Arnold S Rice.

The Ku Klux Klan in American politics online

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of possible violence against the integrated group of fifteen students
in attendance. There had been a rash of anonymous telephone calls
to the church authorities threatening to blow up the building or burn
it down. In addition, a cross had been burned in front of the school.
The mayor of the town, Henry Savage, publicly blamed the entire
incident on a revival of Klanism since the Supreme Court ruling.
Camden was not to see the end of agitation over the segregation issue.
Less than a half year later Guy Hutchins, the band director of the
local all-white high school, was flogged by a group of men for allegedly
preaching integration in public institutions of learning. Of the six
men arrested for the act of terrorism, at least one admitted being a
member of the Klan.

Two mass meetings were held on July 28, 1956, in South Carolina,
one at Columbia and the other at Hartsville, sixty miles away. Hooded
and robed Knights denounced the Supreme Court and desegregation.
At the Hartsville rally a Klan orator who identified himself to members
of the press only as a "country preacher from down the road" called
President Dwight D. Eisenhower a "low-down scoundrel" for having
carried out after World War II, as Chief of Staff of the United States
Army, integration in his branch of the service.

In March, 1958, three members of the Klan in North Carolina were


sentenced to prison for terms varying from two to ten years. The ac-
tion taken against them was the end result of the manner in which
these Knights protested against desegregation in the Tar Heel State —
attempting to bomb, on February, 1957, a Negro elementary school
outside of Charlotte.

The Klan was not the only organization to resist desegregation in
the public schools of the South. Two months after the May 17, 1954,
Supreme Court decision, there was formed in Indianola, Mississippi,
a hamlet which lies close to the Arkansas border, the White Citizens
Council. Within a year branches of the new outfit sprang up all over
Dixie. By 1957 the White Citizens Council had some 300,000 members
in more than 500 chapters. Its strongest backing came from the Deep
South, where the ratio of Negroes to whites has always been high.
The state of Mississippi alone, for example, contained more than one-
fourth of the membership of the Council.

It would be well to contrast the Council with the Klan. First, from
the very beginning the Council carried out its program in the open.
Public auditoriums and theaters were used for meetings. Members
made no attempt to shield from others their affiliation with the group.
Second, in striving to create an image of "respectability," it studiously
avoided extremism. There was to be no donning of regalia, engaging
in ritual, or participating in terrorism. Third, as a result of the preced-
ing policies it enlisted the support of the most esteemed citizens.
Among those who joined the Council were, for example, the following:
in Louisiana a state senator, a state university board supervisor, and a
former president of the state medical association; in Alabama three
state senators and the mayor of Montgomery; in North Carolina several
leading industrialists, three former Speakers of the state Assembly, a
state university medical school professor, and a former United States

Did these basic differences between the Council and the Klan pre-
clude all intercourse? The answer is "no." Much of the anti-integra-
tion literature distributed by the two organizations was identical.
Also, in many localities individuals belonged to both groups at the
same time. The secretary-treasurer of the Association of White Cit-
izens Councils of Florida, Homer Barrs, said in an interview, "We don't
bar Klan members from joining the Councils. Any white person who
does not belong to the NAACP is eligible." Then, too, Council leaders
addressed Klan meetings. Doing more of this than anyone else was
John Kasper, secretary of the White Citizens Council of Washington,
D. C. He appeared before groups of Knights — in Alabama in the


fall of 1956, in Florida in the spring of 1957, in Tennessee in the
summer of 1957 — to urge the Klan to co-operate with the Council
in preaching the "segregation gospel." 8

While the battle against desegregation in the public schools of the
South was taking place, the multiplication of Klans was going on.
There seemed to be a spewing forth! By 1958 there were so many
different splinter groups that the tabulation of them is unreliable. The
f actionalism that resulted was more than a lack of centralized authority
in Klanism; it was internecine warfare.

