In 1925 and 1926 the streets in Washington, D.C were oozing with hate when massive groups of white sheet wearing men marched across the capital waving the American flag spreading their irrational hate. The city officials concerned about the consequences debated whether to permit the white supremacist organization known for their violence and terror to parade around the city. Ultimately, they let them march with their signature masks and more than 50,000 Klansmen marched on the streets of the U.S capital.
This was the second Ku Klux Klan founded in 1915 in Atlanta, Georgia. Starting in 1921, it adopted a modern business system of using full-time paid recruiters and appealed to new members as a fraternal organization, of which many examples were flourishing at the time.
The first Klan flourished in the Southern United States in the late 1860s, then died out by the early 1870s. It sought to overthrow the Republican state governments in the South during the Reconstruction Era, especially by using violence against African American leaders. With numerous chapters across the South, it was suppressed around 1871, through federal enforcement. Members made their own, often colorful, costumes: robes, masks, and conical hats, designed to be terrifying, and to hide their identities.
The second group was founded in 1915, and flourished nationwide in the early and mid-1920’s, particularly in urban areas of the Midwest and West. It opposed Catholics and Jews, especially newer immigrants, and stressed opposition to the Catholic Church. This second organization adopted a standard white costume and used similar code words as the first Klan while adding cross burnings and mass parades.
The third and current manifestation of the KKK emerged after 1950, in the form of small, local, unconnected groups that use the KKK name. They focused on opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, often using violence and murder to suppress activists. It is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is estimated to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members as of 2012.
The second and third incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan made frequent references to America’s “Anglo-Saxon” blood, hearkening back to 19th-century nativism. Although members of the KKK swear to uphold Christian morality, virtually every Christian denomination has officially denounced the KKK.