One of Gordon's tasks is to show that the 1920s we think we knowa Gatsbyan bacchanal of speakeasies, flappers and mob hitswas just an urban, coastal bubble. For most Americans, it would appear, the decade was more like something out of
Babbitt or Elmer Gantry: a country turned inward against the world, small-minded and cruel. A country in which the Klan and its valuesso-called Americanism, xenophobia, white nationalism and patriarchywere the norm…They say the job of an anthropologist is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar, and something similar goes for the historian. I can think of few books that accomplish this task as well as Gordon's: In her telling, the second Klan is at once utterly bizarre and undeniably American. The 2010s may not be the 1920s, but for anyone concerned with our present condition, The Second Coming of the KKK should be required reading.
The New York Times Book Review - Clay Risen
Gordon (Impounded), professor of history at NYU and two-time Bancroft Prize winner, delves into the cultural and societal conditions that led to the resurgence of the KKK during the 1920s. The work is explicitly informed by the 21st-century rise of conservative populism in America, but Gordon largely leaves direct comparisons with contemporary politics to her readers. She argues that the Klan in the 1920s was a mainstream manifestation of persistent currents in American history that are often dormant but surface periodically. While rejecting the KKK’s philosophy, Gordon acknowledges the effectiveness of the Klan’s leaders at recruitment and translating their corresponding political power into legislation consistent with their philosophy, specifically antimiscegenation laws and immigration restrictions. Among the strategies she describes is the appeal to a number of American ideological strains: racism, nativism, temperance, fraternalism, and Christian evangelicalism. Recruiters were given pyramidlike economic incentives, and there was widespread use of propaganda and demagoguery to create the perception of threats to white supremacy. Gordon also provides insights into the surprising effectiveness and independence of the women’s auxiliaries to the exclusively male KKK. This clear-eyed analysis illuminates the character and historic power of America’s own “politics of resentment.” (Oct.)
Between 1915 and 1926, the second Ku Klux Klan (KKK) attracted millions of members with many more sympathetic to their views and goals. Exploding from the Klan's original stronghold of the American South, another group flourished in the North, where members were elected and held sway at all levels of government, including governors' mansions, state representatives, and Congress. Historian Gordon (history, New York Univ.; Dorothea Lange) traces the influence of what she calls the six ancestors of the second Klan: the first Klan, nativism, temperance, fraternalism, Christian evangelicalism, and populism. These ancestors led the Klan to favor issues, both conservative and liberal, all in support of what was called "100 percent Americanism." The author argues that the Klan was not a uniquely American phenomenon, but one that shared much with the rise of fascist organizations in Europe in 1920s and 1930s. Some of the forces that gave rise to the second KKK have waned in influence today, such as fraternal societies; others, such as populism and nationalism, remain potent and support both left and right-wing movements. VERDICT Essential for anyone interested in how American society and politics of the 1920s have impacted the present.—Chad E. Statler, Lakeland Comm. Coll., Kirtland, OH
An award-winning historian of social movements examines the unlikely rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the North after World War I, underscoring the organization's ideas that "echo again today."Among those ideas were white supremacy, Christian evangelicalism, suspicion of elites, anti-intellectualism, fear of immigrants, and a conviction that American values were under dire threat. Gordon (Humanities and History/New York Univ. Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, 2009, etc.), the winner of two Bancroft Prizes, argues persuasively that the Klan was visible and respected, drawing its membership from the middle class. "In many areas," she writes, "Klan membership brought prestige" and "community status." Like other contemporary fraternal organizations, such as the Masons and Rotarians, the Klan fostered "male bonding through brotherhood and ritual." Elaborate and arcane rituals involved "Klan water," purchased from the organization's national headquarters, "where it was made sacred, like holy water." Membership required learning an intricate vocabulary of rank. The Imperial Wizard reigned over three Great Klaliffs, the Great Klabee, the Great Kligrapp, the Great Kludd, and the Great Night-Hawk, and "chapters were known as Klaverns, each headed by an Exalted Cyclops." New members were "naturalized" at a Klonversation, and the officers of a Klavern were known, tellingly, as Terrors. The Klan was funded through initiation fees, dues, and a pyramid scheme, whereby recruiters worked on commission; the Klan also sold costumes and memorabilia. A member could buy "a zircon-studded Fiery Cross" as a brooch for his wife. Gordon examines in particular Klan popularity in Portland, Oregon, once a bastion of racism, and the attraction of the organization to at least half a million women, many of whom were active in other reform groups, such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In the late 1920s, the Klan was beset by infighting, money troubles, and scandals that exposed leaders' hypocrisy and misbehavior. Its appeal diminished, and membership dwindled. But as the author amply shows, its fearful, angry spirit lives on. A revealing, well-researched—and, unfortunately, contemporarily relevant—investigation of the KKK's wide support in the 1920s.
