April V. Taylor
Many people would be shocked to know that at least five U.S. Presidents were members of the Ku Klux Klan. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center,”the KKK started in the summer of 1866 when six ex-Confederate officers decided to organize a social club. They decided to use the term “kuklos,” which means circle. After adding the word klan, the name Ku Klux Klan was born. In his book, “Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White,” David Barton details the political history of the KKK, noting that the original targets of the Klan were Republicans, both black and white, and that between 1882 and 1964, 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites were lynched by the Klan.
Barton goes on to point out that the Klan has its roots in the Democratic Party and that the first grand wizard of the KKK, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was honored for his leadership at the 1868 Democratic National Convention. For those who do not believe that the roots of the Democratic Party are racist, one only needs to note that not a single Democrat voted for the 14th Amendment which granted citizenship to former slaves.
Barton states, “Although it is relatively unreported today, historical documents are unequivocal that the Klan was established by the Democrats and that the Klan played a prominent role in the Democratic Party. In fact, a 13-volume set of congressional investigations from 1872 conclusively and irrefutably document that fact.”
The first U.S. President who was a KKK member was William McKinley, who was a former Union officer, according to kkk.org. Not much is known about his involvement with the Klan, but many union men joined the KKK during its First Era during the Radical Republican’s anti-white Reconstruction Era.
Woodrow Wilson was the second U.S. President to be a KKK member. According to Nick Ragone’s book, “Presidents’ Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Extraordinary Executives, Colorful Campaigns, and White House Oddities,” Wilson was known as a virulent racist and actually helped Klan membership skyrocket by providing screenings of The Clansman and Birth of a Nation for members of his Cabinet, Congress, and the Supreme Court. Wilson’s ideology helped pave the intellectual foundation of the campaigns of racist Dixiecrats Strom Thurmond and George Wallace. Wilson is also credited with allowing Washington D.C. to become Jim Crow territory. He also never shied away from speaking publicly about the ‘benefits’ of segregation.
Warren G. Harding was the next president who was a KKK member. According to kkk.org and the book The Fiery Cross, Harding was actually sworn in at a KKK ceremony that was held at the White House by Imperial Wizard Colonel Simmons. Harding was not the only president to allow Klan activities to be held on White House grounds. Calvin Coolidge was a well known and active Klan member who allowed cross lightings on the Capital steps and also reviewed the giant Klan parades of 1925 and 1926 that were held in Washington D.C..
Harry S. Truman is the final U.S. President to have ties to the KKK that are known and documented. While he was not a prominent member, he did pay dues to the organization between 1920 and 1922. He eventually parted ways with the Klan due to their disapproval of his appointment of Roman Catholics to key political positions.
During the time that these Presidents were in office between 1882 and 1964, David Barton reports that 4,743 people were lynched. It was Republicans who led an effort to pass federal anti-lynching legislation, but Democrats were able to successfully ban those bills. History of the Democratic Party on their website conveniently leaves out party history from 1848 to 1900, avoiding publication of information related to the party’s racist roots. Understanding the past is a vital part of not repeating mistakes in the future, and black people deserve to know that the party that many of them affiliate with actually has it roots in one of America’s most noted hate groups.