I love old books! I have a couple of yearbooks from the University of Wisconsin and while I love flipping through them, I’m always reminded of the terrible day I found the KKK proudly displayed within one of them.
It was in the one from 1921:
I have both it and the one from 1919 and I’d had them for quite a long time before I came across the two pages that not only surprised me, but kind of shook me to my core, to be honest. I mean, I knew that the Klan was prevalent in the states during that time, but I had no idea they would be allowed as an official society in a university.
Up until then I was really enjoying taking an occasional trip through the past, seeing faces long forgotten:
And laughing at the silliness of the times:
I especially loved flipping to the back to see all of the adverts:
And I felt more than a bit sad looking through the section dedicated to the soldiers lost in WW1:
Then, one day, I was happily perusing the pages and there it was, under the Society section:
Right before them was another suspicious looking society page:
It actually made me feel sick to my stomach and I wrote to the University of Wisconsin to voice my opinion. Not long after I wrote them, this article was published: UW–Madison releases report on student organizations that took name of KKK in 1920s
According to the report, two UW–Madison student organizations took the name “Ku Klux Klan” between 1919 and 1926. Both organizations formed more than a half-century after the establishment of the Klan in 1866 in Tennessee. Members of the early Reconstruction-era Klan, wearing hoods and robes, committed horrific acts of racially motivated terrorism, including murder, rape and torture. This first iteration of the Klan had faded substantially by the early 1870s, according to the report.
Popular culture and post-World War I racism, nativism and religious prejudice fueled the Klan’s renewed momentum in the early 20th century. Amid this backdrop, the first UW–Madison group emerged in 1919, establishing an interfraternity society under the name Ku Klux Klan.
This group was “an unmasked, above-ground interfraternity society composed of leading students,” the report says. The historical record on the group’s activities is scant, but it appears to have had no connection with the national Klan organization.
They didn’t mention the White Spades, though, and I can’t find anything on them, so I don’t know if it was also a racist group, but either way, the KKK was allowed to operate at some level on campus and had “several leading students” among their ranks.
Just another sad footnote in the history of America, and it’s sitting just a few feet away from me as I type this. I wish we could undo the past, but we can’t, so the best we can do is face it and learn from it. And do OUR part to never, ever repeat it!
6 thoughts on “From the Sublime to the Asinine”
I can imagine the shock you had when the pages unveiled this to you. But I’m afraid these things go on and we are still being shocked at the things that happen today – and in our name too! I don’t think politicians ever learn from history, and not just politicians, the people who vote them in and then sit back and blindly let them rampage through constitutions and laws without shouting out are as much to blame. Look around you today and has much changed?
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While some things have changed, it just morphs into a different form. I’m reminded of the first trip I took to our local grocery store with my daughter who was 12 at the time. An angry neo-Nazi with a bald head covered in a swastika tattoo was being escorted out the doors as we were going in. Another one of “those days” for me. Sometimes it’s more in your face and you can’t help but wonder why??
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That book is a real treasure, even if the final shock may have diminished the pleasure of having it in your hands
It really is. I still enjoy looking through both it and the one from 1919 a few times a year. They are leather bound time capsules. xo
I love looking at old yearbooks, but seeing the KKK and White Spades would have stopped me in my tracks too! Sad that racism seems to be getting more prevalent these days. – Karen
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