A Wall of Wizards
And other prominent men who joined the KKK
There are three eras or “incarnations” of the Klan. An era ended each time the Klan disbanded or terminated itself such as it did in 1869 and 1944. The first incarnation of the KKK lasted from 1865 to 1869. The second incarnation lasted from 1915 to 1944. The third era of the Klan began in 1946 and since there have been continuous and overlapping Klans ever since, the KKK is still in its. Third Incarnation. While there have been different phases to the third era of the Klan and many Klan groups have come and gone, since 1946, there has not been a time without a Klan or group of Klans existing. So, contrary to the confusing nonsense put out by the wannabe Klan leaders who don’t know Klan history, or even what constitutes a beginning and end of a Klan era, the Klan is in its third incarnation, not its fifth, sixth, ninth, or what ever these impostors are claiming. For more then a year after its founding the KKK had no Grand Wizard or national leader. The initial leaders were the six founders –
|Captain John C. Lester
|| Major James R. Crowe
|| Captain John B. Kennedy
Four Original Klansmen.
Photos of the other two are not presently available and will be added as soon as we get them. Their names are Frank O. McCord, and Richard Reed.
Capt. Lester suggested forming the club. Capt. Kennedy mentioned ku klos as part of the new club’s name. Maj. Crowe suggested changing it to “ku klux”. Lester, then suggested adding “clan” to the name. John Kennedy repeated it and became the first man to speak the words “Ku Klux Klan”. Crowe suggested using costumes to make the club more mysterious.
Capt. John C. Lester, born, 1834, Giles County, TN. Died Dec. 4, 1901, Hartsville, TN. Buried in Maplewood Cemetery, Pulaski, TN. Served in the 3rd Tenn. Infantry. He practiced law for a while, never married, and was a Christian (denomination not presently known).
Maj. James R. Crowe, born, Jan. 29, 1838, Pulaski, TN. Died July 14, 1911. Buried in Maplewood Cemetery. Served in the Marion Rifles, Co. G, 4th Alabama Infantry, later served with the 35th Tenn. Infantry. He attended Marion Military Institute and was a prominent factor in business and political life in Tennessee. A Free Mason, he attained the rank of Most Illustrious Grand Master of the Grand Council of TN. in 1866. He was a Cumberland Presbyterian.
Adj. Calvin E. Jones, son of Judge Thomas M. Jones, Born 1839. Died xxxx, Pulaski, TN. Served as adjutant of the 32th Tenn. Infantry. He was a lawyer and a member of the Episcopal Church.
Capt. John B. Kennedy, born Nov. 6, 1841, Wales, Giles County, TN. Died Feb. 13, 1913, Lawrenceberg, TN. Buried in Monroe Cemetery, Lawrenceberg. Served in the 3rd Tenn infantry. His widow was present in Pulaski, TN. on May 21, 1917, when, amid much fan fare, the plaque, commemorating the law office where the KKK was founded, was placed on the outside wall of the building. Officiating at the ceremony was Mrs. Grace Neufield, former Tennessee state historian of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Kennedy attended Center College, Danville KY.
Frank O. McCord, born Jan. 14, 1839, Giles County, TN. Died Aug. 19, 1895, Fayetteville, TN. Buried Rosehill Cemetery, Fayetteville. Served as a private in the Confederate Army and later became editor of the Pulaski Citizen. He was a member of the Methodist Church South.
Richard Reed, was a lawyer in Pulaski, TN. and served in the 3rd Tenn. Infantry. He was a Presbyterian.
Other Prominent Early Members
Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest. Born July 13, 1821, in Chapel Hill, TN. Died Oct. 29, 1877, in Memphis, TN. Civil War photo of Forrest.
