More than 140 years since its inception during the reconstruction era in the post-Civil War south, the Ku Klux Klan remains in southern Wisconsin. The Milwaukee, Beloit and Janesville areas have seen an increase in Klan activity in recent years.
UW history professor Stanley Schultz attributes the influx of African Americans, industrial employment opportunities and the migration of southerners to these areas as possible reasons for the KKK’s revival.
“With the increase in manual-labor jobs in the cities, industry is recruiting blacks to employ. People have begun to move their families from small-town America in the south to big towns in the north, including Wisconsin,” Schultz said. “With the move, they are bringing their small-town beliefs.”
After a 1997 KKK rally in Beloit gained national attention, The National Union of Civil Liberties sided with the Klan for reasons of free speech.
Some Wisconsin residents associate the Ku Klux Klan with the ideals of the original Klan, including white robes and hoods, cross burning and violent practices stemming from immense hatred of non-white races. However, after the group waned in the late 1800s, the reorganized KKK began a new Klan designed to uphold the values of white supremacy. The KKK’s National Director Pastor Thomas Robb called the original Klan a “political army working to run the troops back to the north.”
This new Klan is run as an industry employing whites with common ideals, Robb said.
“In general, we are against those ravish autocrats who want to take over America,” Robb said. “We are promoters of White Christian civilization. We believe that the concepts of private property, free enterprise, representative government, parental rights, freedom of speech, right to trial by jury, right to address the government for a redress of grievances, etc. are essential ingredients for a civilized and moral society.”