Reaction to all the Cultural Change

Traditional society pushed back against the dramatic changes underway in The Twenties. None of the reactionary movements was more troublesome than the rebirth of the KKK. The Klan of The Twenties was a reaction to social and political events of the era. It considered itself the defender of traditional American values against modernity, urbanization, secularization, divorce, immigration, jazz, the flood of immigration from southern and eastern Europe, and the Great Migration of blacks from the rural south to the industrial north because of the need for labor during WW I. It demanded social and cultural conformity.

The renewed Klan was founded in 1915 by a Georgian named Colonel William Joseph Simmons. Simmons, born in 1880 on a farm in Harpersville, Ala., was an itinerant Methodist minister. He established himself as “Imperial Wizard” and created a pamphlet, which he called “The ‘Fiery’ Summons.” The pamphlet featured a drawing of a masked horse and rider in a robe carrying a burning cross with a headline that read “Yesterday Today and Forever.” In Klan propaganda and its 1916 rule book, Simmons said that only “good Christian white people” who believe in racial purity and Protestant morality would save the country from destruction.

The new Klan emphasized its association with “true” Christianity, as compared to Catholic Christianity. Restricting membership to white Protestant Christians, the Klan wore white robes to symbolize “purity,” burned crosses to signify “the Light of Christ” and picked selective scriptures from the Bible to preach white supremacy. Many ministers in Protestant denominations would openly declare their membership in the Klan. And creepy photos would capture Klan members in white hoods standing in churches and sitting in choir pews. In a 1922 article, the New York Times reported “The Ku Klux Klan in the South and West is largely dominated by ‘lame duck’ preachers who could not make it good in the ministry.” (Id.)

In 1921, Simmons testified to Congress that he was a minister in not one church but two. “As a brief introduction, please, I am a churchman and proud of it. I hold the distinction, which I suppose few men hold, and that is I am a member of two churches — the Congregational Church and a full-fledged associate member of the Missionary Baptist Church, given me as an honor,” Simmons told the House Rules Committee, which was investigating the Klan and “the terrible things being done to innocent people” in the South. (Id.)

“Pure Americanism” was the Klan’s motto. It was anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-foreigner, and against anyone who was not Protestant and of Northern European descent. The Klan preached “militant Christianity”. Quoting from the Klan newspaper, The Searchlight: “The Klan is engaged in a Holy Crusade against that which is corrupting and destroying the best in American life.” (America’s Decades, p. 63; Moore, P.191-92)

By 1920 there only a few hundred members in the new Klan. In 1920, Simmons hired a publicist and salesman, Edward Y. Clarke, to invigorate the organization. Clarke developed a membership pitch that emphasized the Klan’s secret rituals – “hocus-pocus and mummery, that lust for secret adventure, which survives in the adult whose lot is cast in drab places.” (Allen, III, 6) By 1924, Klan membership exceed four and half million and dominated political power in Oregon (200,000 members), Oklahoma (200,000), Texas (410,000), Arkansas, Indiana (500,000), Ohio (450,000), and California (200,000). (Id.; America’s Decades, p. 59) In that year, forty percent of all Klan members lived in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. (Streissguth, p.67) By 1923, there were reportedly 3 million members; by 1924 that number had risen to 4 million.

The Klan of The Twenties acted as a moral police squad. Klansmen persecuted those whom they considered guilty of abandoning religion, engaging in sexual promiscuity, or drunkenness. If people violated what the Klan believed to be proper conduct, they were subject to reprisals from the group. At Klan meetings, when members reported their neighbors for offensive activity, the group would decide how they would address the situation. Possible reactions ranged from forced counseling to social ostracism, as for example where local Klan businessmen refused to provide the recalcitrant individual with goods and services, to physical recriminations, such as tar and feathering, or worse. (America’s Decades, pp. 65-67) The Klan worked to enforce Prohibition. It attempted to institute compulsory Bible reading in schools, and it worked to punish those who got divorced. The Ku Klux Klan, in short, was fighting not just to preserve racial homogeneity but to defend its definition of a traditional culture against the values and morals of modern life. (Id.)

