Their Cause - The Flag of Patriotism
Bonham Daily Favorite, September 4, 1994
Exactly when the modern Ku Klux Klan made its presence known in Fannin County is uncertain. For years unsubstantiated stories have reported Klan activities during the years of World War I. The theme of these stories is that Klan activity was centered around harassment of county citizens of Germanic background who were suspected of sympathetic feelings toward the German nation. It was indicated that Klansmen discovered, in the homes of some of these persons, portraits of President Woodrow Wilson hanging on parlor walls which could be turned over to reveal a portrait of the German Kaiser.
The local media failed to take any notice of such activities, if indeed they did occur. Little mention of Klan activity anywhere was reported during those war years understandably because the war news would take precedence over such stories.
When the Klan did reemerge after the Armistice, what was there that made such an organization so attractive to those who joined? If Fannin County followed the national precedent, the Klan was composed of leading citizens, professional men, businessmen, politicians and the like.
As so often happened when men returned from war, there was a general feeling of dissatisfaction with life style, opportunity, career choices and as the popular song of the time repeated, "How ya' gonna keep 'em down on the farm?"
Too, there were incidents of racial strife often brought about by competition between the races for more satisfactory employment. The economy fluctuated wildly at times in response to global situations and the Klan offered something of a respite from these pressures.
William J. Simmons shrewdly analyzed the nation's feelings shortly before the outbreak of the war when he set in motion the forces that were to regenerate those nearly fifty year old fears that originally ignited the South after its surrender at Appomatox. The war also gave Simmons and his followers the perfect opportunity to wrap themselves in the flag of patriotism and strengthen their cause.
One element, perhaps more than any other, in Simmon's success was his correct reading of society's mores in regard to the importance and necessity of belonging to the correct group. During these years the attraction of the fraternal organization had strong appeal to the majority of the male population of the United States.
Simmons called himself a "fraternalist" for good reason. After his failure as a minister, he found success recruiting members for several different fraternal organizations. He learned his lessons well.
First, his organization responded to the sense of dissatisfaction by emphasizing a return to the imagined "good old days." The original driving force behind the post Civil war Klan, Southern hero Nathan Bedford Forrest, was paraded in memory for those old enough to have remembered him and for those who had only heard his exploits recounted time and time again .
Then Simmons structured his organization with the same attractions used by many fraternal groups, a sense of mystery, a sense of belonging, and for some a sense of exclusivity. Ritual fulfilled most of these requirements and the Klan had its ritual.
Best of all, the Klan was affordable to most everyone. For only ten dollars, the potential Klansman could be embraced by members of a nationwide group all devoted to the same worthy purposes.
For those who relished these activities, the enormous initiations conducted throughout the country with its robes and masks decorated with arcane symbols, and conducted by the light of flaming torches satisfied that small boy need of secret activity removed from the eyes of disapproving adults or society.
Picnics, barbecues, and parades only added to the excitement. The response of spectators at these events stirred the blood even more. These rituals were religiously kept secret from non-believers and even today many parts of ceremonies remain unknown. The overriding element seems to have been Americanism and protection of the nation, defined as the white race, against the evil encroachment of those well defined enemies who swore its destruction.
The newly initiated Klansman took his place on the lowest rung of the ladder which had a series of intricately designed levels as imagined by William Simmons. Most of the terminology used to described these components began with slightly ominous sound of KL.
The base was composed of the ordinary Klansman and the Exalted Cyclopes. Next were the Provinces populated by the Grand Titans. The Realms (usually states) headed by the Grand Dragons, and finally the level of the Invisible Empire and the Imperial Wizard.
Simmons also intended for part of the hierachy to include, in addition to the ordinary Klansman, the Knight Kamelia, the Knights of the Great Forrest (in honor of General Forrest),and the Knights of the Midnight Mystery.
Another hallmark of Klan influence was the development of and frequently used Klan language. Paranoia surely must have played a hand in this development in the Klan's relentless demands for secrecy. David Chalmers, in his definitive history of the Klan, gives examples of this unusual manner of communication. For example, the word AYAK would be used in such a way to determine whether or not a unfamiliar person was also a member of the organization. At the first opportunity any Klansman could inquire of the stranger, "Do you know if Mr. AYAK has arrived yet." The word AYAK stood for "Are Xou A K.lansman?"
There was also a code in the language for a secret calendar with certain words substituted for days, weeks and months. Interestingly the words all carried a doleful connotation such as woe, frightful, hideous, gloomy, etc.
Despite these attempts at strict secrecy sometimes the best plans became a comical intrusion. A story is told of a well respected Honey Grove businessman who had a small terrier who always followed closely at his master's heels. At one Klan rally in that city, one robed and hooded Klansman's identity was revealed to the spectators as his faithful canine companion trotted along in his footsteps.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas