Gospel According to the Klan

The KKK's Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930

Kelly J. Baker

Choice Outstanding Academic Title

To many Americans, modern marches by the Ku Klux Klan may seem like a throwback to the past or posturing by bigoted hatemongers. To Kelly Baker, they are a reminder of how deeply the Klan is rooted in American mainstream Protestant culture.

“[An] unconventional yet informative history of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. . . . [Still,] the book has value for both students of the Klan and scholars seeking the roots of modern conservatism, and the University Press of Kansas should be applauded for extending its reach.

—Journal of American History

“Baker looks at the second Ku Klux Klan, which arose in 1915 and virtually disappeared by 1930, as a religious organization. What results is her interpretation of how the KKK fits into U.S. religious history and, particularly, how the Protestant faith drew members to the Ku Klux Klan and shaped its conceptions of race, gender, and nation. . . . In an afterword that illustrates the contemporary significance of this book, Baker considers a photodocumentary of a seamstress who makes Klan robes by hand, the planned burning of two hundred Korans by a Florida pastor, and the emergence of the Tea Party political movement to argue that the religious nationalism and white supremacy of the KuKlux Klan continue to exist in present. As in the past, these Klan ideals find acceptance not only among those who don white robes, asserts Baker, but also among mainstream society. That is the most important lesson of her work.

—Journal of Church and State
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Most studies of the KKK dismiss it as an organization of racists attempting to intimidate minorities and argue that the Klan used religion only as a rhetorical device. Baker contends instead that the KKK based its justifications for hatred on a particular brand of Protestantism that resonated with mainstream Americans, one that employed burning crosses and robes to explicitly exclude Jews and Catholics.

To show how the Klan used religion to further its agenda of hate while appealing to everyday Americans, Kelly Baker takes readers back to its "second incarnation" in the 1920s. During that decade, the revived Klan hired a public relations firm that suggested it could reach a wider audience by presenting itself as a "fraternal Protestant organization that championed white supremacy as opposed to marauders of the night." That campaign was so successful that the Klan established chapters in all forty-eight states.

Baker has scoured official newspapers and magazines issued by the Klan during that era to reveal the inner workings of the order and show how its leadership manipulated religion, nationalism, gender, and race. Through these publications we see a Klan trying to adapt its hate-based positions with the changing times in order to expand its base by reaching beyond a narrowly defined white male Protestant America.

This engrossing expos looks closely at the Klan's definition of Protestantism, its belief in a strong relationship between church and state, its notions of masculinity and femininity, and its views on Jews and African Americans. The book also examines in detail the Klan's infamous 1924 anti-Catholic riot at Notre Dame University and draws alarming parallels between the Klan's message of the 1920s and current posturing by some Tea Party members and their sympathizers.

Analyzing the complex religious arguments the Klan crafted to gain acceptability—and credibility—among angry Americans, Baker reveals that the Klan was more successful at crafting this message than has been credited by historians. To tell American history from this startling perspective demonstrates that some citizens still participate in intolerant behavior to protect a fabled white Protestant nation.

About the Author

Kelly J. Baker is the editor of Women in Higher Education.

Additional Titles in the CultureAmerica Series