The dominant organization was the U. S. Klans, Knights of the Ku
Klux Klan. Its head was Imperial Wizard Eldon Lee Edwards, a
forty-eight year old paint sprayer at an automobile body plant in
Atlanta. Edwards' order was the direct descendant of the Association
of Georgia Klans that had been led by Imperial Wizards Green and
Roper. In 1950 Edwards assumed leadership of the Association of
Georgia Klans, reorganized it slightly, and renamed it the U. S. Klans,
Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Outside the home state of Georgia, Edwards' order was most active
in South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana. As a matter of fact, the
Grand Dragon of the U. S. Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in each
of these states wielded more power and earned a greater reputation
than the actual heads of the other Klan groups in existence. The
Grand Dragon of the Realm of South Carolina was James H. Bickley,
a carpenter from Marion, close to the North Carolina border. Within
three months after taking office, he increased the number of chapters
in the Palmetto State from twenty to thirty-five. "I ain't got nothing
against niggers," Bickley remarked on one occasion. "I don't
believe most of them would be causing any trouble if it wasn't
for the NAACP and the Jews. I understand there are a lot of Com-
munists . . . trying to get us to integrate with the niggers so we'll breed
down the race."

The Grand Dragon of the Realm of Alabama was Alvin Horn, an
electrical worker and self-proclaimed Baptist minister from Talladega,
fifty miles east of Birmingham. When he assumed his duties as Grand
Dragon in the summer of 1956, there were but two chapters of the
U. S. Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. Less than a
year later there were more than 100.

A Baton Rouge welder named Edgar Taylor was the Grand Dragon
of the Realm of Louisiana. "The niggers are the main thing with us
now," Taylor told a journalist in the spring of 1957. "We are not
fighting Jews and Catholics except where they help the niggers."


On a nationwide television program in 1957 Imperial Wizard Ed-
wards maintained that "God Almighty created the races and segregated
them, sent them each on their own destiny." As for his Klan's program
of opposition to desegregation in the schools, violence in any form
would be shunned.

Edwards refused to divulge the numerical strength of his Klan, giv-
ing as a reason the fact that it was a secret fraternity. The member-
ship was estimated by contemporary observers to be about 50,000.
Whatever the size of the U. S. Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, it
was the largest of all the orders. Edwards asserted that it was
the "one true Klan." The other organizations were "outlaws and coun-
terfeiters." But verbalization on the part of the Imperial Wizard —
however emphatic it may have been — could not check the luxuriance
of Klans.

The largest order next to the U. S. Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux
Klan was the Florida Ku Klux Klan, with a membership of about
30,000. Somewhere at the top of the hierarchy of this organization
was J. E. Fraser, a nurseryman from Macclenny, twenty-five miles
west of Jacksonville. Reputed to be the leader of the Florida Ku Klux
Klan as Grand Wizard, Fraser consistently denied holding that office,
but at the same time maintained that he could always speak for the
individual who did. According to Fraser, the Florida Ku Klux Klan
stood for white supremacy, segregation, and "upholding the law."
"There's plenty of ways to do things within the law and sometimes we
have to straighten up the officials," he said. "Fellow sells his house
to a nigger in a white neighborhood and we just spread the word. He
loses his business and his friends. That . . . boy better just get out of
this state."

Probably next in size was the Association of South Carolina Klans \
The name of the head of this group was kept from the public. Acting
as spokesman for it was the Kligrapp of the chapter in Columbia,
Robert E. Hodges. A student at a business college in that city, the
twenty-four year old Hodges declared that the activities of the Associa-
tion of South Carolina Klans were directed primarily against Negroes,
but also against Catholics and Jews whenever the latter two made
efforts to help Negroes achieve civil rights or social equality.

Operating at opposite ends of Alabama were two small but ex-
tremely aggressive organizations. In the northern part of the state
was the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy, led by Asa Carter,
a young radio announcer from Birmingham who had been expelled
from the White Citizens Council for his extremist activities. Perhaps


the most violent of all the orders, the Original Ku Klux Klan of the
Confederacy conducted blood-rite initiation ceremonies, sanctioned the
carrying of weapons by its members, and directed extraordinarily
abusive harangues against Negroes, Catholics, and Jews.

In the southern part of Alabama the Gulf Ku Klux Klan carried on.
Heading it as Imperial Wizard was a gunsmith from Mobile named
Elmo C. Barnard. According to him, the Gulf Ku Klux Klan stood for
free speech, a free press, free public schools, white supremacy, "just"
laws, "the pursuit of happiness," and American rejection of foreign
creeds. Barnard condemned terrorism as basic policy for any group,
but said a "little violence" might have to be resorted to in resolving
the conflict between Negroes and whites.

