The KKK in the 1920s v. the ACLU (Re: thread themes on outlawing fascistic racist speech

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Thu Oct 29 20:04:20 PST 1998

-----Original Message----- From: Charles Brown <CharlesB at> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>

>Damn right. Majorities [in the 1920s] were supporting the KKK and they
>did not need the
>First Amendment to march.

-Charles: Majorities ? Are you sure ? -A large KKK membership doesn't mean -that a majority supported the KKK.

I don't know if it was a large majority but in communities across the country, majorities were supporting the KKK. Now, the KKK of the 1920s was a slightly different phenomena than either the Night Riders of the Reconstruction era or the terrorists of the Civil Rights era. The KKK of the 1920s put on a tie and recruited bankers and respectable types as a mainstream-like organization. Anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant agitation was often a higher priority than anti-black attacks (although that was always there).

The leader of the KKK came very close to winning the Democratic nomination in 1928 (and he largely lost it only due to publicity around a sex scandal). Some surprising people, including Justice Hugo Black who became a good friend of both free speech and civil rights, were caught up in the KKK of the 1920s.

Majorities sought to ban immigrants from even being taught their old language and it was in the middle of the 1920s, amidst the rising KKK majorities passing such laws, that the Supreme Court first asserted that the First Amendment applied to state governments and that people had the freedom to learn whatever languages and ideas they wished -- and that no government could ban them. The decisions were tentative at first, but they defied those KKK-inspired majorities. The ACLU was born in that period specifically to fight against the rising attacks and racism seeking to silence immigrant workers and communities.

I don't think the ACLU is perfect and they have not always fought every fight they should fight, but to ignore their real history in defense of both civil liberties and civil rights is a gross disservice both to them and to history.

--Nathan Newman

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