A joint project between a Virginia Commonwealth University history professor and VCU Libraries shows for the first time how the Ku Klux Klan spread across the United States between 1915 and 1940, establishing chapters in all the states with an estimated membership of between 2 million and 8 million.
The project, “Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1940,” is an animated, online map that illustrates the rise of the second Klan, which was founded in Atlanta in 1915 and spread rapidly across the country to total more than 2,000 local units, known as Klaverns.
“The project is using technology to demonstrate, and make available for people to contemplate, the nationwide spread of the Ku Klux Klan,” said John Kneebone, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “This map shows that you can’t just say ‘Oh, it was those crazy people in the South.’ The [KKK] was in the mainstream.”
Kneebone built a list of local KKK chapters by piecing together information culled from the hate group’s official publications, including newspapers and magazines with such names as The Fellowship Forum, Kourier Magazine, Indiana Fiery Cross and Imperial Night Hawk.
He partnered with digital librarians at VCU Libraries to use his data to map out the list of KKK chapters and illustrate their chronological rise across the country.
“This project models innovative collaboration between libraries and scholars,” said Jimmy Ghaphery, head of digital technologies for VCU Libraries. “Building on the extensive research and scholarly context that Dr. Kneebone brought to bear, the VCU Libraries was able to provide support for data normalization, data visualization and a publishing platform. In publishing the raw data set, the door remains open for other researchers to jump in and join us.”
The project is significant for VCU Libraries because it marks the first time the digital librarians have worked directly with a faculty researcher to develop a digital visualization of their work.
“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. “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.”
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