The Ku Klux Klan During World War I

2069 words - 8 pages

Social change always creates a spark of controversy, and new attitudes will always have opposition. The Ku Klux Klan, which had died out in the 1870s, rose again to combat the turmoil that the nation was experiencing during World War I. The group came out resilient and often deadly, and members had influence in the United States that had not been witnessed before. Therefore, the second Ku Klux Klan that emerged during World War I was much more powerful than its former manifestation. The Klan arose because of social changes such as the increasing amount of immigrants, the movie The Birth of a Nation, and the highly-publicized murder of Mary Phagan. The combative nature of World War I triggered a rise in the feeling of nationalism among Americans, creating a gateway for the second generation of the Ku Klux Klan.

Before the war, immigration to the United States skyrocketed, angering many Americans. Most newcomers were from countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, like Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Rising feelings of nationalism, even before the United States joined World War I, conflicted with the immigrants’ arrivals, inspiring some to rise up and protest against the newcomers. Many Americans were afraid that immigrants would bring communism or socialism to the country. Opponents to immigration were Protestants and nativists who resented the foreigners’ Catholic religion and their lack of Caucasian characteristics. Intraregional migration in the United States also became common yet, troublesome as more and more rural residents moved to urban areas for job opportunities. People living in rural areas were often Protestant and native-born, so they collided with Catholic immigrants who arrived in big cities and never relocated. These former rural residents wanted to preserve their values despite the number of opponents in their new homes in urban areas. The Ku Klux Klan that came about during this time esteemed nativism, Protestantism, and nationalism, and most Klansmen came from these new urban residents. Therefore, one reason the Ku Klux Klan reemerged is due to the abhorrence of differing peoples and the need to fight against the melting pot that the United States was becoming.

The film The Birth of a Nation encouraged white supremacy and propelled some whites to resurrect the group featured in the film. The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915 by D.W. Griffith and is a proslavery narrative of two families, one in the Union and the other in the South, during the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era. The film “depict[s] blacks either as simple and ignorant ciphers or as brutish fiends, while abolitionists and supporters of African-American rights are shown as naïve or motivated by greed” (Darity, “Birth of a Nation”). At the end, the Ku Klux Klan rides to the aid of the whites in the South and destroys Reconstruction efforts that were to enfranchise African Americans. The portrayal of the Klan as heroes made some Americans...

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