Gleeson Library has contributed funds to support a project to digitize and provide open access to Ku Klux Klan newspapers from the 1920s, and we now have early contributors’ access to the newspapers that have been digitized so far.
The project is in its early stages, but is already being used for analysis in national media.
Overview from the project website:
From its birth immediately following the Civil War to its re-awakening inspired by the film Birth of a Nation in 1915 through today’s fractured organizations using the Klan’s name, the Ku Klux Klan has occupied a persistent place in American society.
The Klan’s national newspaper had a circulation larger than the New York Times.
To understand today’s version of American nationalism, we need to go back to the 1920s when the Klan re-emerged as a slick and successful recruiting and marketing engine that appealed to the fears and aspirations of middle-aged, middle-income, white protestant men in the middle of America. At its peak in 1924, Klan paid membership exceeded 4,000,000 and its national newspaper, the Imperial Night-Hawk, had a circulation larger than the New York Times.
The goal of this project is to assemble a comprehensive and hopefully complete collection of KKK newspapers into a fully-searchable open access database. The collection features national Klan publications (for example: the Imperial Night-Hawk and the Kourier) as well as regional and local Klan produced papers (i.e., Sgt. Dalton’s Weekly, Jayhawker American, and the Minnesota Fiery Cross). The collection will also include a smaller set of papers sympathetic to the Klan (i.e., The Good Citizen and The Fellowship Forum) and a few important anti-Klan publications (Tolerance and The Record). A complete title list may be found here.
The collection will be hosted on the Reveal Digital platform, which will provide controlled access to funding libraries until the collection moves to open access.
Why Digitize KKK Newspapers?
Contributed by Dr. Thomas R. Pegram, Professor of History, Loyola University–Maryland, and author of One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
The degree to which Klan newspapers drew from ordinary currents in American life in the 1920s is stunning. These newspapers detail the extent to which the Klan movement was anchored in American traditions of fraternalism, sociability, business and civic practices. That makes the appeal to exclusivity, the anti-Catholicism, and the assumed white Protestant ownership of American institutions that are also apparent in Klan newspapers so powerful.
The Klan newspapers of the 1920s are a reminder of how current divisions over immigration, race, and citizenship are deeply embedded in American history.
Sentiments that are now considered radical or located on the fringes of American society actually existed side by side with mainstream American beliefs and practices. Openly bigoted and reckless publications such as Colonel Mayfield’s Weekly contrast in style with more conventional publications such as the versions of the Fiery Cross that appeared across the Midwest, but all Klan newspapers shared the same bedrock beliefs that American democracy existed for only white Protestant Americans. Some, like Chicago’s Dawn offered frank denunciations of ethnic and Catholic Americans that reveal the extent to which American pluralism was contradicted by American tribalism. The Klan newspapers of the 1920s are a reminder of how current divisions over immigration, race, and citizenship are deeply embedded in American history.
Top Image: From The Badger American, March 1924. KKK Newspapers database.