Online Project Highlights 20th Century Growth of the KKK

A Ku Klux Klan member stands of the stairs of the Kettering Government Center during a rally March 21, 1999, in Kettering, Ohio. (Photo: Aimee Obidzinski, AP)

At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Va., a new online project has mapped the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century.

According to the Richmond Free Press, John T. Kneebone, a Richmond historian and an associate professor of history, teamed up with VCU’s Libraries for the project entitled, “Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1940.” The new project allows anyone with a computer to use an animated map to see how the Klan grew rapidly between the 1920s and ‘30s.

According to the VCU website, the Klan first came about after the end of the Civil War, but quickly faded away once Southern legislators developed laws that maintained racial segregation in a non-violent way. However, during the early part of the 20th century, the Klan became prominent, with 2,000 local chapters and had an estimated membership between two and eight million members, Kneebone told the Free Press.

Professor Kneebone said the map dispels the rumor that the KKK was just a group of Southern bigots, but was very prevalent in society.

“This map shows you just can’t say ‘Oh, it was those crazy people in the South,” Kneebone said in a statement. “The [KKK] was in the mainstream. Everywhere there was population, there was the Klan.”

Shariq Torres, a Web application analyst for VCU Libraries, oversaw the creation of the map and was in agreement with Kneebone, saying the Klan was mainstream and “fine with excluding Black people.”

“A lot of times, talk of racism says this region is bad or that region is bad. No, all of it is bad. And this map shows how widespread racist beliefs really are,” Torres told the Free Press. Even after the Klan died down “all of those people were still in the community. They became cops, they became judges, they became lawyers, they became teachers. They were all throughout the community.”

Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that between 8,000 and 12,000 people are active members of the organization, according to the Free Press.

According to the VCU website, the project is the first time in the institutions history that the digital librarians have worked directly with a faculty researcher to develop a digital visualization.

“It kind of indicates where libraries are going in general, moving more into the digital humanities realm, where we’re working with scholars to find new ways to disseminate scholarship,” said Erin White,  web systems librarian with VCU Libraries, who worked on the project, according to the VCU website. “This is really exciting from our perspective because it’s a new thing that we’re exploring that has great potential for us as an organization.”

Kneebone believes the project is important to understand the second KKK because it helps people understand the Klan’s opponents were courageous and worked together.

“In the long run, the importance of this project is the opponents,” Kneebone said. “What comes out of the opposition to the Klan is for the first time Black Americans, Catholic Americans, Jewish Americans, work together.”

Kneebone noted that his research includes only chapters he was able to find from Klan literature and newspapers, which means there could have been even more chapters. To see the virtual map go to this link:  


Twitter: @hunter_jonathan