The articles “The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana” and the “Rank-and-File Radicalism within the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s” give opposing accounts of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan’s mission and ideology. The mainstream understanding and research have coined KKK as a rather radical organization with a strong sense of white supremacy and anti-immigration sentiments. While the article “The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana” supports this view, the “Rank-and-File Radicalism within the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s” argues that KKK was much more than a nationalistic organization based on the concept of “nativism”. According to the author of the article, John Zernan, the assumption that KKK was a movement of “nativism” is naive and uninformed one. Zernan claims that the 1920s KKK was not based on “irrationality, racism and backwardness”, but instead had socioeconomic origins and people of working class were its members. According to Zernan, KKK appeared in cities after major labor strikes, indicating that KKK functioned as a union. The article cites Virginia Durr, Henry Wallace's Progressive Party running mate in 1948, saying that while KKK has traditionally been considered to be anti-union, in 1920s, KKK was itself a union, an “underground” replacement for the broken union system. Zernan also cites Charles Alexander, author of The Ku Klux Klan in Southwest, who has stated that during his research he was unable to confirm the anti-unionism of KKK. Alexander claims that he was able to find only two instances of violent disputes between KKK and union organizers between 1921 and 1925.
Zernan goes further to argue that the image of anti-labor comes from a wrong perception of KKK members belonging predominantly to middle class. He states that while the leaders of the Klan were mainly middle-class, the majority of its members were blue collar workers, who were treated unfairly in their workplace. Both articles agree that despite their mission KKK used violence as a tool for its goals. Zernan argues that while violence was part of KKK activities, the Klan was associated with much more violent activities then it was responsible for. He states: “Militantly progressive or radical activities have often closely preceded, coincided with, or closely followed strong KKK efforts, and have involved the same participants”. “The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana”, on the other hand, argues that violence has been one of the main characteristics of KKK. The author of “The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana” states that the Klan was firstly an organization of “recently defeated Confederate army”, with ex-Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest, as its leader. The author continues saying that the three main missions of the Klan were “to strike back at the federal Reconstruction government, to put the blacks “back in their place,” and to chase the white carpetbaggers back North”. Hence, the two articles differ in their explanation of Klan’s attitude towards the African Americans. According to Zernan, the mission of the Klan was social change and equality, and though it employed radical methods, it was not directed against the blacks. The article, “The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana”, critically disagrees with this view. It states that whites in the South were convinced that the North was trying to hand the South to the “illiterate blacks”, so in 1860s the Klan was a way how to strike back. The 1920s Klan described by Zernan aroused from a romanticized novel and a movie about the 1860s KKK. The new Klan was a post-war organization that had expanded beyond the initial racist sentiments. The new Klan now saw its mission in protecting America against Catholics, Jews, Socialists, blacks and leaders. Zernan considers the anti-Catholic sentiments as those to have a deeper social meaning arguing that anti-Catholicism was based on the “belief that the Catholic Church was a major obstacle in the struggle for women's suffrage and equality.” So according to Zernan, the Klan was not just irrationally violent towards the Catholicism, but rather saw Catholicism as a hindrance to social equality.
Ku Klux Klan has for centuries been associated with violence, racism and white supremacy. Zernan’s views give an interesting and fresh interpretation to the organization’s mission and ideology.
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