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Ku Klux Klan part 5: Woodrow Wilson
Well, it turns out this is going to be my longest series on one particular topic. I hope y’all aren’t getting too worn out with the subject matter. It was not my intent to drag this out quite so much, but I do think it’s all been necessary information.
It is not my intention to weigh everyone down with such a heavy topic, but history and brevity make strange bedfellows. I do think that the Klan necessitates this level of detail – not just to understand this particular group, but to provide a solid understanding of the impact that this Southern terrorist organization had on the world at large and to reflect on our history. If we understand our history with objectivity and totality, we can love our culture more honestly.
Woodrow Wilson, born in 1856 in Staunton, Virginia, was our twenty-eighth president. He was preceded by William Taft and followed by Warren G. Harding. Wilson achieved quite a bit of acclaim during his tenure as president.
He is considered to be the architect of the League of Nations, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He also served the United States well through World War I. History looks on him kindly, despite his interventions in the Philippines, Haiti and the Dominican Republic leading to military occupations and overall ransacking of their economies.
However, we’re here to talk specifically about his impact on the Klan. You see, Wilson was a big fan of white people and the Ku Klux Klan. He’s actually quoted from his own book “History of the American People” in “Birth of a Nation” stating, “The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation…until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.”
In other works he had referred to Black people as “an ignorant and inferior race.” It is necessary to point out that his aforementioned history textbook openly praises the work of the Ku Klux Klan – it’s not just a one-off quote taken out of context.
Wilson was a tremendous proponent of the Ku Klux Klan. As previously mentioned, Wilson’s affection for the film “Birth of a Nation” caused it to be the first film presented within the White House. He is quoted three separate times in the film, something in which he took no small amount of pride.
Wilson was not just a man of hateful words, though. He personally took significant action to drag America backwards in terms of racial equality. You see, America had not yet adopted any official policies in regard to segregation. Black men filled numerous federal offices, both through election and appointment. It was Wilson himself who introduced segregation in federal offices. Further, he also removed numerous Black men from federal offices simply because of the color of their skin, replacing them with white people.
The timing of all this is not insignificant. The first wave of the Ku Klux Klan had been fairly throughout extinguished because of federal and state action across the South, especially in South Carolina. However, inspired by “The Birth of a Nation,” William Joseph Simmons founded the rebirth of the Klan atop Georgia’s Stone Mountain. Yes, that Stone Mountain, the one with the Confederate imagery. By the way, that carving was also started in 1915. Oh, by the way, the person who owned that land, Sam Venable, participated in that rebirth of the Klan at Stone Mountain.
Woodrow Wilson did not start the second wave of the Klan. There is no indication that he personally lynched anyone or directly caused harm to any Black American citizens. That’s beside the point though.
Woodrow Wilson used his platform and power to promote white supremacy via Ku Klux Klan throughout the country. There are certain parallels to current events, I think, but maybe that’s just me. Wilson’s racism gave courage to other white supremacists throughout the country and gave them a platform to create a new, more professional Klan that would boast more than a million members before it was through.
Remember this going forward – the way in which you live your life will always set an example for those who are watching you. Your own personal prejudices will impact the people around you.