Gospel According to the Klan

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Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930, CultureAmerica, University Press of Kansas. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

Gospel According to the Klan employs the Ku Klux Klan as a case study of the intersection of Protestantism, nationalism, whiteness, and gender in the early twentieth century. I argue that the Klan, rather than being a fringe movement in narratives of American religious history, proves to be more mainstream, and essential, to narratives of American culture, patriotism, politics and American Christianity. The 1920s Klan was a Protestant movement that couched its religious and racial hatred in Christian virtue and devotion, and that the conflation of Americanism and Protestantism showcases the impact of this particular faith (in a variety of forms) on the development of American culture more largely.  To understand the rise and fall of the Klan in American history complicates previous narratives that ignore the centrality of race and Protestant Christianityto the creation of  national consciousness. The Klan’s vision of America was not so different from that of its peers, but adding Klansmen and Klanswomen to our narratives implores a darker reading of religious nationalism and American Christianity than we currently enjoy. To use the Klan as an interpretative lens changes the historical landscape by illuminating trends of intolerance and violence that permeate our culture. The Klan’s narratives provided members with the historical assurance that the Klan, and by extension white Protestants, were to remain the real heirs of American culture and to maintain a favored position of dominance. Its nationalism shows how Americans embraced the centrality of white Protestant superiority and disdained those who did not fit neatly into this narrative. Religion and exclusion became the centerpiece of the order’s creation of an ideal nation. More importantly, the Klan’s constructions of nativism still find resonance in contemporary re-imaginings of the nation as well as conceptions of who can and cannot be citizens. Ironically, in our continued exclusion of the Klan from our narrative, we remain blind to the nefarious foundations of nationalism in the twenty-first century.

Klansmen kneel in prayer before the Fiery Cross, 1923.

Gospel According to the Klan is both an intellectual and cultural history of the 1920s Klan, with particular attention given to how Klan members and leaders created a shared world view through print culture, including Klan organs like The Imperial Night-Hawkand The Kourier Magazine, as well as rallies, speeches, and public demonstrations. The book illuminates how the order characterized itself and its members on the printed page to create its vision of an ideal American nation. From this examination, it is possible to evaluate the ways in which the members embraced and disdained the ideal vision of the Klan and the nation. The newspapers permit entry into a worldview that has been mischaracterized and misunderstood by some who want only to condemn the Klan for its actions. While condemnation might be deserved, such an approach obscures the motivations and beliefs of members. Using Klan print culture and presenting Klan members in their own terms illustrates their experiences in the fraternity and the larger world. To see the Klan as citizens rather than villains clarifies a more complex American story.

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