The Ku Klux Klan

by on September 16, 2007 at 1:54 pm in History | Permalink

Here is the abstract from the new Roland Fryer and Steve Levitt paper:

The Ku Klux Klan reached its heyday in the mid-1920s, claiming millions
of members.  In this paper, we analyze the 1920s Klan, those who joined
it, and the social and political impact that it had.  We utilize a wide
range of newly discovered data sources including information from Klan
membership roles, applications, robe-order forms, an internal audit of
the Klan by Ernst and Ernst, and a census that the Klan conducted after
an internal scandal.  Combining these sources with data from the 1920
and 1930 U.S. Censuses, we find that individuals who joined the Klan
were better educated and more likely to hold professional jobs than the
typical American.  Surprisingly, we find few tangible social or
political impacts of the Klan.  There is little evidence that the Klan
had an effect on black or foreign born residential mobility, or on
lynching patterns.  Historians have argued that the Klan was successful
in getting candidates they favored elected.  Statistical analysis,
however, suggests that any direct impact of the Klan was likely to be
small.  Furthermore, those who were elected had little discernible
effect on legislation passed.  Rather than a terrorist organization, the
1920s Klan is best described as a social organization built through a
wildly successful pyramid scheme fueled by an army of
highly-incentivized sales agents selling hatred, religious intolerance,
and fraternity in a time and place where there was tremendous demand.

I find this interpretation plausible; for many (evil) people, evil is downright fun, especially if you are bored in the first place.  Both Donnie Brasco and The Sopranos capture aspects of this equation.

Google does not generate a non-gated version, let us know in the comments if I missed one.

Keith September 16, 2007 at 2:17 pm

“I find this interpretation plausible; for many (evil) people, evil is downright fun, especially if you are bored in the first place.”

In my case, introspection confirms that.

Rob J. September 16, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Here’s a copy from Roland Fryer’s homepage.

dug September 16, 2007 at 4:17 pm

selling hatred, religious intolerance, and fraternity in a time and place where there was tremendous demand.

In other words, a taste for discrimination without any objective benefits. Surprise!

Now, let’s see if the usual suspects try to argue that actually it was all rational and objective and to the members’ advantage (because they can never admit racism exists and must always find alternative rational / evolutionary expectations for plain old bigotry).

Jim Harper September 16, 2007 at 6:16 pm

Assumedly, the authors studied Klan membership rolls, not “roles.”

Gray Lensman September 16, 2007 at 7:09 pm

My mother was raised on a “plantation” in eastern Louisiana in the 20′s and 30′s. She always told me her father was a klan leader in the area, but that she didn’t think he harmed anyone. She told about the klan taking food and clothing to any sharecropper families who had someone ill or were burned out. They wore the garb but no one could mistake my grandfather’s black mare so they didn’t fool anyone. My mother said my grandfather took good care of the sharecroppers on his farm, paying them first when the crops were sold, etc. She grew up with the black kids around her and considered them like cousins if not brothers and sisters. I often witnessed her real affection for the folks she grew up with and theirs for her.

I’m not proud of this history and I certainly don’t know everything about the situation, but just suggest that the effects of Reconstruction lasted a long time in the deep south. Good men did things we wouldn’t approve of today.

Scott Wood September 16, 2007 at 9:17 pm

Hmm, should we be surprised that Klan members were better educated, and more likely to be professionals, than the average person, given what we know about radical Muslim terrorists today?

Steve Sailer September 16, 2007 at 11:20 pm

In other words, for the last half century, the media has vastly overstated the historical importance of the KKK, probably for demonological purposes. Human beings love to hate somebody, and the KKK has represented the new Satan.

And for fundraising, too — the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, has become a legend in direct marketing industry circles for the vast amount of money it has extracted from elderly liberals by endlessly alarming them that the Cossacks are about to ride again in the form of the KKK, which for the last several decades has largely consisted of undercover agents (no doubt some of them agent provocateurs).

NE1 September 17, 2007 at 1:43 am

Don’t refresh. Don’t press back. Click only once. If you are doing all this, then I apologize, and have no clue why the double posts. You’d think there’d be a doublepost filter these days. More important, why is the same CAPTCHA valid twice?

dsquared September 17, 2007 at 7:08 am

it should be noted that the paper uses data from Pennsylvania and Indiana – although both of these states had high levels of Klan membership (and political influence in Indiana) there has to be a question about whether you can draw conclusions about the whole Klan from these two Northern states. The authors actually say:

“Perhaps the most limiting feature of our data is that we were unable to obtain any records
on Klan members or activities in the Deep South.”

which I think could perhaps be entered for the Caveat Of The Year Show.

(also, I think that using the percentage change in the Republican vote as your proxy for the political influence of the Klan is really begging a hell of a lot of important questions and doesn’t convince at all).

spencer September 17, 2007 at 10:54 am

dsquared has a good comment. In the 1920s the republicans were still the liberal party when it came to race.

Chris Durnell September 17, 2007 at 1:30 pm

It’s important to note that the Klan is not the same institution when you talk about the KKK in different years. The 1870s clan was clearly a terrorist organization, but it was destroyed by the Grant administration.

The 1920s Klan revived the name, but it was more of a social networking organization. The Klan benefited from the backlash against World War I and portrayed itself as an American patriotic organization against the corrupting influences of foreigners. But as Ray said, that the Klan was successful in being mainstream is indicative of how racist the 1920s were.

The 1920s Klan fell apart because of its financial ponzi scheme aspects, the great scandals of certain members – especially in Indiana – and the growing power of America’s Catholic community and its integration into the American mainstream. When it was no longer able to appear respectable, its members departed – but they all probably had the exact same mentality before, during, and after they were Klan members.

The Klan of the post civil rights era is another beast altogether. A fringe organization, while despicable, is mostly harmless due to its lack of influence. They are all linked, but are different.

dsquared September 17, 2007 at 3:45 pm

The Indiana Klan was very active in the Republican Party, but it wasn’t a “get the vote out” organisation – it did its work in the Republicans’ committees and primaries. In any case, surely the influence of the Klan could potentially have the effect of *losing* votes by forcing Indiana Republicans into unpopular extreme positions on Klan issues (in particular, anti-saloon measures). My complaint about regressing Klan membership on county-level Republican vote share is that I just don’t understand what it’s measuring at all.

steve September 18, 2007 at 11:19 am

The authors discussion of the effects of the Klan on black migration are particularly bizzare. They exclude all the states blacks were migrating from, and most of the states they were migrating to. There is not doubt the Klan had a substantial impact on migration. Landowners, factory owners, mill owners in the South all leaned on and pled with the Klan not to chase away their labor force.

bill September 18, 2007 at 7:27 pm

Yeah, I think those researchers kind of missed the boat with this new study of theirs. Maybe they showed the northern clan was pretty toothless. But order forms and voting records don’t show how many crimes went unreported and how many people were intimidated into not voting.

shawn September 19, 2007 at 1:17 am

ray….love your blog motto as well…my grammar nazi, however, can’t get over the lack of an apostrophe. ;) “my mind’s made up…”

black killa January 29, 2008 at 1:36 pm

dem niggers can die

doll February 19, 2008 at 11:02 am

excuse me… the klan was terrible were all the same no matter if u paint urself purple or green we all have wewe’s and ears and noses WERE THE DAMN SAME u just justify a person if there ghetto, punk, emo, gothic, thug

Beven June 16, 2008 at 6:30 am

this is a shit essay

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