The Fiery Cross

Smith, Karen Sue

FROM BOREDOM TO TERROR THE FIERY CROSS THE KU KLUX KLAN IN AMERICA Wyn Craig Wade Simon and Schuster, $19.95, 526 pp. Karen Sue Smith Now, while the celebra tion of the U.S. Con...

...It was during the latter part of this revival that President Harding had himself sworn into the Klan at the White House...
...362...
...As Klan membership grew, so did the numbers of men and women killed, maimed, and flogged by them: mainly "uppity blacks" which might mean simply any blacks, literate, landholding, or voting blacks and white sympathizers or teachers of blacks...
...Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen is called "the hoary Illinois Senator with a wrinkled relief map of a face...
...And in his treatment of Griffith's cinematic representation of Reconstruction as influential as it was erroneous Wade defends Griffith, to a degree, by explaining that his version was based on history books, albeit wrongheaded ones...
...Happily, history itself sprinkles ironies throughout its narrative, which Wade seizes to lighten up the saga...
...For as glorious as the Constitution is in its statement of our freedoms, it is, of course, also limited, necessarily dependent upon government and upon the governed to enforce and enhance its decrees...
...J. Edgar Hoover, who figures frequently and ambiguously throughout the rest of the story, was a twenty-fouryear-old employee for the Justice Department...
...Rut it is the account in its entirety and the illusive reasons why the Klan has persisted in adapting itself to successive eras, appealing to the worst instincts among us, a wide spectrum of men and women that leaves one properly on guard...
...and please give my regards to Mrs...
...For example, the Klan's national Imperial palace was sold to the Atlanta-Savannah Roman Catholic diocese, where a cathedral was built and the Wizard invited to the opening ceremonies and Mass...
...Rural black refugees swelled cities so that the federal government was forced to take action...
...He is ignored...
...But by then, President Grant, the Fifteenth Amendment, a series of Enforcement Acts, and federal troops were required to dissolve the Klan in South Carolina, and to discourage it in other states...
...Wade chronicles with equal rigor the second revival of the Klan in the fifties, over school desegregation, and the most recent Klan revival in the seventies, over reverse discrimination, affirmative action, and busing...
...Is it necessary for democracy to be so fragile in the face of fascist groups within it...
...Yet underlying the whole story are nagging questions, never explicitly asked by the author, but ably pressed onto the reader: Why was justice not meted out more regularly, given the presence of fair laws on the books of our judicial system...
...It too failed significantly...
...The Klan's first real revival occurred during the postwar period under President Wilson, abetted by D.W...
...The costumes became signs of the "ghosts of the Confederacy...
...No genuine stock-taking would be complete without that...
...The humanness of this chronicle reads at times like hero and villain stores in the Old Testament: the first Grand Wizard of the Invisible Empire, Nathan Bedford Forrest, loses control of his own hooligans and helplessly calls for the disbandment of the Ku Klux Klan...
...and national Klan membership grew from its 1921 total of 100,000 to over one million members by 1922...
...White supremacy had timely appeal in a beleaguered South...
...Karen Sue Smith Now, while the celebration of the U.S...
...Does it really take executive assertiveness, Congressional legislation, the Justice Department, courageous citizens and citizengroups, and infiltrators of the police, judiciary, and other law enforcement agencies simultaneously to rout out merely the legal impediments to racial equality...
...And the whole cast of Halloween revelers from the Grand Wizard at the top to Goblins, Dragons, the Exalted Cyclops (and later on the Kleagles) became highly organized ideologues and skilled terrorists...
...to change things, and during the Hayes administration, with obstacles to civil rights set up by the Supreme Court, segregation became lawful and Klan activity temporarily lulled...
...Coolidge as well...
...Stetson Kennedy, one of the most memorable figures cut in the story, is said to have been "gifted with an imperturbable face" a handy quality for a man to have whose ingenious undercover infiltration of the Klan furnished Drew Pearson's radio program "Minutes of the Klan's Last Meeting," and episodes of "Superman" with authentic Klan dialogue, plans, and codes, and who is credited with singlehandedly preventing a post- World War II rise of the Klan...