While most books show Civil War photos of Forrest in his general’s uniform above is a rare photo of Forrest when he was national leader of the KKK. He ruled the Klan from 1867 to 1869, when he ordered its disbandment.
|Col. William J Simmons Imperial Wizard 1915-1923||Dr. Hiram Evans Imperial Wizard 1923-1939||Dr.James A, Colescott Imperial Wizard 1939-1944|
Col. Simmons revived the KKK on Thanksgiving, 1915. He was sworn in as Imperial Wizard by three men who had been members of the original KKK under Gen. Forrest. Thus Simmons established a link between his Klan and the original KKK. Simmons also granted a free life membership to anyone who had been a member of the first Klan.
Dr. Evans, a dentist, literally tricked Simmons into turning leadership of the Klan over to him in 1923. He ruled the Klan the longest stepping down after 16 years. Under his leadership the Klan reached its height and, also, went into decline.
Dr. Colescott, a veterinarian, began to increase Klan membership, added many reforms, and many believe he could have maintained the KKK as a legitimate fraternal order. However, unable to pay alleged back taxes, he ordered the Klan’s disbandment. Loss of the Klan’s copy rights has led to the endless parade of modern day splinter factions of the, one time united, Ku Klux Klan.
|Dr. Samuel Green Grand Dragon 1946-1949||Police Chief Samuel Roper Imperial Wizard 1949-1950||Auto Worker Eldon Edwards Imperial Wizard 1950-1960|
Dr. Green, an obstetrician, revived the KKK on Stone Mountain, Ga. in 1944. He restructured the Klan as to avoid any claims the IRS might make concerning the more then quarter million dollars the Klan allegedly owed. He did this by claiming the Klan in each state were independent and only connected as Klan of association. To back this up Green took the title of Grand Dragon (a state leader) instead of the national title of Imperial (or Grand) Wizard and he named his revived Klan the Associations of Georgia’s. But, he was the recognized head of the Klan’s third incarnation.
Police Chief Samuel Roper, a former Atlanta policeman and head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, became leader of the Klan when Dr. Green died in 1949. His reign was the shortest passing the leadership position on to Eldon Edwards in 1950.
Eldon Edwards, an Atlanta auto worker (paint sprayer), ruled the KKK until his death in 1960. He reorganized the KKK again and named it, the US. Klan. By 1957, Edwards’ Klan had 50,000 members. The seven other existing Klan’s at the time totaled 50,000 members combined. So, by 1957, there were 100,000 Klan members. During his reign people began to realize that when the Klan lost all their copyrights after its 1944 disbandment there was no longer any legal protection on the name of the Ku Klux Klan, its emblems, or regalia. Everything had gone into public domain and anyone could now use whatever they chose. Thus, totally unconnected independent Klan groups began to appear. The “Ku Klux Klan Movement” has never been united ever since. These separate Klan’s were often bitter rivals of each other. With no unifying national control these various Klan’s went in many different directions, some continued on as fraternal orders, others became more political, but with the 1950’s advent of the Civil Rights movement, some Klan groups became murderously savage groups which did much to destroy the Klan’s reputation as a whole and to lead to its eventual near destruction by the end of the 1960’s. Edwards’ death in 1960, launched a power struggle in the Klan. There is still a US Klan’s today which says they are the direct descendant group. I do know that their Klankraft and Klan knowledge is the most complete of any Klan in existence today.
|Robert M. Shelton Imperial Wizard 1960-1987||James R. Venable Imperial Wizard 1963- 1993||Samuel H. Bowers Imperial Wizard 1964-1968|
Robert M. Shelton, a used car salesman, emerged the victor when in 1960, he managed to unite most of the Klan factions into the United Klan’s of America. He ruled his Klan until its forced disbandment in 1987, after it lost a 7 million-dollar lawsuit. His UKA became larger then all the other independent factions combined. He had the potential to establish his UKA as a legitimate fraternal, civic, or political organization. Though his Klan did dabble in these endeavors, his Klan also became a savage Klan group. To combat the Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s his Klan actually tried to take on the federal government in some ways and committed many acts of law breaking and violence. Under Shelton’s leadership, his Klan (as well as some others) began to rapidly expand establishing branches in many states that had not seen a Klan group since the 1920’s-40’s. For the third time in history the KKK could count its numbers in the hundreds of thousands. It may even have reached as many as a half million members nationwide, far smaller then the Klan’s height in the 1920’s, but equal in size to the original KKK, and a force to be reckoned with. After the violent 1960’s, Shelton’s UKA, like all other Klans, was pounded to a pulp by the numerous federal crack downs and its once proud membership had shrunk to around 2,000. A figure they managed to keep, more or less, until the end in 1987.
