Immigration in America, Ku Klux Klan membership: 1840-1940

by Cindy Alexander, Lake Forest High School, Illinois

The following charts are presented in the book The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930 by Kenneth T. Jackson. The first chart represents the states with the highest recorded membership in the Klan during this time period. The approximate numbers are based on the estimates of former members, media reporters, and Klan documents. The second two charts provide a comparison between Klan members’ occupations in Winchester, IL, and Chicago, IL, during the years 1922-1923. This information comes from publication of Klan membership in an anti-Klan newspaper in Chicago called Tolerance. This information provides insight into the Klan’s role as a nativist organization and the characteristics of the organization specifically during this time period. Use the charts to answer the following questions.

States with Largest Ku Klux Klan Membership: 1915-1944
State No. of Persons Initiated into State Klan
Indiana 240,000
Ohio 195,000
Texas 190,000
Pennsylvania 150,000
Illinois 95,000
Oklahoma 95,000
New York 80,000
Michigan 70,000
Georgia 65,000
New Jersey 60,000
Florida 60,000

Occupational Distribution of Klansmen in Winchester, Illinois
White-Collar Workers Blue-Collar Workers
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Clerks 13 7.2 Farmers 74 41.1
Businessmen 7 3.9 Laborers 33 18.3
Ministers 6 3.3 Mechanics 6 3.3
Salesmen 3 1.7 Telephone 5 2.8
Chiropractors 3 1.7 Carpenters 4 2.2
Politicians 3 1.7 Barbers 3 1.7
Teachers 3 1.7 Blacksmiths 2 1.1
Physicians 2 1.1 Miners 2 1.1
Druggists 1 0.6 Painters 2 1.1
Undertakers 1 0.6 Printers 1 1.1
Dentists 1 0.6 Hodmen 1 .06
Bookkeepers 1 0.6 Railroad 1 .06
Lawyers 1 0.6
Professors 1 0.6
Total 46 25.6 Total 134 74.4

Occupational Distribution of Klansmen in Chicago, Illinois
White-Collar Workers Blue-Collar Workers
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Businessmen 22 20.0 Foremen 8 7.3
Salesmen 13 11.8 R.R. workers 7 6.2
Clerks 10 9.1 Printers 4 3.7
Lawyers 5 4.6 Firemen 3 2.7
Physicians 2 1.8 Unskilled 3 2.7
Dentists 2 1.8 Postmen 3 2.7
Buyers 2 1.8 Electricians 2 1.8
Store Mgrs 2 1.8 Truck Drivers 2 1.8
Realtors 2 1.8 Motormen 2 1.8
City Employ. 2 1.8 Policemen 1 .09
Administrators 1 .09 Guards 1 .09
Undertakers 1 .09 Factory Wks 1 .09
Office Mgrs 1 .09 Painters 1 .09
Engineers 1 .09 Carpenters 1 .09
Musicians 1 .09 Stage Mgrs 1 .09
Steel Workers 1 .09
Bakers 1 .09
Plumbers 1 .09
Total 67 60.8 Total 43 38.8

Source: Jackson, Kenneth T. The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930. Oxford University Press, 1967.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Was the KKK of the 1920’s primarily a Southern movement? Explain.
  2. Considering the historical context of this time period and the years preceding it, what are the causes for the growth of KKK membership in areas outside of the South? Explain your viewpoint fully.
  3. Compare and contrast the two charts of Klan members’ occupations in Winchester and Chicago. What are the differences between membership in rural and urban areas?
  4. Does the information presented in the charts challenge your stereotypes of the KKK? Explain.
  5. Considering the data presented here and what you know of the historical period, what would you suggest as possible strategies for fighting the spread of the Klan in the 1920’s? Explain why you think those strategies would be successful.

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KKK lesson

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