Organisation and methods of the Ku Klux Klan

The KKK was known as the Invisible Empire and was extremely well organised.

The National leader of the KKK was called the Grand Wizard. It was split into local groups called Klaverns.

Members wore white robes and hoods to hide their identity and had to be American, white, Protestant and at least 16 years old.

KKK members standing in a square formation at a rally in West Virginia, 1924
KKK members held rallies to scare black people

During the 1920s, all non-Protestants, new immigrants and black Americans became targets for the Klan. They used a variety of methods to intimidate those they considered inferior.

Methods used to intimidate others

  • Groups of Klansmen marched through the streets carrying banners which made threats of violence.
  • Klansmen burned large wooden crosses beside the homes of people they wished to frighten.
  • They used fear to prevent black Americans registering to vote.
  • They carried out lynching. This was the name given to violent acts such as kidnapping, hanging, whipping, mutilation and murder towards certain groups they considered to be threatening ‘the American way of life’.

Support and impact

By 1920, the Klan had started to gain a significant following. There were several reasons for this increased support:

  • Unemployment was growing and the KKK blamed this on the high number of immigrants flooding into the USA.
  • Many black Americans moved to northern cities, especially during World War One. This led to competition for housing and jobs.
  • Many poor white people joined the KKK in the hope that their way of life would be protected.

Whites felt they were superior to black immigrants. They were separated into ghetto communities in Northern cities.

There were riots between black and whites in the North and housing conditions were very poor.

Due to the secretive nature of the Klan, it is difficult to know exactly how many men were members.

Estimates have ranged from 3 million to 8 million members in 1924, when the Klan was at its peak.

What is certain however is that the Klan had enough power in the 1920s to hold marches through Washington, DC.

Its influence extended deep into American society. Members included State Governors and Senators, as well as judges, businessmen and members of the police.

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