Monday, June 16, 2014

A review:
"For the Kingdom and the Power: The Big Money Swindle That Spread Hate Across America," by Dale W. Laackman.

A detailed history of the Ku Klux Klan's financial dealings and public image, Dale W. Laackman's book gathers in one place the truth behind the extensively dirty financial underskirts of the Klan's first coordinated leaders: a pair of marketing experts who built the Klan up for personal profit.
Laackman portrays the rise of Edward Young Clarke Jr. and Elizabeth "Bessie" Tyler—fellow Klan leaders, marketers extraordinaire and sometime-lovers—who used the organization first defined by William Joseph Simmons (a minister dedicated to the concept of white superiority) for fun and profit. From the start of their involvement with the sleepy, 5,000-member Klan in Georgia, they conceptualized a large, nationwide Klan, selling hate and bringing in easy money. And so it went—for some years.
Laackman skillfully fills in the broad patchwork of information surrounding the Klan's astounding growth to nearly a half-million white men dedicated to the exclusion of blacks, Catholics, Jews, immigrants and any other non-white, non-native species of mankind. The Klan did, however, include women as members at one point, both to convey a reputation as a social organization and to publicly exploit its progressiveness in having a female leader (Tyler, who ran things in the shadows for years).
The Klan's roots extend from post-Civil War decades to the present, though the numbers are back down to around 5,000 in estimates from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012. In the course of its growth as an ostensibly benign fraternal organization, the Klan has executed murders, beatings, political control and terror. Laackman doesn't focus on the individual crimes and misdoings, already well documented in other books. Instead, he details the careful shaping of a financial empire built on the profit from hatred—money used for the personal benefit of its founders.
Relying strongly on material gleaned from histories, legal hearings and extensive newspaper coverage, Laackman portrays a brilliant marketing campaign, boosted by the blockbuster 1915 movie, "The Birth of a Nation," and nurtured by American suspicion of immigrants and Papists. "Bessie" Tyler herself came from an innocent-sounding movement titled "Better Babies," in the early 1900s, which embraced standards for valuing human worth—linked to the now-infamous but once popular Eugenics movement later linked to Nazi practices. (Plant breeder Luther Burbank even opposed immigration, claiming it diluted the human race with inferior stock.)
Clarke had a mixed record, including fraudulent financial operations within church organizations.
They were a match for the ages, and their impact together certainly proved that true. Laackman's story of the public relations firm they founded, the Southern Publicity Association, and its growth into the financial foundation of the Klan, is carefully framed and meticulously documented. They modeled pure hatred on the popular fraternal organizations of the time, using that to mask its purposes and dedicating the Klan to the preservation of societal goals like the protection of womanhood (from non-whites, we assume) and continued segregation (elevated to near slavery in practice).
At various points, disenchanted Klansmen (and, some say, undercover reporters from the North), spilled the beans on the Klan's money-making scheme and exposed it, but Congressional hearings on the accusations, following detailed newspaper coverage, led nowhere—officially. This may have been because a Georgia congressman introduced legislation to force Congress to investigate all fraternal oranizations at the same pitch and level as the Klan had just experienced.
It's not a pretty story, but it's a fascinating recounting of the many anti-Black realities that led to the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s, which finally broke the back of segregation laws and the Klan. Along the way, the reader glimpses lives involved in the battle between pro- and anti-Klan forces: reporters and publishers, whistleblowers, legislators. The best of early newspapering is on stage as well.
Also revealed is the infighting and various machinations the Klan leaders took to hide their misdeeds and keep the Klan viable, even while they were exposed for earlier frauds and grievous social misbehavior involving brothels, alcohol, and arrests. Laackman describes it well as a family "dog fight." The Klan was a broken organization, though hate was not eradicated and some membership exists today.
Anyone interested in the inner workings of the Klan, the impacts of greed and fraud on an organization, the power of public persuasion that is tapped by expert public relations and the best of early newspapering will find it in "For the Kingdom and the Power." The book was released in May by S. Woodhouse Books, a new imprint of Everything Goes Media, a Chicago-based non-fiction publisher. It's available as a book and e-book.
Laackman received a bachelor's degree in history and a bachelor's in advertising with a master's in television and film. He worked in television, writing, directing and producing, before turning to historical research and writing. He lives in Chicago and this is his first book.