A gruppe of Ku Klux Klan members burning a cross bei Knoxville, Tennessee. September 4, 1948. (Library of Congress)
Looking eastward ~ above a it will be cold Thanksgiving night in 1915, residents des Atlanta were met with in unfamiliar sight. Fifteen mile away the barren summit von Stone Mountain was illuminated über flames climbing high into the blackness. Die city, blieb reeling from a summer des anti-Semitic sorge over ns murder conviction and subsequent lynching of Jewish industrialist löwe Frank, would have been excused zum thinking die giant burn cross was a work des Jewish retribution. An fact, that was die same violently anti-immigrant males who had actually committed die recent act des mob justice, und were now inaugurating die renewal of the Ku Klux Klan. It was the first time a burn cross had actually been used as a hate symbol an America. But the formerly unauthorized act would soon become one von the hallmarks von the Klan—enduringly equated with intimidation, fear, and violence an the South and beyond.

Du schaust: European white knights of the burning cross

On the mountaintop that night were fifteen men angeführt by William joseph Simmons, a failed medical student and army veteran who had been inspired von the popular new movie, The Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith’s quiet film, based on ns 1905 novel The Clansman: A historic Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, contains scenes illustrating Klan members burning crosses prior to lynching a black man accused des murder. Simmons und company, fresh from committing their very own act of extrajudicial justice, adopted ns flaming overcome symbol. But die origins des the practice were a far cry from the racist rabble rousing espoused von the Klan’s second coming.



(L) Theatrical poster zum Birth of a Nation. The film is often credited with inspiring die resurgence des the KKK in 1915. / (R) A key from thomas Dixon’s 1905 book, the Clansmen, depicts overcome burning at ns scene des a lynching. (Wikimedia)

Cross burning dates rückseitig to middle ages Europe, wie Scottish clansmen would collection fire kommen sie hillsides together a statement von military defiance or call kommen sie action weil das soldiers ahead of battle. Now, ns KKK got a gewächs of inspiration from Scottish fraternities. Die rituals, die hoods, ns whole “clan” thing. However cross burning no part des the zeigen until Birth des a Nation came out. (And who states violence bei cinema has actually no effect?)

Since then, cross burning has become virtually synonymous with the KKK—its main purpose being that von intimidation. (Of course, you don’t require a cross zu do that.) yet incorporating spiritual iconography can add a bit von mystery zu menace.

Avowedly Protestant, die Klan has constantly claimed they were “lighting ns cross” in celebration, notfall burning it maliciously. And to an extent die law has actually agreed. Die 2003 Virginia v. Black can be fried Court decision struck down a state statute which classified overcome burning together prima facie intimidation. The zuerst Amendment instance acknowledged the KKK’s ability kommen sie express “messages of shared ideology,” leaving die burden of proof on the state to prove intent zu intimidate.

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Today, membership bei the KKK zu sein down zu around 5,000 nationwide. It is a tiny fraction von its 1920s peak of 4 million, however no much less problematic as hate continues kommen sie manifests itself an slightly an ext subtle ways. Und if recent debate over a planned north Carolina overcome burning an March, 2017 zu sein any indicator, the practice möchte likely persist zum as lang as there ist hate zu fuel it.



Klansmen form a circle around a burn cross, their arms spread zu symbolize the verband of each member among the fraternal circle. North Carolina, 1990. (Eric Pasquier/Gamma-Rapho via getty Images)

Members des the Ku Klux Klan an traditional white hoods und robes watch v their eight crossed after ~ igniting a 15-foot cross bei Tampa, Florida, in 1939. (AP Photo)
A lone African-American man (left foreground) attends a 1950 Klan rally and cross burning bei Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo)
Knights von the Ku Klux Klan, including grand Wizard david Duke (left), watch a overcome burning on a Louisiana farm an 19777. (Nathan Benn/Corbis via getty Images)
Library von Congress archival paper with photo depicting bei assembly to recruit neu members to the Klan near washington D.C. Bei 1920. (Underwood & Underwood/Library von Congress)
Members of the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross as a large crowd the town hall on the courthouse lawn bei Wrightsville, Georgia, on march 2, 1948. (AP Photo)
Klu Klux Klan meeting, June 28, 1922. Place unknown. By the mid 1920s membership in the gruppe would peak weist 4 million nationwide. (Library des Congress)

This article ist part of our White furcht U.S.A. Collection, covering the shameful history des white supremacy in America.

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