In 1866 the secret order or invisible empire of the Ku Klux Klan was founded by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest with veterans loyal to the South in order to terrorize former slaves through acts of violence. It was disbanded in 1869. In 1915 The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan began a resurgence as an America-first fraternal organization supported by a barrage of enticing propaganda and social events, including parades, dances, baseball teams and other highly publicized social activity throughout the nation, North, South, East and West.
D.W. Griffith’s classic 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation was a paean to the Klan. Two American Presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland, praised the film. Roughly 30,000 Klansmen marched along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC in 1925 and unashamedly exposed their faces. The KKK boasted four million members nationwide—North, South, East and West—at that time. Klonvocations were frequent in Northern states, especially New Jersey.
The Klan was also big business. In addition to the sale of robes and banners shown here from the Duke University Library Collection, it sold records, emblems, badges, knives, books (the Kloran, the Klan bible), newspapers, figurines and more to its male Kleagles and women’s auxiliary members. Regalia was purchased for their various events.
Every Klan event had to display four symbolic objects, notes Linda Gordon in The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition (Liverright). “An American flag, a sword, ‘Klan water,’ and the robes themselves.” The sword represented the fight for Christianity and Americanism; the water, to wash the sins, had to be bought at a premium from the national headquarters. It was used to baptize new members. And the robes represented purity, at a price.
The full color catalog below shows some of this income-producing merch as though it were a Sears mail order catalog. The Klan still sells its wares, but the price is higher, the profits are smaller and the hate is hotter.