World War II and Postwar Alabama
The Klan reemerged strongly in Alabama shortly after the end of World War II. This outbreak of the Klan strain has been difficult to explain. The period 1946 through 1949, a period half as long as Reconstruction in Alabama, has received insufficient attention. Nevertheless, the Klan that grew in Alabama during this time shared a number of features with its counterparts in earlier days. Indeed, although the Alabama KKK gathered marked momentum after 1945, the secret society and its engine of racial divisiveness were sores that festered throughout World War II.
While scholars have done a good deal to elucidate southern racial violence during the war, the postwar period has received far less attention.1 World War II was a watershed in southern economic history, but it also exerted a profound effect on the course of race relations in the South. Black activism, assertiveness, and agitation for voting rights all accelerated in the wake of war. After 1945, a cadre of progressive southern white politicians appealed with some success to a new biracial coalition of working-class whites and a small but growing black electorate. This progressive cabal was so successful in Alabama that the state soon boasted of having a progressive governor, two progressive senators, and the South's most liberal congressional delegation.2
Progressive electoral success in wartime and postwar Alabama was accompanied by a tense racial atmosphere and an increasingly violent backlash from the forces of white supremacy. The Klan rode again in this climate, targeting not only assertive blacks but also whites who challenged conventional notions of morality. Elite Alabamians from a variety of backgrounds responded in a number of ways.