- For the Kingdom and the Power: The Big Money Swindle That Spread Hate Across America by Dale W. Laackman
Dale W. Laackman advises, “This is not a Klan book. . . . This is a book about selling, about marketing, about public relations, and about journalism. The product just happens to be the Klan” (p. vii). For the Kingdom and the Power: The Big Money Swindle That Spread Hate Across America focuses on the lives and activities of Edward Young Clarke Jr. and Elizabeth “Bessie” Tyler, who, as the key figures behind the Southern Publicity Association (SPA), played a major role in transforming the second Ku Klux Klan into the nation’s largest racist, nativist movement. The book details Clarke’s and Tyler’s early years and respective careers before they formed the SPA and signed the lucrative 1920 contract with Klan leader William J. Simmons that gave them control over the newly created Propagation Department. Clarke was soon named imperial kleagle, and the SPA began receiving eight of the ten dollars paid to the Klan by each new recruit. Until hiring Clarke and Tyler as promoters, the Klan was a small organization centered in Atlanta.
By 1921 the organization had spread nationally, with membership reaching the millions. Motivated more by cupidity than ideology, Clarke and Tyler were able to exploit the nation’s long tradition of racism and bigotry to reap huge [End Page 204] profits. But when a 1921 New York World exposé series about the inner workings of the organization revealed the pair’s 1919 conviction for disorderly conduct after a sordid police raid at an Atlanta brothel, friction developed within Klan ranks. Simmons was replaced as imperial wizard by Hiram Martin Evans in 1922, and Clarke and Tyler were also eventually forced out.
A television producer and director, Laackman has transformed what was originally a screenplay into a lively historical narrative. Due to limited sources, Clarke and Tyler remain somewhat elusive figures, but the book provides a detailed account of their skillful, if dubious, public relations methods. Much of this information can be found scattered in earlier studies, including chapter 14 of Scott M. Cutlip’s The Unseen Power: Public Relations, a History (Hillsdale, N.J., 1994), but it is beneficial to have an engaging work that ties things together.
Laackman, if not particularly well versed in Klan scholarship, does provide some context regarding the organization’s development. He mentions the sensational D. C. Stephenson scandals in Indiana, but he could have discussed more how corrupt opportunism was characteristic of the Klan on every level, contributing to its precipitous decline by the end of the 1920s. An examination of studies such as Charles C. Alexander’s “Kleagles and Cash: The Ku Klux Klan as a Business Organization, 1915–1930” (Business History Review, 39 [Autumn 1965], 348–67) might have been helpful.
Laackman expands his book with numerous tangential sketches of figures ranging from Henry VIII to boxer Jack Johnson. In the final chapter Laackman raises the provocative question of what would have happened to the Klan movement had it not been for Clarke and Tyler. He observes that they serve as a timely “reminder about the importance of morality, ethics, and standards of professionalism, and the power of the choices we make in our work and civic activities” (p. 249).