The Ku Klux Klan established a significant foothold in Arkansas in the 1920s, boasting more than 150 state chapters and tens of thousands of members at its zenith. Propelled by the prominence of state leaders such as Grand Dragon James Comer and head of Women of the KKK Robbie Gill Comer, the Klan established Little Rock as a seat of power second only to Atlanta. In The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas, Kenneth C. Barnes traces this explosion of white nationalism and its impact on the state’s development.
The cover for The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas makes use of the fourth star on the Arkansas state flag, added in 1924. The fourth star, proposed by state representative and Klansmen Neill Bohlinger, represents Arkansas’s years as a Confederate state. “Calling out this Klan-created symbolism on the cover,” designer Liz Lester said, “connects our history to present-day demands to do away with this flag and the hateful beliefs it represents.”
In The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas, historian Kenneth Barnes shows that the Klan seemed to wield power everywhere in 1920s Arkansas. Klansmen led businesses and held elected offices and prominent roles in legal, medical, and religious institutions, while the women of the Klan supported rallies and charitable activities and planned social gatherings where cross burnings were regular occurrences. Inside their organization, Klan members bonded during picnic barbeques and parades and over shared religious traditions. Outside of it, they united to direct armed threats, merciless physical brutality, and torrents of hateful rhetoric against individuals who did not conform to their exclusionary vision.
By the mid-1920s, internal divisions, scandals, and an overzealous attempt to dominate local and state elections caused Arkansas’s Klan to fall apart nearly as quickly as it had risen. Yet as the organization dissolved and the formal trappings of its flamboyant presence receded, the attitudes the Klan embraced never fully disappeared. In documenting this history, Barnes shows how the Klan’s early success still casts a long shadow on the state to this day.
“Ken Barnes has skillfully produced a work that is accessible to a general audience,” historian Ben Johnson said, “and one that offers new insights for historians. An undeniable contribution to Arkansas and American history.”
Barnes is also the author of Anti-Catholicism in Arkansas: How Politicians, the Press, the Klan, and Religious Leaders Imagined an Enemy, 1910–1960, winner of the J. G. Ragsdale Book Award in Arkansas History.
The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas: How Protestant White Nationalism Came to Rule a State is now available for preorder!