Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1940
Mapping the Klan is a rough timeline of the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan between 1915 and 1940. Each red dot shows a local unit or "Klavern." The official numbers for each Klavern indicate a basic chronology for the chartering of the Klaverns, and they also reveal patterns of Klan organizing.
This map invites you to learn about the second Klan in your area and across the U.S. and to study the courage of those who opposed the Klan.
In-depthEssay: The Klan in 1921 Download the data from this map
The first Klan of Reconstruction and the third Klan of the Civil Rights era were both concentrated in the Deep South, but the second Klan spread across the United States. That tells us that parts of the Klan’s appeal (racism, anti-Semitism, and above all, anti-Catholicism) were widespread.
1920: Texas and Oklahoma
The Klan began recruiting in Texas and Oklahoma in 1920, spreading swiftly from larger cities out to small towns. Reports of masked vigilantes threatening and punishing people accompanied the Klan’s spread there, and the appeal of the Klan in those states has been described by historian Charles Alexander as “moral authoritarian.”
1921: National scrutiny
The violence in Texas led to national attention on the Klan, notably when the New York World exposed the Klan in September 1921 through a series of powerful articles that nearly two dozen other papers also published. The exposé brought widespread condemnation of the Klan as an agent of unlawful punishment, and when Klan recruitment revived in summer 1922, the less violent, more political pattern of recruitment, as seen in the Midwest, dominated.
The other recruitment pattern, most noticeable after 1922, is in Indiana, Ohio, and other Midwestern states. The Klan organized more deliberately on a “county unit” basis in the Midwest, seeking large numbers of members, with political power as the Klan’s goal. The Klan’s leader there, David Curtis Stephenson, became a force in Indiana politics in 1923-1924.
1923-1925: Peak and decline
Membership in the Klan—and national attention to it—peaked in 1923-1924, and by the end of 1925 membership was in free fall. Historians say that there are several reasons for that:
- The Klan failed to deliver on its promises of good government and clean communities.
- Prohibition , too proved a failure.
- Federal legislation in 1924 restricted immigration.
- The evident corruption of prominent Klan leaders, especially the conviction of Indiana’s D. C. Stephenson for murder in 1925.
All of these things combined to reduce the Klan’s membership rolls.
1925 and beyond: Local staying power
Even so, evidence from Mapping the Klan shows that local units carried on, sometimes reorganizing with a new name and number, and always with a lower profile than in the heady days of 1921-1924. The story of the Klan after 1925 has yet to be told in detail.
The national Klan’s swift rise and decline reminds that local conditions influenced what happened in the various towns and cities where Klaverns organized.
The data for Mapping the Klan is based on a variety of sources, mostly newspapers sponsored by or sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan. These publications reported on the activities of local units, known officially as Klaverns.
The dates for each Klavern come from the publication listed for that entry. So, it is likely that the Klaverns identified were established even earlier than the date indicated.
The Klan’s recruitment methods make it harder to accurately date the beginning of a Klavern. Each local group had to recruit a set number of members before it could get its charter and number.
The Klaverns in each state were numbered in chronological order of their chartering. So we can assume that if a Klan number 40 is dated October 1923, Klans 1 to 39 were established before 1923.
As historians agree, the busiest years of Klan expansion were 1922-1924, with big declines thereafter. The large number of klaverns established after 1925, when the Ku Klux Klan largely disappeared from the national news media, is intriguing. The continued organizing of Klaverns after 1925 is more difficult to study, for lack of sources. That history remains to be explored.
The chronological spread of the Klan across the country depicted here is not perfectly chronological. That requires an explanation.
We do not know when each Klavern was formed or exactly when it disbanded or died. If we did, the map would show local Klans winking on and winking off.
“Mapping the Klan” is based on documentary evidence. Thus, the date when a Klan appears on the map comes from the date of that evidence, not necessarily when that Klan actually first began to function.
Records have survived for only a small number of Klans. Klan publications and other media outlets carried numerous short reports of Klan activities across the nation. Some of the reports were vague accounts of local enthusiasm for the Klan, while others were specific. The map is based on those specific reports that also gave the identifying number of the Klan involved. As was the case with other fraternal orders, each Klan received an identifying number in order of its organizing within a state.
For that reason, “Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan” does not provide an exact chronology of the Klan’s spread. Rather it displays a rough (but evidence-based) chronology of the Klan’s near-universal expansion in the United States between its founding in 1915 and its demise in the 1940s.
Each dot on the map is keyed to a documentary source. Each dot on the map also represents a community where the Ku Klux Klan existed. For the majority of those communities, there is a history of that local Klan yet to be researched and revealed.
The creators of the map hope that future researchers will be able to use the data in their projects. We also hope that errors will be pointed out, and additional information might be added.
Mapping the Klan suggests the potential for future research on the Klan in the United States. A significant portion the identifications of local Klaverns in the Klan media came after 1925, when the mass movement had already collapsed.
Why did the local Klaverns persist? What did it matter to the community that the Klan persisted there?
If you are seeking to study the Klan in your community, the historian Shawn Lay argues that local case studies are effective. The questions that Lay asked authors in The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s may be useful:
- What was the community under consideration like in the 1920s? What major social and economic factors shaped local community life? What distinctive social traditions influenced local affairs?
- Why did the Klan develop a following in the community? What specific local conditions, if any, gave rise to the Klan?
- Who joined the Klan? What was the social and economic status of most Klansmen?
- What was the program of the local klavern? How did Klansmen propose to remedy local problems? Did the Klan resort to violence or other forms of illegal activity?
- What were the reasons for the local klavern’s decline?”
To these questions we should also add questions about opposition to the Klan in the community.
Read more about the Exposé on the Second Klan
If this map inspires you to research Klan activity in your area; if you have additional sources or information to share; or if you have questions about this site, you can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- John Kneebone, lead author and professor of History, VCU
- Shariq Torres, lead web developer and data co-author, VCU Libraries
- Erin White, project manager, VCU Libraries
- Lauren Work, digital collections, VCU Libraries
- Alison Tinker, web designer, VCU Libraries
- John Glover, digital humanities consultant, VCU Libraries
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