James R. Venable, an attorney, was a personal friend of Col. Simmons and Dr. Green. His family owned Stone Mountain, the scene of the Klan’s two revivals. The Klan group he eventually founded was called the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which he ran until his death in the 1990’s (exact date pending). To his credit, he ran his Klan much like the Simmons Klan with its regalia, emblems, degrees, and Klankraft virtually intact. Being an attorney, he also kept his Klan relatively out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, his Klan also went into decline as a result of the bad image the violent Klan’s had given to all Klan organizations. After the general decline of the late 1960’s, Venable’s Klan settled down into a private fraternal social club Klan. When he died his family folded the National Knights. Since then the name of the National Knights has been picked up and is being used by others.
Samuel H. Bowers, a saw mill owner, ran a major Klan group, the White Knights of Mississippi, but its power and membership were mostly limited to the state of Mississippi. Bowers commanded tremendous power in his home state and literally launched a murderous reign of terror against the Civil Rights movement there. He took on the full power of the federal government doing irreversible damage to the reputation of all Klan’s as a result. Apparently, he must have thought he was living in the 1860’s and not the 1960’s. You can’t go around murdering people, burning churches, and bombing buildings and expect no one to do anything about it. By the late 60’s, while he was in prison, along with many of his followers his Klan went defunct. The name, White Knights, is used by several Klan groups today.
|William M. Chaney Imperial Wizard 1970’s||William Wilkinson Imperial Wizard 1975-1983||David Duke Grand Wizard 1975-1979|
William M. Chaney, a one time deputy sheriff and constable, split from the UKA and founded the Confederation of Independent Orders, Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan which began growing to reasonable size. I knew his Pennsylvania Grand Dragon, Ray Doerfler, who confided in me that at their height Chaney had 1,300 members between Pennsylvania and New Jersey alone. He ran his Klan as a republic with each state having considerable autonomy. Unfortunately for him, his Klan went defunct when he lost a court appeal in 1977, concerning a bombing incident. Let’s face it, lawmen shouldn’t break the law. In the 1970’s, total Klan membership (all groups combined) was around 15,000.
William Wilkinson, ex-submariner, founded his Invisible Empire, Knights of the KKK in 1975. He was often described as a media slick southerner. He was later repudiated as an FBI informer. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, his Klan was among the four largest. I met him on a couple of occasions. He at least tried to create a polished professional image for his Klan. When Wilkinson stepped down in 1983, his Klan went defunct from fragmentation and incredibly corrupt bad leadership.
David Duke, who holds a degree in history and is a writer and lecturer, founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He did his best to present a polished professional image for himself and his Klan and was successful to a considerable extent. In 1979, he stepped down to found his National Association for the Advancement of White People and to go into politics. Don Black succeeded Duke as Grand Wizard and promptly went to prison when he attempted to take over the government of a small island country in the Caribbean Sea. His Klan had a brief success when they won the hotly disputed Gulf Shrimp Boat Crisis, but he proved to be a hot headed leader. While in prison, his trusted seconds in command ousted him. Stanley McCollum then took over the Knights of the KKK group and held it together for eight years. Under his leadership it went into great decline and faded away. By the 1980’s, all but three of the Klan’s that existed up to and during the 1960’s had vanished. As in the 1950’s and 1960’s, new Klan groups came and went in the 1970’s. Some didn’t last long enough to get noticed outside of their local areas. The same continued throughout the 80’s, 90’s, and to this day.
