Although many people (including me) long thought there was no way Donald Trump would become the Republican candidate for President this year, he is now the presumptive nominee and could be the next President of the United States.
There are many explanations for the rise and continuance of Trump’s popularity, none of which are fully adequate. But since the bulk of Trump’s support comes from white Americans, especially angry white men, his slogan “Make America Great Again” is seen by some as his attempt to “make America white again.”
It is clear that he has received the support of, and endorsements from, various white supremacy groups in the country.
Back in November of last year, Huffington Post published an online article titled “Donald Trump’s Plan to Make America White Again.”
Similarly, “Make America White Again?” is the title of an article in The Atlantic in March of this year. The subtitle is “Donald Trump’s language is eerily similar to the 1920s Ku Klux Klan—hypernationalistic and anti-immigrant.”
This is an opportune time to think about the KKK, for according to the African American Registry, the founding of the Ku Klux Klan is said to have been 150 years ago, on May 31, 1866, in Pulaski, Tennessee.
Actually, that was the first KKK, which mostly shut down in 1871. It was reorganized in 1915 and flourished in the 1920s, peaking with perhaps as many as five million members in 1925. Then it began to decline again.
|KKK March in Washington, 1925|
In the early 1950s it became quite active once again—especially after 1954 when the Supreme Court declared that the system of segregated schools in the U.S. was unconstitutional.
I have never directly seen KKK activities. It was quite different, though, for James Cone, an African-American who was born in southern Arkansas the same month that I was born in northern Missouri.
Cone writes, “During my childhood, white supremacy ruled supreme. White people were virtually free to do anything to blacks with impunity. The violent crosses of the Ku Klux Klan were a familiar reality” (The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 2011, p. xv).
In 2012 ABC News produced a 13-minute program titled “Inside the New KKK.” It featured interviews with people in the Klan and aired their talk about “race war”—based partly on their fear of the black President.
According to that program, there were then about 6,000 KKK members in the U.S. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are now 25 states with KKK chapters, and a total of 190 chapters. Only two are in Missouri and just one in Iowa, but there are eight in Arkansas and 52 in Texas.
The founding of the KKK in 1866 and its early history is excellently told in They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group (2010) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (b. 1958), an award-winning American author of “juvenile literature.”
Her book on the KKK is well-researched and enhanced by numerous photos from the 1860s as well as a few from more recent times. According to Bartoletti, the original KKK creed maintained that the U.S. “was founded by the white race and for the white race only” and that the words “All men are created equal” meant only white men (p. 45).
Is that part of the meaning of the slogan “Make America Great Again”? While it may or may not be what Trump means by his slogan, that may well be how it is interpreted by many of his supporters—and one reason for his surprising, and somewhat alarming, popularity.