Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949

Article excerpt

Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949. By Glenn Feldman. (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, c. 1999. Pp. xiv, 457. Paper, $19.95, ISBN 0-8173-0984-5; cloth, $49.95, ISBN 0-81730983-7.)

Over the last two decades a number of state and community studies have significantly revised scholarly thinking about the powerful Ku Klux Klan (KKK) movement of the 1920s. Once thought to have been a largely rural organization composed of individuals from the lower social classes, the second Klan is now generally recognized as having been a remarkably mainstream social and political movement that attracted the support of white Protestants across the socioeconomic spectrum. In this important study of the KKK in Alabama, Glenn Feldman endorses the general conclusions of this new appraisal but also demonstrates the distinctive aspects of Alabama's experience with the Klan. Sustained by the romantic image of the original Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction era, the militant Americanism of the post-World War I era, and widespread concern over rapid social change, the second Klan recruited over a hundred thousand Alabamians during the first half of the 1920s. Although African Americans constituted the Alabama Klan's chief source of concern, the hooded order also vociferously denounced Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and alleged moral offenders. But the KKK was not a mere hate group. As the author emphasizes, the hooded order's intolerant stand on racial and religious issues was often supplemented by a genuine desire for political and social reform. Indeed, Alabama Klansmen were among the foremost advocates of better public schools, effective prohibition enforcement, expanded road construction, and other "progressive" initiatives.

By the mid-1920s the Klan had evolved into a powerful political force in Alabama. Major political figures such as J. Thomas Heflin, David Bibb Graves, and Hugo Black joined the secret order and successfully wielded the votes of their hooded brethren against the entrenched power of the "Big Mule" industrialists and Black Belt planters who dominated state politics. …