During the early 1920s, the Klan helped elect 16 U.S. Senators and many Representatives and local officials. By 1924, when the Klan had reached its peak in numbers and influence, it claimed to control 24 of the nation’s 48 state legislatures. That year it succeeded in blocking the nomination of Al Smith, a New York Catholic, for president at the Democratic National Convention. (Id.; Meacham, p. 122)

The Ku Klux Klan in the early twentieth century saw itself as a fraternal organization with all the trappings of a secret society—handshakes, uniforms, code words, music, etc. Klan lyricists and musicians co-opted traditional Protestant hymns, patriotic songs, folksongs, contemporary popular music, and nursery rhymes into the making of Klan songs. Meanwhile, hundreds of local Klaverns (individual Klan chapters) organized their own vocal and instrumental groups for ceremonies, parades, and general entertainment. Some of these groups, such as the 100% Americans, Detroit Klan Quartette, and the Logansport Ku Klux Klan Quartette, recorded or toured for national audiences, helping the Klan take ownership of these otherwise familiar tunes and use them to promote an agenda of intolerance and exclusion. Co-Opting Christian Chorales: Songs of the Ku Klux Klan |

Official Klan publishing houses and Klan enthusiasts combined to create more than 100 Klan-inspired songbooks, with production values ranging from professional to homemade. While Klan music addressed a number of subjects, patriotism and Klan fraternalism appeared most frequently. John Nelson and Noah Tillery, authors of several Klan songs, expressed both those sentiments in their version of “Mystic City” with the second verse lyrics: “We[’]re united all the klansmen from cities towns and farms, Bound by bonds of klansmanship, Far stronger than bands of steel, For their country’s flag and heritage they die before they yield.”

Klan songbooks contained well-known patriotic songs unaltered. “America” can be found in at least a dozen different Klan songbooks and the national anthem in almost as many. Another popular patriotic song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was included in at least nine Klan songbooks. The Klan exploited traditional Christian hymns as well. “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and “There’s a Long, Long Trail” appeared in several Klan songbooks. Five Klan songbooks included “The Old Rugged Cross” and others reworked it into at least six different versions, such as “The Bright Fiery Cross.” Additionally, the tune was used for 1924’s “Yes Uncle Samuel, We are Coming Ten Million Strong” and 1925’s “The Great Fiery Cross.” “Onward Christian Soldiers” appeared in at least nine Klan songbooks. The same tune demonstrated even greater versatility for the Klan including versions “Onward Christian Klansmen,” “Onward, Christian Klanswomen,” “Onward Ku Klux Klansmen,” and “Onward, Valiant Klansmen.” (See songs setout below.) (Id.)

The Klan’s influence began to evaporate after 1925. For one thing, the Klan suffered from a decline in nativist excitement after passage of severely restrictive immigration laws. Secondly, its willing use of violence tarnished its moral pretensions. And finally, a series of internal power struggles and several scandals discredited some of its most important leaders. In 1922, amid political infighting within the organization, Hiram Wesley Evans, a dentist, replaced Simmons as the group’s Imperial Wizard.

The most damaging episode involved the leader of the Indiana Klan. Grand Dragon David C. Stevenson organized a political machine that for a while dominated Indiana state government by controlling the Republican Party. His political influence collapsed in 1925, however, after he abducted his secretary and forced her on a train to Chicago. While on the train he pulled off her clothes and raped her. The next morning, she tried to kill herself by drinking poison. Stevenson did not take her to the hospital and when she died several weeks later, he was charged with murder. Stevenson was convicted of second-degree murder and received a life sentence in prison. When the governor of Indiana (a Republican who Stevenson had gotten elected) refused to pardon him, Stevenson came forward with evidence that linked many Indiana officials to the Klan and illegal activities. The ‘best people’ of many towns, who had joined what they thought was an agency of reform, now drifted away from the Klan as it was revealed to be a cloak for immorality and corruption.

