Race over Rum, Romans, and Republicans
Despite the obvious vitality the Alabama Klan demonstrated in 1927, and the apparent inability of its opponents to persuade petit juries, the order's enemies pronounced it dead yet again in early 1928. The announcement, not unlike its predecessors, was largely the function of wishful thinking. Alabama's Klan was to have, perhaps, its finest hour in 1928.
The year witnessed one of the most ferocious clashes in modern political history. The KKK--combating a rapidly thinning membership, declining revenues, diminishing influence, and an anemic moral stature--plunged headlong into the political fray that would finally rip apart the Democratic Party. The party had been seriously divided since at least 1924, when a northern, "wet," urban, ethnic, and prolabor wing collided with its rural, farm, Anglo-Saxon counterpart in the South. After a record number of ballots, the national convention had passed over the principal figures representing the two factions--New York governorAlfred E. Smith and the "Great Commoner," William Jennings Bryan--in favor of an obscure compromise candidate.
In 1928, Alabama's hooded political strategists used a caustically divisive campaign to resuscitate the order, at least politically. In fact, the open splitting of the Democratic Party over Al Smith's nomination gave the KKK the perfect tool with which to stage a comeback in the Deep South. Smith's 1928 nomination at Houston exposed some of America's darkest prejudices in bold relief. His Catholicism, Tammany Hall connection, immigrant background, and political wetness promised the most divisive campaign since the Populist wars of the 1890s. Rum, Romanism, nativism, and Tammany became critical national issues in 1928. Still, in Alabama, and in much of the rest of the South, the race question eclipsed all of these.
The issue of race had always been of paramount importance for the