Across the Mississippi River in Louisiana was an ineffectual group
called the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, led by the Rev. Perry E.
Strickland, the founder of the Central Baptist Mission just outside of
Baton Rouge. Strickland stated that some Catholics who were opposed
to desegregation of the races in the public schools attempted to join
his order, but were unhesitatingly turned down. "We need a white
Protestant group based on American principles," the minister con-

A triology of Klans functioned in Arkansas. In addition to two
small groups, the Association of Arkansas Klans and the Original Ku
Klux Klan, was Edwards' order, with A. C. Hightower, a barber by
trade, acting as Grand Dragon. According to Hightower, his fol-
lowers were "strictly law-abiding citizens." 8

Just as Klanism was vivified in 1954 by the occurrence of an outside
event, the Supreme Court decision on segregation, so to a lesser extent
was it in 1960. For on July 13 of that year, in Los Angeles, California,
the national convention of the Democratic party chose as its nominee
for the presidency a Catholic, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachu-
setts. Fiery crosses were soon in evidence throughout Dixie. There
were at night Klan parades and rallies. Before long, in some cities of
the Deep South Knights even dared to walk the streets in broad day-
light wearing their hoods and robes. What effect did the activity of
the Klan have upon the outcome of the ensuing election? To give as
complete an answer as possible, it would be well to compare the
presidential campaign of 1960 with the one of 1928, in which the
Democratic standard-bearer also was a Catholic, Governor Alfred E.
Smith of New York.

It is not difficult to find the reasons for the defeat of the Democratic
candidate in 1928. In addition to the existence of a belief on the part


of many that the general prosperity of the times would soon disappear
without Republican rule, there was widespread opposition to Smith
because of his anti-prohibitionism, his Tammany connections, his
"alienism," and his Catholicism.

Nineteen sixty was different. Kennedy was not a "wet" who had
incurred the wrath of the Anti-Saloon League and Woman's Christian
Temperance Union. He was not associated with a local party organiza-
tion known for its flagrant political abuses. He did not represent the
"alienism" of a metropolis; neither did he even give an appearance of
so doing, for he was rich, well-educated, handsomely fair, tastefully
groomed, cultivated in speech. Kennedy was, however, a Catholic.
The standard-bearer of the Democratic party in 1928 failed to win the
election not because of his Catholicism. Still, his religious affiliation
was unquestionably a factor in the defeat. In 1960 many a non-
Catholic voter was ready to cast a ballot for a Catholic presidential
nominee whose party, record, and campaign promises were to his
liking. The West Virginia Democratic presidential primary of May
10, 1960, offers a superb illustration of this. Facing the voters were
Kennedy and the Protestant Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota,
each comparable to the other in youth, personableness, and legislative
voting record. The pollsters anticipated Kennedy's defeat on the
religious issue. When the final returns were in, he had won handily,
receiving 235,738 votes to Humphrey's 149,214. The surprising victory
took place for many reasons. Compared with the Humphreyites, the
Kennedy forces spent a considerably greater amount of money; were
much more efficiently organized; and had Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.,
stump the state to convince the miners, the vast majority of whom
looked back on the New Deal with nostalgia, that the Senator from
Massachusetts was the spiritual descendant of F. D. R. Most political
observers considered Kennedy himself to be the biggest factor in the
landslide. One popular news magazine had this to say: "His easy
manner, serious speeches and kinetic charm, his decision to fight out
the religious issue, and even his Harvard accent — all won respect and

\ It is difficult to assess the effect of Klan activity upon the outcome
of the election of 1928, for there were other influential groups as well as
prominent religious figures and bolting Democratic leaders attacking
Smith for one or more of the same reasons as were given by the secret
fraternity for its opposition to the Democratic candidate. [

