English Society hosts speech on fraternal societies (March 21, 2013)


On March 13, 2013 in Olney 100, Laurie Finke and Martin Shichtman gave a lecture titled “Ghosts of Chivalry: Knights of Columbus and the Ku Klux Klan”, which focused on the relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of Columbus, along with how the two compared and contrasted. While it may have seemed to the regular person that the relationship between the two societies is very cut-and-dry, Finke and Shichtman gave references to how the two may have had similarities in the sense of both of them being heavyweights in the world of fraternal orders.

Shichtman, a professor of English and Jewish Studies at Eastern Michigan University, spoke first, giving a foreword of the connections between these two fraternal organizations, as well as the role played by other fraternal groups throughout history, such as the Freemasons, in this “Age of Fraternity”.

“Anxieties about shifts in gender, racial and class hierarchies may have encouraged the trend [of fraternal organizations,” said Shichtman about the growing in size of fraternal organizations in the time where the Knights of Columbus were just beginning. “Accompanied by the political, social, and economic turbulence of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, new anxieties about masculinity began to gain currency.” This was also the time that the Freemasons were coming into the picture.

Shichtman also spoke about the “Bogus Oath” that was said to be used by the Knights of Columbus, which was actually an anti-Catholic tirade not written by the Knights of Columbus, but rather, the Ku Klux Klan. The Oath was published in May 22, 1924 in an issue of the Oklahoma Fiery Cross, a publishing done by the Klan. The Oath was claimed by the Klan to be the Oath taken at the initiation ceremonies of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus.

A section of this oath states, “I do promise and declare that I will, when opportunity presents, make and wage relentless war, secretly and openly, against all heretics, Protestants and Masons, as I am directed to do, to extirpate them from the face of the whole earth; and that I will spare neither age, sex, nor condition, and that I will hang, burn, waste, boil, flay, strangle, and bury alive those infamous heretics; rip up the stomachs and wombs of their women, and crush their infants’ heads against the walls in order to annihilate their execrable race….”

Finke, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Kenyon College, then went on to discuss the imagery and symbolism that the Klan used to make their image heroic and patriotic, an appeal to mostly those in the South.
“For all their hyper masculine militarism, Klansmen imagine themselves as liberators, peace lovers,” Finke said.

Some of the other imagery that the Klansmen used in illustrations was the burning cross, “like a shining city on the hill,” Finke said.

The Klan, apart from just giving themselves a heroic image, also used a patriotic spin on their appearance. One image was of a Klansman on horseback bearing the American flag, with the slogan “America for Americans.”
“[It] makes me want to gag,” Shichtman said to the audience, who laughed in agreement.

Much of the presentation was focused on societal aspects, but was also geared on the economic facets at the time of the founding of these two fraternal organizations. Shichtman talked about the membership fees that Klansmen would pay, and how the money that one would pay to be initiated into the Klan was distributed throughout those in power within the organization. Schichtman also attributed the Klan to grown men paying money to play “dress-up.”

One of the questions asked by the audience was about a rumor that a United States President was a member of the Klan. Shichtman said that while it was said that Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, was a member of the Klan, it was merely a rumor that was not proven.

The Klan and the Knights, while both mainstays of fraternal orders, whether perceived “bad” or “good,” were brought to light in an in-depth analysis, and left the audience with a deeper understanding than before, rather than just white sheets and red capes.