Large, diverse movement

The key difference between the post-Civil War Klan and the 1920s Klan is the group’s scope and focus.  Historians across the last century agree that the rise of modernity was the core of Klansmen’s fears.  Traditional historians argue that the Klan’s symbols of that threat were Catholics, Jews, Africa-Americans, urban immigrants, and all other minority ethnic groups.  Revisionist historians argued that alcohol, prostitution, corrupt government officials, business elites, and anyone else Klansmen considered moral offenders were symbols of the Klan’s fear of modernity.  Catholics, immigrants, bootleggers, and business elites were symbols of the modern age, of change, of the deterioration of Protestant white tradition, of forces beyond their control invading their lives.

Which view is correct?  Actually, both, depending on the community in question.  Traditional historians started with the whole picture, assuming homogeneity across the nation akin to the post-Civil War Klan, and therefore arrived at rather broad and overgeneralized conclusions.  Revisionist historians started small, at the local level, and worked their way up to the larger level, finding that the large-scale movement was actually quite diverse.  These conclusions allow for deviations from the norm, and they even agree with traditional historians that in some places the Klan served as a harvesting place for bigotry and violence — this was not the norm, but they conceded that it certainly did happen.


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