...Wade demonstrates particular objectivity in his treatment of North and South explicit references illustrate that racial bigotry is no respecter of regions...
...blacks as destroyers...
...Still, within three years, by 1874, a second Civil Rights Act was needed...
...His successor, William Joseph Simmons is outsmarted by a subordinate and retires, for a cash settlement...
...Klansmen were presented as saviors of the Southern way of life...
...Quickly, however, the recently freed blacks became the butts of the group's nocturnal skulduggery (which would soon target carpetbaggers and scalawags as well...
...There, several bored young ex-Confederates banded together for "purely social reasons" and devised ghoulish costumes in order to play pranks about town...
...Wade brings his narrative up to the present with a compelling analysis of what has changed since the civil rights struggle began, and just which groups are monitoring and standing vigil against any resurgence of the Klan...
...Despite the tragic undercurrent, the story is full of colorful characters, is in parts uplifting, and is always told in bright language by an author skilled in thumbnail sketches and the memorable phrase...
...Wade even hints at the role women played in various Klans, though he does not develop it...
...In a one-volume history, it is difficult to miss the fact that the story, which begins with a presidential assassination and a union-wrenching fight for limited civil rights, closes, after a hundred years of struggle, with another wave of assassinations and a third Civil Rights Act...though not, at least, with another civil war...
...Indiana Grand Wizard David Curtis Stephenson is shown bluffing: Whenever a conference grew especially unsatisfactory, Steve pressed a concealed button making his hotline ring and talked over it in a strangely subdued fashion...
...Wade's thorough and timely book documents the few successes and persistent failures of both government and citizenry to protect the rights of all, particularly blacks in this case, against the violent machinations of the few...
...Wade's description of Simmons' fall is pathetic, if it is not the just retribution of the worms over Jezebel: "the forgotten and frequently tipsy Wizard haunted the lobbies of second-rate hotels until his death in 1945...
...To set the Reconstruction record straight, Wade traces the origins of the Klan to somewhere between December 1865 and 1866, prior to Radical Reconstruction, in Giles County, Tennessee, a state which had already ratified the Fourteenth Amendment...
...When Federal District Judge William A. Cox rules out the applicability of the Ku Klux Law, thereby crippling the prosecution of the Klan for murdering three young voter education volunteers, Wade comments that, though Cox was a well known segregationist, his 1965 interpretation was based on a previous Supreme Court ruling rather than on his personal prejudice...
...With immigrants from Europe flooding into the country, and with the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Klan's targets expanded to include Catholics, Jews, all foreigners, and "Reds...
...Griffith's controversial film The Birth of a Nation, which convinced white Americans, Wade writes, "of a past that had never been...
...Grand Wizard Bobby Shelton stunned his federal investigators by taking not only the Fifth Amendment (he had always said this act proved a Commie), but the Fourteenth as well, And the recently convicted Navy spy, John A. Walker, Jr., walks across the book's proscenium as a KKK recruiter...
...Of Thomas Dixon, whose novel, The 361 Clansman, formed the basis for Griffith's influential Klan film, Wade says: "A fiesty, acid-mouthed racist, Dixon electrified his flocks with forebodings of 'creeping negroidism' and the gospel of White Christian supremacy...
...Right before hanging up, he'd say, "Thank you sir...
...He devotes separate chapters to the making of the Griffith film, the relatively nonviolent but politically intimidating and pervasive Indiana Klan, and the appeal of the KKK to Christian fundamentalists, particularly ministers who were given free membership and dramatic "visitations" as the hooded Klansmen would interrupt their sermons to bring sizable donations and affirming notes...
...Constitution inspires a "teaching moment" for citizens to take stock of their citizenship and to brush up on their American history, Wyn Craig Wade's chronicle of the Ku Klux Klan deserves to be widely read...
...It didn't happen until 1965, but it was bound to happen someday: under the mail-in registration policy of the Klan, a black man joined and was mistakenly appointed Grand Titan of Idaho before he was discovered...

Vol. 114 • June 1987 • No. 11


 
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