The 1920s Texas Ku Klux Klan Revisited: White Supremacy and Structural Power in a Rural County
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The second Ku Klux Klan made its first public appearance in Texas at a United Confederate Veterans parade in October 1920, then quickly expanded across the state. Founder William J. Simmons created this organization as an exclusive, secretive fraternal group that both celebrated the original Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and responded to contemporary societal concerns of white native-born men and women in post-World- War-I America. Using a propaganda campaign, the organization preached the supremacy of a racialized Anglo-Saxon American identity, defined in terms of contemporary pseudo-scientific racial ideology as white, Protestant, native-born, and anti-radical, to recruit millions of members from across the nation within a few short years. Based on membership rolls and minutes of a Texas Klan chapter, this dissertation argues that, behind a façade of moral law and order, the Ku Klux Klan in rural Texas was a 1920s manifestation of a long-held racist ideology that utilized traditional practices of control through kinship, violence, and structural power to assert and protect white supremacy. It uses a localized case study approach to re-examine the second Ku Klux Klan in Texas, one of the largest and most powerful Klan organizations in the country, and challenge previous claims that the Texas KKK functioned more as a force for moral law and order and less as a white supremacy group. This particular Klan chapter, worked within the KKK’s Houston Provence, operated out of a rural county most noted for its plantation past and relatively recent end to Reconstruction, which firmly entrenched white structural control in the local economy, government, and social affairs. Based on an analysis of this Klan chapter’s individual members, their targets, and regional events, the Texas Klan used organizational power and vigilante violence to protect Anglo-Saxon white supremacy and maintain its centrality to the American identity. They conceptualized their nativistic and religious tenets through the lens of pseudo-scientific concepts of race that excluded Mexican and Japanese communities from whiteness. Furthermore, they utilized their members’ access to privileged structural power to plan and implement targeted attacks, coordinated between several chapters, on black and white individuals whose behavior they saw as threatening to the race, or for personal gain. They protected the organization’s extralegal violence through controlled police investigations and newspapers’ published narratives that surrounded the violence. When this failed, they utilized traditional white southern tools of white collective economic power and white respectability to undermine due process.
Walters, Katherine Kuehler (2018). The 1920s Texas Ku Klux Klan Revisited: White Supremacy and Structural Power in a Rural County. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from