Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America

By John George; Laird Wilcox | Go to book overview

37 Ku Klux Klans

In 1944 the Ku Klux Klan was in effect temporarily shut down. Its charter was revoked, the Internal Revenue Service placed a $685,000 tax lien on its assets, and the organization disbanded. Following World War II, however, there was still considerable sympathy for traditional KKK values, particularly in the South. Various local KKK groups began to spring up, many of them headed by former Klan members, and in Georgia, Samuel Green, an Atlanta physician, formed the Association of Georgia Klans in 1946. These "new" KKK organizations were, for all intents and purposes, identical to the previous one.

An enterprising young man named Stetson Kennedy was particularly alarmed by the postwar resurgence of the Klan, and he undertook to infiltrate the organization. Kennedy had become the southeast research director for the Anti- Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which funded his project. He also reported to Georgia Assistant Attorney General Dan Duke, who was looking for a way to revoke the new Klan's charter. Outside of Georgia the KKK was encountering fierce opposition, as several states--including California and New York--banned the organization outright. Kennedy's detailed account, Southern Exposure, 1 was a major factor in militating opposition to the Klan, so much so that in 1947 U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark put the organization on his "subversives list" along with numerous other groups of the far left and far right. The state of Georgia revoked the Association of Georgia Klans' charter.

Kennedy, in a highly creative move, hatched a plan to recharter the KKK himself and turn it into an antiracist organization, while keeping bona fide KKK types from using the name or any of the symbols associated with it. His application for a new charter was turned down in Illinois, and he abandoned the plan. 2

Various other small Klans formed in the 1950s but no mass movement developed. Still, KKK violence occurred from time to time. In 1951 a series of bombings occurred in Miami. Another case, in which seven blacks were flogged by a large group of Klansmen, brought about the first prosecutions in the twentieth century under the Civil War-era Reconstruction Enforcement Act of 1870-71; a sheriff and one of his deputies were prosecuted and convicted. Several states adopted legislation effectively outlawing the KKK.

Had it not been for the U.S. Supreme Court decision on May 17, 1954-- Brown v. Board of Education--the Klan might have again faded into obscurity. Two other events helped kick off a KKK revival of grand proportions: the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the integration of Little Rock High School, backed by federal troops, on September 23, 1957.

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