Updated: Jun 19, 2019
It was 1923. World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars, was over; Prohibition was getting underway; and the 1920s were beginning to roar. It was also the second era of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, which was beginning to increase its activity in a big way. This infamous organization was held together by secret oaths and member anonymity assured by robes, masks, and conical hats. It was formed around the time of the Civil War when slavery was being abolished and many held on to the theory that whites, especially those who came from northern Europe were superior to people of color or religions that they did not support. Most KKK members were Protestant, so non-whites, Jews, Catholics, and other religions were enemies of the KKK. The Klan used violence and threats against people who did not take their oath and promote their values. They included murder, often by lynching, in their repertoire of disdainful acts.
In the 1920s, there was a wave of immigration into the US, mainly from Europe, and the KKK and others were concerned that some of the immigrants were not white or of their religion. These immigrants, in their view, represented a threat to America. It became a time of anti-immigration. President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Immigration Act of 1924, which restricted southern Europeans and Asians from emigrating to America. While not explicitly stating it, the law also supported the beliefs of the KKK who desired our nation to become a white, so-called Aryan race. The government especially encouraged immigration from the British Isles, Germany, and Scandinavia, which kept out people from what some called “inferior” races and religious sects. The theory that northern European whites were superior became known as Nordicism, and it was embraced by the KKK. The Ku Klux Klan supported white nationalism, Prohibition, and upholding Christian values. Today, virtually all Christian denominations denounce the KKK’s views as antithetical to Christian beliefs.
The rise of opposition groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) brought the names of many of the people behind the KKK masks to public attention. These listings and the increasing violence by the robed marauders led to the decline of the organization in the 1930s.
The 1915 silent film, Birth of a Nation, is said to have fueled the second era of the KKK. It promoted Klan values and portrayed black people as unintelligent and abusive toward women. It was both highly controversial and financially successful.
The third era of the KKK arose after World War II and continues today in a more localized and isolated way. In recent years, they have opposed the Civil Rights Movement and continue to promote white nationalism. Today there are also other so-called hate groups who promote white supremacy but are not associated with the KKK.
A Funeral in Blawenburg
In November, 1923, the KKK visited Blawenburg. A former resident had died, and, according to an article in the New York Times on November 28, 1923, had been buried in Blawenburg Cemetery the previous day. He had a traditional graveside service led by a pastor from Warren, NJ. What happened next is best told by the Times article: