The Klansman’s Manual Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1924, the newly resurgent Ku Klux Klan (KKK) published a document that outlined the governing structure, guiding principles, and membership requirements of the organization. The manual described the KKK as a “military” organization, comprised of four levels of members called Knights. The Knights of the KKK would be dedicated to uniting and protecting the interests of white Americans. The document served as a constitution for the organization, establishing a nationwide fraternity of like-minded white, Protestant men who would promote American patriotism and protect their homes, women, and children from a wide range of threats.

Summary Overview

In 1924, the newly resurgent Ku Klux Klan (KKK) published a document that outlined the governing structure, guiding principles, and membership requirements of the organization. The manual described the KKK as a “military” organization, comprised of four levels of members called Knights. The Knights of the KKK would be dedicated to uniting and protecting the interests of white Americans. The document served as a constitution for the organization, establishing a nationwide fraternity of like-minded white, Protestant men who would promote American patriotism and protect their homes, women, and children from a wide range of threats.

Defining Moment

Originally established as a social club by a group of former Confederate soldiers in 1865, the Ku Klux Klan evolved into a secretive network aimed at terrorizing and repelling occupying federal troops across the Reconstruction-era South. With its name derived from the Greek term “kyklos” (meaning “circle”) and the English word “clan,” the KKK attacked and murdered freed slaves as well as white supporters of the federal government. The “Invisible Empire,” as it was dubbed by many, would spread across the South, as disgruntled Confederate loyalists joined the KKK in an effort to undermine unpopular Reconstruction policies.

Although the Klan surged in membership during this period, it would eventually disintegrate during the latter nineteenth century. The KKK’s dissolution was largely attributable to internal dissent, with competing factions breaking away to form their own organizations. Also contributing to the Klan’s decline were the acts of violence committed by its members–as attacks became more egregious, public support for the KKK waned. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Klan had largely gone underground, although it did not disappear entirely.

In 1915, filmmaker D. W. Griffiths debuted his silver-screen ode to the Reconstruction-era Klan, Birth of a Nation. The film, infamous for its racist depiction of blacks, inspired Georgia native William J. Simmons to revitalize the KKK. Simmons was a member of a number of local organizations, but had become disillusioned with their lack of long-term success. Simmons was a former minister and a veteran of the Spanish-American War, and his experience in both arenas gave him the ability to inspire others to follow him. Simmons and a group of like-minded individuals established a new set of guidelines, cryptic language, and infrastructure for the “modern” Klan.

Simmons’s KKK quickly gained popularity in the South, as the racist and patriotic themes it espoused were directly relevant to the steady influx of immigrants to the United States, the growing issue of segregation, and issues of social morality, such as premarital sex. The Klan’s membership grew at a fantastic rate during the 1920s (by 1921, it had already reached a membership of 100,000), as Simmons and his companions launched a broad membership drive. True to its earlier history, the KKK engaged in violence against blacks, Jews, and immigrants, but it also gained political influence during this period. Although KKK membership was strong, Simmons aspired to create greater stability within the group. The key to successfully reaching this goal was to give the KKK structure and focus. In 1917, Simmons authored a fifty-four-page guidebook, the Kloran, and in 1924, another adherent, Paul Etheridge, wrote the Klansman’s Manual; these documents would generate public awareness and indoctrinate new members as to the nature and agenda of the Ku Klux Klan.

Author Biography

Paul S. Etheridge was born in 1874 in Greensboro, Georgia. Etheridge attended Mercer University and, thereafter, was admitted to the Atlanta bar as an attorney. He was also a deacon at a Baptist Church in the Fulton County area. In 1918, Etheridge was elected to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues. He would later serve as chair of that organization. One of the earliest members of the modern KKK, Etheridge also served as that organization’s Imperial Klonsel (“Supreme Attorney”). He would later become a superior court judge in Fulton County. He died in 1949.

Document Analysis

The Klansman’s Manual was designed to give structure and direction to the modern Ku Klux Klan. The document would serve as a constitution for the organization, defining the levels of membership, the KKK’s goals and objectives, and guiding principles. The Manual would help the uninitiated understand the nature of Simmons’s organization and its relevance to modern America.

