Klansville, U.S.A: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan

Klansville, U.S.A: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan

Klansville, U.S.A: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan

Klansville, U.S.A: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan


In the 1960s, on the heels of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision and in the midst of the growing Civil Rights Movement, Ku Klux Klan activity boomed, reaching an intensity not seen since the 1920s, when the KKK boasted over 4 million members. Most surprisingly, the state with the largest Klan membership--more than the rest of the South combined--was North Carolina, a supposed bastion of southern-style progressivism.

Klansville, U.S.A.is the first substantial history of the civil rights-era KKK's astounding rise and fall, focusing on the under-explored case of the United Klans of America (UKA) in North Carolina. Why the UKA flourished in the Tar Heel state presents a fascinating puzzle and a window into the complex appeal of the Klan as a whole. Drawing on a range of new archival sources and interviews with Klan members, including several state and national leaders, the book uncovers the complex logic of KKK activity. David Cunningham demonstrates that the Klan organized most successfully where whites perceived civil rights reforms to be a significant threat to their status, where mainstream outlets for segregationist resistance were lacking, and where the policing of the Klan's activities was lax. Moreover, by connecting the Klan to the more mainstream segregationist and anti-communist groups across the South, Cunningham provides valuable insight into southern conservatism, its resistance to civil rights, and the region's subsequent dramatic shift to the Republican Party.

Klansville, U.S.A.illuminates a period of Klan history that has been largely ignored, shedding new light on organized racism and on how political extremism can intersect with mainstream institutions and ideals.


“Quit playing with them niggers,” commanded J. Robert “Bob” Jones. “I didn’t invite them, but I’ve got a few choice words for them.” It was a sultry Sunday afternoon in August 1966, and Jones was addressing a packed house at the Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, North Carolina. More than 2,000 additional supporters milled around the parking lot outside, having arrived after the auditorium’s 3,067 seats had filled; Jones and other featured guests would later climb out onto the auditorium’s ledge above the parking lot, greeting those supporters to reward their patience. This event, the largest political gathering in the state that year, was hosted by the North Carolina Realm of United Klans of America (UKA), Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Inc.

Squat and square-faced, with a prominent scar across his cheek, Jones was dressed in a shirt and tie, covered by the ornate, knee-length green silk robes reserved for the United Klans’ state leaders, or “Grand Dragons.” His three-year run in North Carolina marked him as by far the most successful Grand Dragon in the UKA’s five-year history. Perched behind a podium on the auditorium’s stage, he was charged with introducing a long list of speakers, including several fellow Dragons and the UKA’s national leader, “Imperial Wizard” Robert M. Shelton. Jones directed his crude invective to a small group of African Americans who had defiantly filled a handful of the hall’s seats, following a city council ruling that ordered the rally open to any member of the public. State police interspersed around the hall, reinforced by 220 National Guard troops stationed nearby on orders from the governor, kept the general peace, while verbal abuse from klan members and sympathizers rained down on the black rally crashers.

Jones, gauging the significance of the occasion, wanted his followers to remain on their best behavior. Imperial Wizard Shelton, the UKA’s most prominent figure, reinforced that message. Never known for his dynamism—one reporter compared him to Art Carney—Shelton delivered a typically measured speech, downplaying race issues in favor of a focus on their supposed root cause. “Black power and civil rights are not true issues in America today,”

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