During the 1980’s, the four major Klan groups were Robert Shelton’s UKA, Bill Wilkinson’s Invisible Empire, David Duke’s Knights of the KKK, and James Venable’s National Knights. Each had a membership of around 2,000 give or take. Total membership, all Klan groups combined, was around 8,000 nation wide.
|Keith Smith Imperial Wizard 1970’s||Dale Reusch Imperial Wizard 1975-1983||Virgil Griffin Grand Wizard 1975-1979|
During the 1990’s, as in the 1980’s, many Klan groups got into legal trouble and lost precedent setting lawsuits. Other Klan’s were plagued by poor leadership, infighting, and general incompetence. The KKK had lost all of it’s one time power, money, and influence. But there were a few Imperial Wizards worth mentioning. Keith Smith became leader of the US Klan’s. I met him and I thought he could make a good Klan leader. However, in the mid 90’s he stepped down under mysterious circumstances. Dale Ruesch led his Ohio based Klan group from the 1970’s to 1990’s. I met him in the 1990’s at a US Klans’ rally in Tennessee. He gave me the impression that he longed for the days of night riding. I met Virgil Griffin at Richard Ford’s Pulaski, TN, rally 1993. Griffin, a gas station owner, founded the Christian Knights of the KKK. I never heard of any illegal activity being committed by his Klan and he did stage some sizable Klan Christmas parades in North Carolina, his home state. So, I was surprised when members of his Klan were convicted of burning down a Negro Church. That resulted in his Klan losing the largest lawsuit to date, $37,500,000. That put him out of business.
|Imperial Wizard Richard Ford Imperial Wizard 19??||Grand Wizard Richard Bonderia Grand Wizard 1988-Present||Paul LaMonica Grand Wizard 2010- Present|
I met Richard Ford, who founded the Fraternal White Knights of the KKK, at his 1993 Pulaski, TN. rally. He was a nice enough individual that could have made a good Klan leader, but he was in poor health with cancer at a bad time when the Klan was at it’s lowest ebb of about 4,000 members, all Klan’s combined. Though misinformed individuals spread the word the Ford died, he did, however, survive his bout with cancer. His Klan survives to this day and Imperial Wizard Ford now has established Klavern’s stretching from Florida to Iowa to Tennessee and beyond. He has kept his Klan out of trouble and is noted for his ready sense of humor and friendly smile. (Update, 2010: I.W. Richard Ford has resigned as leader of the FWK due to poor health and age. His Klan had a peaceful change over to new leadership.)
Grand Wizard, Richard Bonderia, is a former Republican Party County Committeeman and published writer,noted historian, Great Blufustin of the Ku Klos Knights, (among other things). He reigns over Greater Klandomas the Grand High Exalted Mystic Wizard, K-Quad, Knight of the Midnight Mystery who traversed the Realm of the Unknown, wrested the Solemn Secret from the grasp of Night and became the Imperial Master of the Great Lost Mystery and from his Aulik brings words of timely Wisdom and out of Mystic Darkness brings Light.
Grand Imperial Wizard, Paul Lamonica, joined the Klan in 1978. Throughout the years have held many offices, from the Exalted Cyclops, Imperial Koltropp to the Grand Wizard. And in the true klan tradition, a proud Republican.
But, most Klans of the 1990’s did not survive. Fly by night Klan groups were popping up and falling apart in the 1990’s on such a regular basis that you could almost set your watch to them. There was an endless parade of member less leaders comprising everything from con artists out to shake down suckers for dues and donations, to psychos and criminals, to ego maniacs out to build their own personal power structures. Their main past time was tribal warfare and infighting. They were too numerous and too insignificant to bother to mention by name. Already in the 21th century numerous new Klan groups have formed up and a number of them have already fallen apart. Ad infinitum, ad nauseaum.
