America, 2017. We have a vociferous and angry Christian Right, an ongoing and increasingly heated cultural argument over who is truly American and who is not, and a government campaign to close the borders and deport the unwanted. We have a resurgent white supremacy movement (neo-Nazis and all) that is definitely not – as we saw in Charlottesville – hiding in the shadows at the margins of American life.
Close your eyes, and you could imagine that it is the early 1920s. One of the most significant features of American life in those years was the inescapable, powerful presence of what historians refer to as the Second Ku Klux Klan. This KKK was both connected to and distinct from the First Ku Klux Klan, which was based in the post-Civil War South and had as its goal to terrorize African Americans into not exercising their newly-won rights as American citizens.
The 1920s Klan expanded its list of enemies beyond African Americans to include immigrants, Jews, and Catholics. The Second KKK also expanded its reach beyond the South. In fact, the white-robed Klansmen with their fiery crosses and hateful rhetoric seemed to be everywhere in the early 1920s. Very strong in the Midwest and West, some historians have estimated that at its peak the KKK had five million members (that is, 4% of the total population of the US.)
In the 1920s Dayton, Ohio was a Klan hotbed, and the University of Dayton (UD) was a particular Klan target. But as was the case at the University of Notre Dame and at Regis University (CO), UD students fought back. For more on this, check out Bill’s piece on UD’s College of Arts and Sciences blog: “The KKK and UD in the 1920s.”
Oh, and it is worth noting that in August 2017 University of Virginia students and faculty resisted the invasion of white supremacists. Deja vu all over the place.