Some Light Reading
September 18, 2007 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Hatred and Profits: Getting Under the Hood of the Ku Klux Klan (50 page pdf). Steven Levitt, of freakonomics fame, along with Roland Fryer, has just released a new academic paper that assesses the rise and fall of the KKK from a variety of perspectives. From one of the authors ...It details the rise and fall of the Klan in the 1920s. Incredibly, the Klan had millions of members at that time, and most of them were reasonably well-educated. Based on a variety of data sources, we argue that, despite its size and education levels, the group nevertheless had little measurable impact on society or politics...
posted by jourman2 (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
d-squared's take.

"Perhaps the most limiting feature of our data is that we were unable to obtain any records on Klan members or activities in the Deep South.


Also, his Freakonomics series 1 2 3 4.
posted by bonecrusher at 5:38 PM on September 18, 2007

despite its size and education levels, the group nevertheless had little measurable impact on society or politics...

Yeah, well, tell that to the strange fruit.
posted by Malor at 6:12 PM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Russian KKK?
posted by tellurian at 6:41 PM on September 18, 2007

Malor: Pages 21-24 specifically address your concern. Are you interested in the content of the paper?

I love Billie as much as the next guy, but this article seems to suggest that the KKK may be a bit of a bogeyman with respect to your aforementioned "strange fruit."
posted by anomie at 8:54 PM on September 18, 2007

Malor, the second era of the Klan began just as the second era of lynching was dying off. So you tell me how successful they were. In fact, the Klan may not have been responsible for even a majority of lynchings during the 20th century.

This is a reflection of a number of things, including both the Great Migration to the north and the overall stability of the Jim Crow legal structure up through the 1960s (with a significant decline beginning after World War II). The "new" Klan could be all about social (soft) control and thereby attract the average middle-class white-collar man, with open meetings, socials, and newspaper stories listing names. In this era the Klan was much closer in spirit to the 19th-century secret societies, which became the social clubs of the 20th century (the Odd Fellows, the Shriners, the Moose ...). That's how they got millions of members, by moderating their stance and activities.

Even so, chip by chip the Jim Crow foundation was being eaten away by the courts and Congress, and the social order of the South was changing away from the plantation/sharecrop agriculture model. By 1968 all that was left was George Wallace and the American Independent Party. In this context, no wonder the Klan imploded: they lost, big-time.
posted by dhartung at 9:24 PM on September 18, 2007

One of the more interesting claims, at least to me, was that the KKK was as much or more about making money for its officers as it was about spreading racial hatred/keeping "unwanted" folks away. According to the paper, in a time when the average American made $8000 in the leader of the Indiana Klan took home $2.4 million, with another $4 million going to the national leader and the various Indiana "salesmen" making around $300,000. All of those figures are in 2006 dollars. That's a lot of dues and sheets.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 10:15 PM on September 18, 2007

Then again, DC Stephenson running the Indiana Klan could have something to do with those profits.
posted by RobbieFal at 10:57 PM on September 18, 2007

What's the point of this paper? The only things that really seem to come out are that the Klan made a lot of money and that its members were relatively well off.

I don't buy any of their analysis about the politcal power of the Klan. Politics is far to complicated to be simplified down to a simple number like vote share. This is a particularly wrongheaded sentiment,

Many historians have presented these anecdotes as prima facie evidence that the Klan had an important impact on the political scene. Here we attempt a more rigorous, quantitative approach.

Even though you can't measure them statistically, the fact that many key politicians were open about their Klan connections is a far more significant and interesting fact than the calculations done in this paper.
posted by afu at 1:42 AM on September 19, 2007

The biggest problem with the KKK is that it distracted everyone from the actual work of integrating slaves into the population: education and employment.

As long as we keep thinking about marches and hoopla, we won't see the money. It's all about the money. Which brings us to the pyramid scheme underlying the K. Ah, money!
posted by ewkpates at 3:17 AM on September 19, 2007

This is not news. Check out Black Legion (1937). One of the giveaway scenes is of the two organizers laughing at the rubes for paying good money for the hood and decoder ring.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:59 AM on September 19, 2007

Perhaps the most limiting feature of our data is that we were unable to obtain any records on Klan members or activities in the Deep South.

What goes unmentioned in the paper is that historian Nancy MacLean wrote Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan based on records from the KKK in Athens, Georgia. That's at least one case of records from a Southern chapter of the KKK that go completely unexplored by Levitt.
posted by jonp72 at 7:30 AM on September 19, 2007

Daniel Davies makes some pretty solid attacks on this paper here.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:00 AM on September 19, 2007

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