Hon. Charles Holland, I would like to make an honorable mention here and acknowledge, Charles Holland, an old time Klansman, he was in his eighties when he died in the early 1990’s. He taught me much of the Klan’s secret Klankraft that was never to be written down, but passed on by word of mouth only. If it were not for him many of the Klan’s secret hand shakes, signs, and signals would have been lost to history.
More Prominent Men Who Joined The Early Ku Klux Klan
Contrary to modern myth the KKK was never a bunch of ignorant racists. Many sophisticated famous, prominent, and historically significant men joined the Ku Klux Klan and became its leaders. Photos of all of them are not available.
Some of the prominent men who were members of the original KKK were: General Robert E. Lee (whose statement: “My support for your organization must remain completely invisible.” inspired the Klan’s nickname: “Invisible Empire.”), General John C. Brown, Captain John W. Morton (who became Secretary of State of Tennessee), Ryland Randolph (editor of the Independent Monitor), General George W. Gordon, General John B. Gordon (Grand Dragon of Georgia and author of the Prescripts of the KKK), General W.J. Hardee (author of many of the warnings and oaths of the KKK), Colonel Joseph Fussell, General Albert Pike (chief judicial officer of the original KKK and a major figure in Scottish Rite Masonry), and Edward White (Supreme Court Justice under the Wilson administration, he was a member of the original KKK), Air Force General Nathan Bedford Forrest III (Grandson of Grand Wizard Forrest and Grand Dragon of Georgia for the revival Klan, he was killed by the Nazis during World War II).
|General W. J. Hardee||Ryland Randolph||General Albert Pike|
|General John B. Gordon||General Robert E. Lee||President Calvin Coolidge|
|President Warren G. Harding||President Harry S. Truman||Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black|
|Supreme Court Justice Edward White||Senator Robert Byrd||President Wildrow Wilson|
Supreme Justice Edward White Senator Robert Byrd
Other notable men were: President Warren G. Harding. He was sworn into the Ku Klux Klan in the Green Room of the White House by Imperial Wizard Simmons.
President Woodrow Wilson and President McKinley. Little is known of their Klan membership. I have one book that only mentions they were members, but that’s all. McKinley was a Union officer, but many Union men joined or affiliated with the original Klan during the Radical Republican’s anti-white Reconstruction Era. Wilson would have been a member of the Klan under Simmons.
President Calvin Coolidge. He allowed cross lightings on the Capitol steps and reviewed the giant Klan parades of 1925 & 26. Go to the Various Activities section of the Klan in the Historical Information section of this web page to see a photo of President Cooledge marching along side Imperial Wizard Evans if the big 1925 Washington, D.C. parade.
President Harry S. Truman was a minor ordinary Klansman from 1920-22. His membership was not notable. He later had a major falling out with the KKK over his desire to appoint Catholics to key political positions; something the KKK opposed at the time. He severed all ties with the KKK and openly repudiated them. They didn’t call him, “give ’emHell Harry”, for nothing. His family has tired to deny his KKK membership ever since.
Supreme Court Justice, Hugo Black, his robes (with his name in them) were found in an old Klan Hall in the 1960’s. Under political pressure, he superficially repudiated the Klan during its period of scandals.
Senator Robert Byrd, West Virginia, Democrat, was a Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops as a young man. He spoke favorably of the Klan during his political career
Photo above: The Supreme Court, 1937. The man in the Klan robe was Justice Van Devanter, who was soon to retire from the Court. The photo appeared in the New York Sun on Oct. 2, 1937.
|Mount Rushmore||Gutzon Borglum||Gutzon Carving on Stone Mountain|
Gutzon Borglum, who carved Mt. Rushmore, Stone Mountain, and did work on the base of the Statue of Liberty was a prominent life member of the KKK. He sat on the Imperial Koncilium in 1923, which transferred leadership of the KKK from Col. Simmons to Hiram Evans. Under media pressure he superficially repudiated the KKK.