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'Ku Klux Kiddies': The KKK's Youth Movement


A Ku Klux Klan Initiation Ceremony in Georgia.

In 1924, a gathering of ten children and a crowd of hundreds of onlookers congregated for a mass baptism. For the religiously inclined, this may seem ordinary but this was no ordinary religious ceremony. As the children and their parents approached the clergyman, they found themselves encircled by 50 men clad in white robes.


These children were members of the Ku Klux Klan, and their baptism symbolised more than a mere commitment to their faith. Alongside pledging to raise their children in accordance with religious teachings, their parents solemnly dedicated them to "the principles and ideals of Americanism."


While this vow might appear patriotic to an outsider, within the KKK, it signified an allegiance to perpetuating segregation, bigotry, and the violent suppression of anyone who did not adhere to the white Protestant ideology.

A 7-month-old baby being baptized into the Ku Klux Klan in Long Island, NY in 1927.

The children baptised on that day represented only a fraction of the vast number involved in the Ku Klux Klan and its affiliated groups. These included the Junior Ku Klux Klan for adolescent boys, the Tri-K-Klub for teenage girls, and clubs like "Ku Klux Kiddies" and "cradle clubs" catering to children and infants, all established in the 1920s. At the height of its influence and membership, known as the "Invisible Empire," the KKK saw families actively engage in its rituals, with children participating alongside their parents in upholding and perpetuating the organisation's white supremacist beliefs.


Moving away from it's original male only membership, the 20th-century iteration of the KKK actively welcomed and promoted the participation of women and children. This was done in an effort to cultivate a dedicated cadre of adherents who would safeguard what they perceived as the purity of the white race.



After the release of the film Birth of a Nation in 1915, the Ku Klux Klan movement was revived and grew to encompass 3 to 8 million Klansmen by the mid-1920s. Members wanted to keep American society “pure” and free of the supposed taint of anyone who was not white and Protestant—and they believed the best way to achieve that goal was to involve the entire family.


Women played a significant role within the KKK, which originally centered around the mission of "protecting" white women from perceived threats posed by sexual relationships and interactions with individuals of different racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, including black men, Catholics, and Jews. Elizabeth Tyler and Edward Young Clarke, public relations professionals who assumed control of the KKK's day-to-day operations in the early 1920s, recognised the potential influence of Klansmen's wives. They realised that women, who had recently gained the right to vote, not only held political sway but also had the ability to contribute much-needed funds to the organisation, as noted by historian Michael Newton. Consequently, women's groups began to emerge across the nation, culminating in the establishment of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan in 1923 as an overarching umbrella organisation. Within a matter of months, this group boasted a staggering membership of 250,000 individuals.


The Klan then turned its attention to children, recognizing the economic potential and the opportunity to indoctrinate a new generation with its message of white supremacy. To this end, it established three auxiliary groups catering to young members. The first of these was exclusively for boys. Launched in 1923, the Junior Ku Klux Klan mirrored its adult counterpart, complete with secret rituals and racist propaganda. In Lykens, Pennsylvania, for instance, a newly formed Junior Ku Klux Klan chapter made its presence known by sounding a horn and igniting a fiery "J" next to a burning cross in 1924. The popularity of the Junior Ku Klux Klan was such that, according to historian William F. Pinar, it operated in 15 states.


Girls were also afforded the opportunity to join the Klan through membership in the "Tri-K-Klub." This club emulated the structure of the women's organization and encouraged its members to adopt similar principles. Girls participating in the Tri-K-Klub were taught a pledge song, the opening verse of which expressed sentiments of unity and sisterhood under the Klan's emblem: "Beneath this flag that waves above/This cross that lights our way/You’ll always find a sister’s love/In the heart of each Tri-K." They received instruction on motherhood and traditional gender roles, aided their mothers in advancing the Klan's objectives, and participated in public events, sometimes assuming the role of "Miss 100 Percent American" in parades, a title reflecting the Klan's aim of maintaining the purity of the white race.



“The central message,” writes historian Kristina DuRocher, “was that white girls should remove themselves from contact with all blacks, a passive way of preserving white supremacy.”

Teenage boys and girls were eligible to join their respective auxiliary groups. Prior to reaching adolescence, children of KKK members were designated as Ku Klux Kiddies. Historian Glenn Michael Zuber recounts an incident from a 1920s parade in New Castle, Indiana, where "one float featured a little red schoolhouse surrounded by happy children dressed in miniature Klan robes and sporting a ‘Ku Klux Kiddies’ banner." Although these younger children were primarily involved in parades and enjoyed festive Klan-sponsored events, they were cognisant of their parents' affiliation with the Klan.


some children were indoctrinated into the Klan from infancy. Mass baptisms were a customary Klan ritual, accompanied by the establishment of a "cradle roll," which comprised children whose parents aspired to groom them for future involvement in the organization.

In many respects, the upbringing of Klan children adhered to the societal norms prevalent among middle-class white families of that era. These children participated in parades, attended picnics and summer camps, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. However, the underlying context in which they engaged in these activities was ominous—steeped in a commitment to white supremacy, underscored by the Klan's violent endeavors to enforce its racist ideals.


Those threats lurked just beneath the surface, as in a 1924 advertisement for the “Kool Koast Kamp” in Rockport, Texas. The brochure promised “a real family recreation under high-class moral conditions” for Klan members. Those conditions, of course, were predicated on the absence of people whose very existence threatened the KKK’s principles and, by extension, the purity of its women.


"The Fiery Cross guards you at night and an officer of the law, with the same Christian sentiment, guards carefully all portals," proclaimed the advertisement. What appeared to be a wholesome summer camp experience for a child of the KKK carried a different meaning for their parents – a place safeguarded from "undesirable" individuals and overseen by a law enforcement official sympathetic to the Klan, as the ad suggested.

Opportunities for participation in white supremacist activities extended beyond summer camp. In the 1920s, there were brief discussions about the establishment of "Klan Kolleges" in both Indiana and Georgia, although neither institution ever admitted students. The Klan also conducted wedding rituals, organized charitable events where robed Klansmen "invaded" churches with donations, and even held funerals for members, featuring flower arrangements shaped into the letters KKK. For devoted white supremacists, the indoctrination into bigotry could begin from cradle to grave. grave.



The second wave of the KKK eventually waned, succumbing to the challenges posed by the Great Depression, numerous scandals, and the diminishing relevance of fraternal organisations in an era marked by mass media, social security programs, and suburbanisation. Although the Klan's once family-friendly image has long faded into obscurity, children continue to hold appeal for white nationalist groups seeking to recruit a new generation. Likewise, mothers remain a target for recruitment efforts. As sociologist Kathleen Blee observes, "Women, and mothers, have played significant roles in almost every race-hate movement" of the modern era. With mothers come children who are vulnerable to the influence of groups rooted in hate, prejudice, and a fervent belief in molding the world according to the principles of white supremacy.

 




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