Set aside your preconceptions about the Klan, from the era of Reconstruction. As the distinguished historian Linda Gordon demonstrates in this chilling account, the KKK of the 1920s was urban, northern, and modern. Its wizards and dragons used the latest tools of mass advertising to spread their message of ‘true Americanism’: racial purity, religious intolerance, and opposition to immigration. Its members, one in six of whom were women, favored women’s suffrage. Its campaign of terror ended not long after it began, but it left on American politics its dark mark.
The Second Coming of the KKK reminds us that we Americans bid good riddance to serial aberrations in the civic and social life of our republic repeatedly, only to learn that these phenomena are as American as apple pie. Gordon’s timely, crisply written, indispensable primer helps explain why another aberration is now upon us.”
A first-rate historian can show us the past in a way that clarifies the present. That’s what Linda Gordon does here…[
The Second Coming of the KKK] reminds us that the sentiments that powered the reprise of the Klan have never been entirely absent from American life, and cannot be understood as an aberrant strain that might be entirely eliminated from the national character.”
An excellent historical treatment of an almost forgotten yet very dangerous period of hate in America. What a history lesson for today’s electorate.
At once thoughtful, fair, and deeply troubling,
The Second Coming of the KKK exhibits the analytical wisdom of a master historian who sharply reminds us that popular mass mobilizations can be instruments of depredation.”
"This clear-eyed analysis illuminates the character and historic power of America's own 'politics of resentment.'" Publishers Weekly
A must-read for anyone wondering over the last several months how we ended up as a countrywith the first African-American president not even a year out of officefacing a group of golf shirt-wearing young white men marching onto the campus of a prestigious university carrying torches and chanting ‘Jews will not replace us” . . . . Gordon documents not only the mechanics of how the Ku Klux Klan roared back to power, both socially and politically, in the 1920s but why. The parallels between then and now, branding differences aside, could not be more evident. To say it one more time for those who wish it weren’t so, the past isn’t dead and it’s not even past; and those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it. . . . Histories like Gordon’s should help Americans understand the roots of these toxic ideologies, as well as the circumstances that help them flourish, in order to better spot them when they sprout.
The Second Coming of the KKK illustrates how the 1920s reboot of the Ku Klux Klan was regarded as rather ordinary and respectable, much like today's efforts to make everyday racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism acceptable again. . . With the help of a couple of savvy public relations pros, Klan membership spread like wildfire, enveloping Northerners and Westerners in love with the idea of defining themselves by what they were not.”
Gordon is a thorough and perceptive historian . . . There’s more to
The Second Coming of the KKK than grim déja vu. There are lessons too.”
Randy Dotinga - Christian Science Monitor
Sharply argued. . . . [Gordon] encourages readers to draw bold lines between the political milieu of the Second Klan and our current predicament.
Todd Moye - Texas Observer
The Klan of the 1920s, less violent but far more wide¬spread, is a different story, and offers some chilling comparisons to the present day. . . A thoughtful explanation of the Klan’s appeal in the fast-urbanizing America of the 1920s, which was leaving behind an earlier nation based, in imagined memory, on self-sufficient yeoman farmers, proud blue-collar workers, and virtuous small-town businessmen, all of them going to the same white-steepled church on Sunday.
Adam Hoschschild - New York Review of Books