Ninteen sixty was similar. Along with the Klan were organizations
and individuals hostile to Kennedy for the very same reasons; namely,


his Catholicism and his stand on civil rights. The Democratic national
convention adopted for 1960 a civil rights plank that reached far beyond
anything on this issue included in any previous platform of either major
political party. According to the plank, the Democratic party en-
dorsed the "equal access for all Americans to all areas of community
life, including voting booths, schoolrooms, jobs, housing and public
facilities"; advocated that the Attorney-General be "directed to file civil
injunction suits in federal courts to prevent the denial of any civil
rights on grounds of race, creed or color"; and proposed the establish-
ment of a federal Fair Employment Practices Commission to "secure
for everyone the right to equal opportunity for employment." In
accepting the nomination of his party, Kennedy declared, "This is a
platform on which I can run with enthusiasm and with conviction."
Taking an active part in the effort to swing certain of the customarily
Democratic states to the standard-bearer of the Republican party,
Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, were, for example, such organiza-
tions as the White Citizens Council; the Church of Christ, a Fundamen-
talist denomination centered in Tennessee; and the Citizens for Religi-
ous Freedom, 8 and such individuals as Dr. Baines M. Cook, the chief
administrator of the activities of the Disciples of Christ; and Dr.
Ramsey Pollard, President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As for southern Democratic leaders, not one came out publicly
against the titular head of his party because he was Catholic, as
Senator J. Thomas Heflin of Alabama had done thirty-two years before.
But the Democratic politicians of Dixie were unhappy — extremely un-
happy — with Kennedy's position on civil rights. Nixon was enthusias-
tically welcomed in Georgia by Mayor William B. Hartsfield of At-
lanta and quite popular former gubernatorial candidate James V.
Carmichael, the latter going so far as to pledge publicly his sup-
port of the Republican presidential nominee. Senator Harry F. Byrd
of Virginia failed to give the nod to Kennedy. Senator J. Strom Thur-
mond of South Carolina declared that he could abide neither the
party's "obnoxious and punitive" platform nor its standard-bearer.
James F. Byrnes, who during the course of his career served as
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Secretary of State under
Truman, and Governor of his home state of South Carolina, con-
demned the civil rights plank of the party's platform and announced
himself for the Republican ticket. After sitting on their hands for al-
most three months after the Democratic convention was held, Senators
Herman Talmadge and Richard B. Russell of Georgia raised them
gingerly in favor of their colleague from Massachusetts. Meeting on


September 20, in Dallas, the Texas Democratic convention adopted a
plank in its state platform that was diametrically opposed to the civil
rights plank in the party's national platform. Not until the end of
September, at the twenty-sixth annual Southern Governors Conference,
did ten of the chief executives of states south of the Mason-Dixon
line abandon their lukewarm stand during the campaign to give full
support to Kennedy.

It is most difficult to prove that playing a determining role in the
presidential election of 1928 was an order that had recently been
censured by the American public for its excesses, lost its political
potency, and suffered a sharp drop in membership. If the Klan was
indeed a factor in the desertion of almost half the "Solid South" to the
Republican candidate, Herbert Hoover, then it was not the substance
but the spirit of the fraternity that made it so.

Nineteen sixty? There are scattered examples of the Klan's en-
gaging in political activity of national significance. In 1958 Imperial
Wizard Edwards' order, the U.S. Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,
worked in Alabama for the election of John Patterson to the highest
office in the state. Patterson realized his gubernatorial aspirations.
When, months before the Democratic national convention of 1960, he
endorsed Kennedy as his personal choice for the presidency, he was
visited by a thirty-two man delegation headed by the Kladd of the Klan
in Prattville, just outside of Montgomery. The Alabama chief ex-
ecutive was asked if it had ever occurred to him that he was
"being used as a guinea pig by the Communist-Jewish integrators"
to sample the political sentiment of the South for the Senator from
Massachusetts. And just before the conclusion of the presidential cam-
paign, representatives of various chapters of the U.S. Klans, Knights
of the Ku Klux Klan in the Gulf state attended a meeting held in the
Tuscaloosa County courthouse, at which the newly appointed Grand
Dragon of the Realm of Alabama, Bob Shelton, exhorted, "Klansmen
should stay away from Kennedy and keep an eye on John Patterson.
. . . They are the tools of the Jews."