The Klansman’s Manual first defines the structure and general nature of the new Ku Klux Klan. There would be four levels of membership within the organization, the document reads. Every member of the Klan, however–from the probationary to the most senior level–would be dubbed a Knight. This term was used because the Klan would, according to the Manual, be military in nature. Akin to the US military, the Klan’s leadership would be organized in a hierarchy, including Exalted Cyclops (regimental commanders), Great Titans (brigade commanders) and the Grand Dragons (divisional commanders). Atop the Klan’s structure was the Imperial Wizard, or supreme commander.

The Klan needs such structure, the document says, because only those organizations whose foundations are solid will survive over the long term (which speaks to the disappointment many Knights expressed over the failure of other fraternal organizations). The military structure of the KKK addresses the Klan’s purpose, which is to defend the ideal of patriotism in the United States as well as protect the interests and well-being of its members (white, Protestant males) from perceived threats to their way of life from foreigners; Jews; Catholics; and, of course, blacks.

The next major section of the Manual expounds on the purpose and goals of this new Ku Klux Klan. These goals and purposes entail nationwide brotherhood (fraternity), protection of people and their interests, and beneficence (relieving the suffering of the “injured and the oppressed”). At the same time, the document’s goals include the more militant notion of “mobilization”–calling its members to action, much in the way militiamen were recruited during the American Revolution.

The KKK, according to the document, is attempting to unify white males across the country in order to demonstrate “pure patriotism”–spreading the word about American values and principles among the country’s population. The Klan will also protect women and children from attack as well as safeguard the American home. This activity will be performed by combining the strength of a single race–“native-born white Protestant” men–in a nationwide fraternity that adhered to the US Constitution and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The KKK’s Manual appears, on its surface, to espouse a combination of American and Christian values. At the same time, however, it also strikes a militaristic posture, seeking to draft white males into a single organization that will defend and aid the innocent. The source of the attacks against which the Knights will unite is undefined in this section of the document, although elsewhere, the group’s goal of maintaining white supremacy is made clear. Also, the repeated clarification of the KKK’s members–white, Protestant males who were born in the United States–suggests that external threats came from all other racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups and those who would support them.

Essential Themes

Alongside the Kloran (a secretive guidebook that outlined the KKK’s rituals and practices in greater detail), The Klansman’s Manual served as one of the key documents used to introduce members into the Klan. This document acted as a constitution, setting forth an internal structure and guiding principles, much in the same manner that the US Constitution did for the country as a whole. The document uses a mix of benevolence and militarism, seeking to draw white, Protestant males into its ranks in order to protect American principles and defend the innocent against malign influences.

The document describes (although with little detail) the various levels of Knighthood as well as the duties of the Klan’s leadership. Then, it again underscores the value of having a structure and leadership hierarchy, arguing that such organization will ensure the Klan’s long-term viability. Other fraternal organizations, the document suggests (including the early Klan itself) fell away because they lacked such hierarchal structure. The KKK’s leadership would, according to the document, effectively serve as a government, second in authority only to the United States government and the ideals of the Constitution.

In an effort to generate membership, the Manual mixes a call to arms with Christian themes. It actively solicits support for a military-style organization whose purpose is to defend the purported interests of the nation. This militia-like fraternity, the document reads, would be focused on reinvigorating and maintaining the “spirit of American patriotism.” The KKK would also vigorously defend the home, which the manual said was fundamental to the American way of life, as well as the country’s women and children, from unjust attacks (implicit was that such threats would come from outside the KKK’s white, Protestant demographic or would consist of morally objectionable behavior). At the same time, the Knights would be dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ, demonstrating selfless helpfulness at every turn. This benevolent, yet activist, nature would assist the organization in attracting morally upright citizens to the growing organization.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Chalmers, David M. Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, 3rd ed. Durham: Duke UP, 1987. Print.
  • Jackson, Kenneth. The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930. New York: Oxford UP, 1967. Print.
  • Karen, Anthony S. The Invisible Empire: Ku Klux Klan. Brooklyn: PowerHouse, 2009. Print.
  • MacLean, Nancy. Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. Print
  • Pegram, Thomas R. One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Chicago: Dee, 2011. Print.
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