THE FIERY CROSS: The Ku Klux Klan in America by Wyn Craig Wade

THE FIERY CROSS: The Ku Klux Klan in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A history of the Ku Klux Klan from Reconstruction to the present day. Wade (The Titanic: End of a Dream) trods well-covered ground but manages to do so in a vital manner. Typical of his approach is his snappy beginning in which he counters the traditional conception of the Klan as having been born as a reaction to Reconstruction: ""Actually, the Klan had already been born and was active in at least three Southern states before any of the state governments were radically reconstructed."" The name of the organization came from the Greek word for ""circle,"" kuklos. ""Call it kuklux,"" James Crowe suggested, ""and no one will know what it means."" Added John Kennedy: ""And add klan, as we are all of Scotch-Irish descent."" From an early proscription against practical humanitarianism or political activity (the charter obligated members only to ""have fun, make mischief, and play pranks on the public""), the group quickly devolved into an anti-black organization, and within three years, the members initiated a reign of terror. While the Klan is traditionally thought to have weakened the Federal government's resolve to enforce Reconstruction (the government's enforcement activities effectively collapsed in 1873), Wade argues otherwise, demonstrating that the policy would probably have collapsed earlier had it not been for the Klan's incitements. Wade then recounts the strange genius of D.W. Griffith and his groundbreaking The Birth of a Nation that portrayed the Klan as heroes in the Reconstruction South, and he relates how the film gave impetus to the renewed resurgence that led to the Klan's era of greatest influence and membership. In a third section, the author demonstrates how the Klan turned from provincial concerns to court extremist right-wing, anti-communist forces. In a final irony, he tells of John Walker, the Navy spy who, while also being a Klan recruiter, sold military secrets to the Soviets. Modern Klansmen will be hard put to ever recover from the shock, and currently the Klan seems to lay in disarray. But the author warns that as ""an inversion of American democracy,"" the Klan will always ""be around to turn things backward whenever Americans let it."" Spiritual death brought vividly to life.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0195123573
Publisher: Simon & Schuster