Klan leaders in Florida spoke out. The Grand Dragon of the
U.S. Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in that state, William J. Griffin,
announced himself in September, 1960, for the nominee of the
G. O. P. 10 Boosting Governor Orval E. Faubus of Arkansas for the
presidency on the National States' Rights ticket was Bill Hendrix, who
was once more head of the Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as
Grand Dragon, after having resigned from his fraternal post in 1954
to run for the governorship of Florida on a pro-segregation platform.


In a communication sent out to every member of the Association of
South Carolina Klans, Robert E. Hodges, the Kligrapp of the chapter in
Columbia, declared: "You cannot afford to support or vote for anyone
or group that represents the Roman Catholic Church. To do so is to
vote against your God, and Savior, and your church, your country
and even yourself since the Catholic Church is directly opposed to
Protestant churches, your America, and especially you as a Protestant. .
Heaven help your soul if you vote away your religious liberty ..."

In the Upper South, John Kasper of the White Citizens Council
went before many Klan groups to attack Kennedy's candidacy. If the
Senator from Massachusetts happened to be successful in his bid for
the presidency, Kasper iterated, he should be "impeached before the
sun rises."

The presidential election of 1960 turned out to be the closest in
modern times. Kennedy won the electoral vote of the southern half
of New England, the Middle Atlantic states, plus most of the "Solid
South"; Nixon carried four states of Dixie — Virginia, Kentucky, Ten-
nessee, and Florida, 12 nearly all of the north central and mountain
states, 'plus the entire Pacific coast. In popular votes, Kennedy
received 34,221,355 to Nixon's 34,109,398. This was a plurality for
the Democrat of 111,957 over his opponent, representing less than
two-tenths of 1 per cent of the total number of votes cast — the smallest
percentage difference between the popular votes of two presidential
candidates since the election of 1884.

The effectiveness of the political proceedings by the secret order
during the campaign is problematical. The Klan declined in power as
Election Day, November 8, 1960, approached. There are two basic
reasons for this, in addition to widespread public repulsion at the
terrorism of the order. First, the White Citizens Council, in its shun-
ning all extremist measures, lured away from the Klan the vast
majority of Southerners desiring to join an organization that would
battle for the status quo in racial matters. Second, the Klan was
literally being ripped apart by the continual formation of splinter
groups. By 1960 the number of separate orders was not even definitely
known; it was changing too frequently. A high-ranking Knight in
Florida pointed out that there were so many different Klan groups
in existence that the old passwords and counter-signs were unusable.
One southern newspaper tittered that so many Klans were operating
in Dixie that it was "impossible to tell the Grand Dragons, Wizards,
and Kleagles apart without a program."

Thus, if the Klan was a. factor in the desertion of a portion of the


"Solid South" to the Republican nominee in the presidential election
of 1960, then it was the spirit and not the substance of the secret order
that made it so — as had been the case in the presidential election
of 1928.


Chapter I

1. The Ku Klux Klan, 67 Cong., 1 Sess. (Washington, 1921), 121, contains
this description of the elements as recollected by William Joseph Simmons. A
stenographic record of the hearings on Klan activities held before the House Com-
mittee on Rules, October 11-17, 1921, this will be cited hereafter as Klan Hearings.

2. It appears that Simmons was at one point discharged for inefficiency as a
salesman of men's garters.

3. Klan Hearings, 67-68.

4. In Klan Hearings, 67, appears the following statement by Simmons: "They
call me 'Colonel,' largely out of respect. Every lawyer in Georgia is called 'Colo-
nel,' so they thought that I was as good as a lawyer, so they call me that. ... I
was at one time the senior colonel in command of five regiments and colonel of
my own regiment of the uniform rank of the Woodmen of the World, and I was
known as 'Colonel.' I have used that title on certain literature of the klan for
the reason that there are three other 'W. J. Simmonses' in Adanta, and for some
time our mail got confused. It is merely a designation. They accord it to me
as an honor and I appreciate it."

5. Klansman's Manual, Compiled and Issued Under Direction and Authority of
the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Incorporated (n.p., 1924), chap. Ill, sec. II. For
detailed information on the operation of the local Klan chapter, see the pamphlet,
Klan Building. An Outline of Proven Klan Methods for Successfully Applying

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Online LibraryArnold S RiceThe Ku Klux Klan in American politics → online text (page 14 of 17)