White Robes, Silver Screens: Movies and the Making of the Ku Klux Klan
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The Ku Klux Klan was reestablished in Atlanta in 1915, barely a week before the Atlanta premiere of The Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffith’s paean to the original Klan. While this link between Griffith's film and the Klan has been widely acknowledged, Tom Rice explores the little-known relationship between the Klan’s success and its use of film and media in the interwar years when the image, function, and moral rectitude of the Klan was contested on the national stage. By examining rich archival materials including a series of films produced by the Klan and a wealth of documents, newspaper clippings, and manuals, Rice uncovers the fraught history of the Klan as a local force that manipulated the American film industry to extend its reach across the country. White Robes, Silver Screens highlights the ways in which the Klan used, produced, and protested against film in order to recruit members, generate publicity, and define its role within American society.
Whiteness of the South in The Birth of a Nation.” In Dixie Debates: Perspectives on Southern Cultures, ed. R. H. King and H. Taylor. New York: New York University Press, 1996. Dyer, Thomas G. “The Klan on Campus: C. Lewis Fowler and Lanier University.” South Atlantic Quarterly 77 (Fall 1978), 453–469. Eyman, Scott. Mary Pickford: America’s Sweetheart. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1990. Feldman, Glenn. Politics, Society and the Klan in Alabama, 1915–1949. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press,
nine playful girls for the inopportunely titled “The Life of the Party.”94 Arbuckle’s financial rise and moral decline were also used to illustrate the dangers of new wealth and fame, a theme articulated and lampooned on-screen in Brewster’s Millions (1921), in which Arbuckle’s character had to blow an inherited million dollars within a year. The erosion of traditional financial responsibility and, in particular, the popular desire for fame without achievement remained a constant source of
on-screen during the 1930s. Taken together, the chapters in this book provide a multi-faceted story of interwar America, one that exposes the fierce debates around Americanism, race, religion, and citizenship that defined this era. Cinema, in all its forms, shaped and articulated these debates and in turn was fashioned within this context. WHITE ROBES SILVER SCREENS ONE Re-Birth THE BIRTH OF A NATION AND THE GROWTH OF THE KLAN The Ku Klux Klan has become a serious menace to
foregrounded spectacle and largely attempted to eschew, and detach from, the political uses imagined by independent producers, the costume, politics, and function of the night riders would nevertheless be reworked and negotiated in the popular imagination through these screen appearances. As the industry faced mounting pressure from conservative reform groups, including the Klan, and was forced to defend and prove its “American” credentials, its articulation of the Klan on-screen became
Tennessee, “based on the K.K.K. stunt mentioned in the Metro press book,” and noted that the most effective aspect of the publicity was the mail campaign. Citizens received a letter, with “Prepare K.K.K. Is Coming!” written in bold red letters over the entire page, followed the next day by another stating that “Nashville Will Soon Know The Power of K.K.K.” “By this stage curiosity had turned to the keenest anticipation not unmixed with a little anxiety,” wrote Film Daily; “wherever two people got