The past several decades have seen a vast outpouring of scholarship on the 1920s Ku Klux Klan and its affiliated associations, such as the Women of the Ku Klan Klan and junior boys and girls Klan orders. Particularly revealing have been local and regional Klan case [End Page 265] studies, many based on long-hidden documents and artifacts. These works offer important information on how the 1920s Klan—by far the largest wave of Klan activity in U.S. history—was able to enlist millions of white, native-born Protestant men, women, and children during its short life.
Fox's study of the Klan in Michigan is a particularly strong contribution to Klan historiography with its nuanced and empirically rich analysis of the Klan's appeal in the rural Midwest. Consistent with other scholars who argue that the 1920s Klan was rooted in the north, not the south, Fox finds a strong Klan presence in Michigan with one hundred fifty active Klan units and about eighty thousand members spread across the state. In Michigan, even those who did not meet the Klan's membership criteria had an opportunity to pay dues and participate in Klan-like activity in groups like the American Krusaders which recruited non-Catholic, white immigrants. The Klan in Michigan was neither confined solely to isolated rural areas nor a product of rapid change in the cities. As Fox writes, "the Klan in Michigan was everywhere" (p 201).
Everyday Klansfolk takes advantage of a very rare collection of Klan membership records from a rural county in Michigan that were found in an attic and then bought by a university at auction, along with a vast array of materials published or distributed by this Klan. By matching names in the Klan membership rolls to information in the now-released manuscript records of the 1920s United States census, Fox documents the social characteristics of Klan members in the county, finding that the Klan drew from the merchant class, housewives, and schoolteachers and that most Klan members were married to other members.
Fox's study positions the 1920s Klan within the broad social and cultural currents of its time. As opposed to the marginal, hidden Klans of the late twentieth century, the 1920s Klan was a publicly marketed cultural product. It was advertised in general media, its events were openly sponsored by mainstream corporations like cola companies, and its recruitment efforts were led by aggressive salesmen and saleswomen in search of the dues of new members. In the [End Page 266] early-twentieth-century shift toward a consumer-oriented society, the Klan was another product that could be merchandized to the public. This is particularly clear in the Klan's entertainment industry, with its crowd-pleasing extravaganzas: vast parades and rallies, strikingly choreographed funerals, and spectacular ceremonies of Klan initiation, marriages, and baptisms. These, along with the Klan's movies, romance novels, and newspapers, infused popular leisure time with the racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic ideas that were at the core of the Klan's agenda. Although Fox argues that the Michigan Klan was not involved in violence, its ability to bring intergroup hatred into the daily-life activities of the majority populations of Michigan was surely experienced as an exercise of power and terror by the Klan's enemies.
Kathleen M. Blee is distinguished professor and chair at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (1991) and writes extensively on modern racist movements in the U.S.