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Hatred and Profits: Getting Under the Hood of the Ku Klux Klan

60 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2007 Last revised: 31 Aug 2010

Roland G. Fryer Jr.

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation; University of Chicago

Steven D. Levitt

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation

Date Written: September 2007

Abstract

The Ku Klux Klan reached its heyday in the mid-1920s, claiming millions of members. In this paper, we analyze the 1920s Klan, those who joined it, and the social and political impact that it had. We utilize a wide range of newly discovered data sources including information from Klan membership roles, applications, robe-order forms, an internal audit of the Klan by Ernst and Ernst, and a census that the Klan conducted after an internal scandal. Combining these sources with data from the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses, we find that individuals who joined the Klan were better educated and more likely to hold professional jobs than the typical American. Surprisingly, we find few tangible social or political impacts of the Klan. There is little evidence that the Klan had an effect on black or foreign born residential mobility, or on lynching patterns. Historians have argued that the Klan was successful in getting candidates they favored elected. Statistical analysis, however, suggests that any direct impact of the Klan was likely to be small. Furthermore, those who were elected had little discernible effect on legislation passed. Rather than a terrorist organization, the 1920s Klan is best described as a social organization built through a wildly successful pyramid scheme fueled by an army of highly-incentivized sales agents selling hatred, religious intolerance, and fraternity in a time and place where there was tremendous demand.

Suggested Citation

Fryer, Roland G. and Levitt, Steven D., Hatred and Profits: Getting Under the Hood of the Ku Klux Klan (September 2007). NBER Working Paper No. w13417. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1014794

Roland Fryer (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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American Bar Foundation

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University of Chicago ( email )

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United States

Steven Levitt

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

American Bar Foundation

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

University of Chicago ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-1862 (Phone)
773-702-8490 (Fax)

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