“Ku Klux Klan”, by Steel Pulse- A black man bemoans an encounter with the KKK;

Walking along just kicking stones
Minding my own business
I come face to face with my foe
Disguised in violence from head to toe
I holler and I bawl (the Ku Klux Klan)
Them no let me go now (the Ku Klux Klan)
To let me go was not dem intention (they say)
One nigga the less
The better the show
Stand strong black skin and take your blow
The Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan
Here to stamp out black man
The Ku Klux Klan

To be taught a lesson not to walk alone
I was waiting for the Good Samaritan
But, but, but waiting was hopeless
It was all in vain
The Ku Klux Klan back again
I holler and I bawl (the Ku Klux Klan)
Them no let me go now (the Ku Klux Klan)
(They say)
One nigga the less
The better the show
Stand strong black skin and take your blow
The Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan
Rape, lynch, kill and maim
Things can’t remain the same you know!

Black man, do unto the Klan
As they would do to you
In this case hate thy neighbor
Those cowards only kill who they fear
That’s why they hide behind
The hoods and cloaks they wear
I holler and I bawl (the Ku Klux Klan)
Dem no let me go (the Ku Klux Klan)
Oh no, oh no
The Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan
Here to stamp out black man
Rape, lynch, kill and maim
Things can’t remain the same you know
No, no, no, no

“Kajun Ku Klux Klan” sung by Johnny Rebel – This is not a 1920s Klan song, but one that references later events of the Civil Rights era (1960s); nevertheless it reflects attitudes prevalent in the Klan of the 1920s. The lyrics are harsh and might be offensive to some, but they are reality.

You niggers listen now
I’m gonna tell you how
To keep from getting torchered
When the Klan is on the prowl

Stay at home at night
And lock your doors up tight
Don’t go outside or else you’ll find
Those crosses-a-burnin’ bright

Now I know you won’t believe me
So I’m gonna tell you why
The Kajun Ku Klux Klan
Is gonna get you by and by
I’m warnin’ you that when I’m through
You’re gonna change your tune
This story’s ’bout a nigger
His name was Levi Coon

He walked into a cafe
He thought he’d get a bite
He thought that they would serve him
Since they passed the civil rights

The waitress told him no
And that he’d better go
He said, “No ma’am, my Uncle Sam say
I don’t have to go.”

So he sat there in that cafe
Bein’ stubborn as a mule
No matter what she said
He wouldn’t get up off that stool

He sat there like a jackass
Said, “I’m gonna demonstrate.
I came in here to eat, and
I ain’t leavin’ ’til I’ve ate.”

The waitress had enough
She said, “I’ll call your bluff.”
She said, “If we can’t treat you right
We’ll have to treat you rough.”

The phone was in her hands
She gave him one more chance
He wouldn’t go, and so she called
The Kajun Ku Klux Klan

When he saw them cajuns comin’
Levi knew it was too late
His eyes popped out his head
And his kinky hair got straight

He said, “Oh lousy white folks
I didn’t mean a thing.
Why did I have to listen
To that demonstrator King?”

Now niggers understand
They tied up both his hands
He was at the mercy of
The Kajun Ku Klux Klan

I knew just what they’d do
Levi knew it too
I knew what kind of torture
They would put that nigger through

Now the moral of this story
As plain as it can be
Niggers mind your business
And let us white folks be

You’d better heed my warnin’
And try to understand
Don’t you demonstrate
Around the Kajun Ku Klux Klan

The following songs are found in the Klan Songbooks referenced above. Many do not have recordings; however they follow well-known music, so they will be recognizable.

“Klan Song” – This song is relevant to some of the goals of the KKK which included putting a rest to divorces, adultery, the support of Prohibition and the opposition of criminal gangs because the lyrics say that KKK wanted to “save our Christian land” and ” serve our homeland day and night”,

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

We are a sacred brotherhood, who love our country too. We always can be counted on, when there’s a job to do.

