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 StateSee all reviews...
“As this new history points out, the Klan was an example of ‘religious nationalism’ that tried to preserve the political power and cultural identity of one religious tradition. . . . While this book covers much familiar territory, it contains many original insights and evaluations that make it an important contribution to historical studies and deserving of a wide audience.”
—Voice of Reason
“Baker provides readers with the most detailed study of the early-20th-century Klan’s religious concepts and practices to date. Her suggestion that the Klan’s intertwining of nationalism and religion makes it part of the lineage of the American Right is particularly provocative, and sure to stimulate some heated discussion.”
“A brave new book. . . . Baker has exposed something about American cultural history that many of us may not wish to see: namely, that both religion and mainstream society participate in the ugly, even violent, side of American nationalism.”
“Enriches our understanding of the Klan and, while building on the extensive research of others, suggests new directions for future scholarship of the hood order.”
“An original and sobering work. In the present age, when we may no longer pretend that the lines between violent fanaticism and religious fervor are clearly discernible, this book makes a timely and urgent intervention. Hatred may have more to do with religion than we care to acknowledge.”
—David Morgan, author of Protestants and Pictures: Religion, Visual Culture, and the Age of American Mass Production
“An important contribution to Klan scholarship that gives sustained attention to the centrality of Protestant Christianity in the construction of the movements identity.”
—Rory McVeigh, author of The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National PoliticsSee fewer reviews...
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.