White Robes, Silver Screens: Movies and the Making of the Ku Klux Klan

White Robes, Silver Screens: Movies and the Making of the Ku Klux Klan

White Robes, Silver Screens: Movies and the Making of the Ku Klux Klan

White Robes, Silver Screens: Movies and the Making of the Ku Klux Klan

Synopsis

The Ku Klux Klan was reestablished in Atlanta in 1915, barely a week before the Atlanta premiere of The Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffith's paean to the original Klan. While this link between Griffith's film and the Klan has been widely acknowledged, Tom Rice explores the little-known relationship between the Klan's success and its use of film and media in the interwar years when the image, function, and moral rectitude of the Klan was contested on the national stage. By examining rich archival materials including a series of films produced by the Klan and a wealth of documents, newspaper clippings, and manuals, Rice uncovers the fraught history of the Klan as a local force that manipulated the American film industry to extend its reach across the country. White Robes, Silver Screens highlights the ways in which the Klan used, produced, and protested against film in order to recruit members, generate publicity, and define its role within American society.

Excerpt

On Monday, 6 December 1915, the night of the atlanta premiere of The Birth of a Nation, the recently formed Ku Klux Klan, “mounted and on foot, paraded down Peachtree Street and fired rifle salutes in front of the theatre.” Ten months earlier, at the film’s national premiere at Clune’s auditorium in Los Angeles, actors in full Ku Klux Klan regalia had sat on horseback outside the theater, re-creating the on-screen image. Much had changed between these two dates, however. in Los Angeles, which was fast becoming the center for film production, theatrical “Klansmen” were there to provide publicity for the film. in Atlanta, a city increasingly riven by Jim Crow segregation and by national reports of mob violence, active Klansmen now used the film to introduce and publicize a new group that was emerging at the exact moment of the film’s local release.

A few days after the Atlanta premiere, an advertisement appeared in both the Atlanta Constitution and Atlanta Journal for “The World’s Greatest Secret Social Patriotic Fraternal Beneficiary Order.” the advertisement, hand-drawn by William Simmons, the founder and selfappointed Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, showed a Klansman riding a horse while carrying a flaming cross. It unabashedly imitated the image initially used to promote D. W. Griffith’s film, an association made all the more apparent in the Atlanta Journal, where Simmons’s advertisement appeared next to a small poster for The Birth of a Nation (fig. 0.1).

The events surrounding the Atlanta premiere a century ago represent, for many, the extent of the Klan’s relationship with cinema. the . . .

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