmasked (Atlanta: Wm. E. Thompson, 1923), 101. 3Ku Klux Klan, ‘ideals of the Ku Klux Klan,” (Atlanta?: s.n., 1925?), 3. Archives

and Special Collections, Ball State University Archives, Muncie, Ind. 4William J. Simmons founded the second incarnation o f the Klan, and he composed

the Kloran, the fraternal manual, and several books defending the Klan, including The Klan Unmasked (1923). However, he was eventually ousted from leadership in January of 1924 when the dentist Hiram Wesley Evans became the second Imperial Wizard of the order. For this article, I rely heavily on Simmons’ hopes for his order and his crafting o f the early image of the national order.

5Winfield Jones, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (New York: The Toscin Publishers, 1941), 76.