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

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

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

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


The Ku Klux Klan has wielded considerable power both as a terrorist group and as a political force. Usually viewed as appearing in distinct incarnations, the Klans of the 20th century are now shown by Glenn Feldman to have a greater degree of continuity than has been previously suspected. Victims of Klan terrorism continued to be aliens, foreigners, or outsiders in Alabama: the freed slave during Reconstruction, the 1920s Catholic or Jew, the 1930s labor organizer or Communist, and the returning black veteran of World War II were all considered a threat to the dominant white culture.

Feldman offers new insights into this "qualified continuity" among Klans of different eras, showing that the group remained active during the 1930s and 1940s when it was presumed dormant, with elements of the "Reconstruction syndrome" carrying over to the smaller Klan of the civil rights era.

In addition, Feldman takes a critical look at opposition to Klan activities by southern elites. He particularly shows how opponents during the Great Depression and war years saw the Klan as an impediment to attracting outside capital and federal relief or as a magnet for federal action that would jeopardize traditional forms of racial and social control. Other critics voiced concerns about negative national publicity, and others deplored the violence and terrorism.

This in-depth examination of the Klan in a single state, which features rare photographs, provides a means of understanding the order's development throughout the South. Feldman's book represents definitive research into the history of the Klan and makes a major contribution to our understanding of both that organization and the history of Alabama.


The words Ku Klux Klan bring a host of images to mind. Most of these have been seared into the recesses of our collective consciousness by television, motion pictures, books, and other media. The Klan, for most of us, summons images that are eerie, macabre, mysterious, and at times even morbid. We think of shadowy figures in ghostly raiment, of giant wooden crosses burning in remote fields surrounded by hundreds of ghoulish figures, of ritual chanting by troupes of men gone mad at least temporarily, of shrieks in the night, gunshots, screams, and poltergeists on horseback, of mutilated black corpses hanging from trees, of blood, of riotous clashes on bridges and highways, of a sniper's lone bullet suddenly piercing the cover of night.

The Klan, while certainly all of these things, was a lot more. It was many things that most of us would rather forget. The KKK was, at various times throughout its long history, a powerful political organization and a fraternal and civic group that was tolerated by many people and even applauded by some.

This book focuses on the Klan phenomenon in Alabama, one of the nation's most important and infamous states. The example of Alabama will, I hope, afford insight into the most visible, resilient, and terrible version of fascism that America has ever produced.

Alabama, it must be said, is a special state. In virtually every period of American history it has made a name for itself, often for the worst reasons. During the 1890s, Alabamians lynched more people than any other state in the Union. In the 1920s, and even before, Birmingham earned a reputation as "bad, bad Birmingham," the "murder capital of the world." During the Great Depression, when the South enjoyed the dubious distinction of being . . .

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