One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s

By Smith, Zachary | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s


Smith, Zachary, The Journal of Southern History


One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. By Thomas R. Pegram. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011. Pp. xvi, 281. $27.95, ISBN 978-1-56663-711-4.)

Thomas R. Pegram, an expert on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century moral and political reform movements, crafts what is perhaps the most complete account of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan, a national movement that Pegram argues was defined as much by mainstream issues, regional diversity, and internal discord as by irrational fear and violence. In One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, Pegram concludes that the Invisible Empire's regional variance and extreme solutions to popular concerns precluded a unified definition of Americanism among the so-called knights. Consequently, the Klan's vision of an exclusive national community could not survive in an increasingly pluralistic society, nor could such a view replace its members' local interests and alternative means of self-identification, all of which stood at the root of its division and decline.

After providing a brief overview of the Klan's rise and historical context, Pegram addresses in each subsequent chapter issues that aroused the Invisible Empire and its opponents, a framework meant to demonstrate the Klan's disunity and its disconnection from the American public. Having established the extent to which the New Era Klan's values fit with popular opinion, Pegram explains how and why knights often took their beliefs to the extreme. For instance, while the Klan's racism "reflected widespread American patterns of belief from the Gilded Age on," Klansmen were prone to follow the arguments of "racial alarmists and eugenics advocates" (p. 52). Pegram then cites examples of extreme rhetoric and action in support of the issue, such as Klansmen justifying vigilante enforcement of Prohibition because wets' values were not American. Finally, Pegram describes cases in which local klavems refused to participate in or associate with the radical deeds or agendas of the national office or branches in other regions of the country. …

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