We serve our homeland day and night, to keep it always free. Proudly wear our robes of White, protecting liberty.

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

Survival cause for vigilance, the symbols of our land.

The sword and water, robe and hood, betrayed our noble plan.

In search for peace and liberty, we pledge our hearts in hands. We must defeat the communists to save our Christian land.

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man! Stand up and be counted go with the Ku Klux Klan!

“The Bright Fiery Cross” – words by Alvia O. DeRee, music: George Bennard. Indianapolis Klansman Alvia O. DeRee adapted new words to the traditional hymn “The Old Rugged Cross”. This song, often referred to as “Our Song”, became the most popular KKK song of its time. Sheet music for the parlor was reprinted throughout the 1920s, and the song was recorded in the KKK recording studios of the era. Old records are available, but no recordings. Sheet music is available via the Levy Sheet Music Collection.

Verse 1
Over all the U.S.A., the fiery cross we display;
The emblem of Klansmen’s domain,
We’ll be forever true to the Red, White, and Blue,
And Americans always remain.

So, I’ll cherish the Bright Fiery Cross,
Till from my duties at last I lay down;
Then burn for me a Bright Fiery Cross,
The day I am laid in the ground.

Verse 2
To the bright fiery cross, I will ever be true;
All blame and reproach gladly bear;
And friendship will show to each Klansman I know;
Its glory forever we’ll share.


Verse 3
Oh, the bright fiery cross, despised by a few,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
And when I leave here some day, for my home far away,
May a bright Fiery Cross beam for me.


“Mystic City”, words and music: John M. Nelson and Noah F. Tillery; “Mystic City” was one of the most widely distributed songs of the KKK in the 1920s. Harry F. Windle first published the sheet music in 1922, and the song was so popular, it was republished multiple times through the decade. Multiple singing groups recorded this tune, often placing it on the B side of recordings of “The Bright Fiery Cross.”

Verse 1
Lived there in the mystic city of the empire that’s unseen
A grand and noble wizard who once had a wondrous dream.
In this dream he saw Old Glory and the cause of liberty
Being supplanted by a people who had come across the sea,
Bringing with them flags and customs belonging to primeval lands
To affix and plant them firmly in this, our native land.

Klansmen, Klansmen, of the Ku Klux Klan,
Protestant, gentile, native-born man,
Hooded, knighted, robed and true,
Royal sons of the Red, White, and Blue,
Owing no allegiance we are born free,
To God and Old Glory we bend our knee,
Sublime lineage written in history sands,
Weird, mysterious Ku Klux Klan.

Verse 2
With a sudden start, he wakened, opened wide his seeing eyes,
Crying, “Room for one flag only underneath American skies!”
Then the fiery cross, he lighted and from that symbolic charm
Were united all the Klansmen from cities, towns, and farms,
Bound by bonds of Klansmenship are stronger than bonds of steel
For their country’s flag and heritage, they would die before they yield.

Chorus repeated twice


“Battle Hymn”, author unknown, to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, no recordings available. One example is found in a songbook called A-T-L-A-N-T-I-C County for the Klan, published circa 1923. In this book, hymns such as “Christ Arose” and “How Firm a Foundation” are found alongside KKK parodies “The Bright Fiery Cross” and “Battle Hymn.”)

Verse 1
There’s a mighty organization
Of an empire that’s unseen;
Sweeping over all the nation
Neath the fiery cross’ beam.
With a pure and noble purpose
They are bound to make men free
If they go marching on.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
While the Klan goes marching on.

Verse 2
They have sounded forth a trumpet
With a blast that’s loud and long;
Calling Protestants together
Who have hearts brave and strong.
Oh! The swift dear souls to answer.
Join this great and happy throng,
As they go marching on.


Verse 3
We must watch our immigration
We must watch our White House door,
We must watch our public school house
As we never did before.
We must keep our church doors open;
And the cross of Christ adore,
And with God go marching on.