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Racial Cleansing: Everyday Violence and Social Purity in the Laundries of the Second Ku Klux Klan

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Abstract:

In December of 1923, a laundry service offering to “Keep Klothes Klean” placed an advertisement in Indiana State edition of The Fiery Cross, a weekly newspaper produced by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Many Midwestern businesses strategically demonstrated their ties to this popular organization through multiple modes of advertisement, but the “Kareful Klothes Kleaners” advertising in The Fiery Cross demand particularly close analytical attention because their services were so directly tied to the acts of violence at the heart of Klan activity. My larger dissertation project tracks both the symbolic resonance and material production of Ku Klux Klan robes in the early 20th century in order to address the deployment of these garments in the construction of exclusionary politics rooted in the display and manipulation of the human body. Starting with advertisements for cleaning services directed towards Klansmen, this paper will consider how the organization’s violent ideology materialized in activities as quotidian as laundering clothes. I will argue that keeping white robes clean was necessary to preserve the uniformity that characterized the public image of the organization in the early 20th century.

Garments record everyday gestures through stains of sweat and marks of wear that arise from contact between flesh, fiber, and other foreign matter. As such, the purpose of cleaning is to remove these traces, excising evidence of the individual body from a garment. Between 1915 and 1931, Ku Klux Klan robes were mass-produced in an Atlanta factory and shipped to the millions of members that the organization claimed nationwide. The early 20th century Klan operated as an ideological project on a national scale, activated through a complex commercial network. Local structures of maintenance for these industrially produced robes show the imbrication of ideological and material circulation, revealing the alarmingly quotidian character of violence perpetuated by members of the early 20th century Klan.

The white, Protestant, native-born, “100% Americans” who made up the early 20th century Klan sought to “purify” national politics through the deployment of physical violence, implicit and explicit threats, and a careful performance of bureaucratic respectability. My paper will use the Klan’s engagement with local commercial cleaners to demonstrate how the organization’s ideology of social purity was imbricated with an aesthetic of cleanliness. For the early 20th century Ku Klux Klan, cleaning effaced the labor of violence from individual garments, just as the mundanity of everyday commercial practices masked the brutality of social control.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657084_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Lennard, Katherine. "Racial Cleansing: Everyday Violence and Social Purity in the Laundries of the Second Ku Klux Klan" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC, Nov 21, 2013 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657084_index.html>

APA Citation:

Lennard, K. , 2013-11-21 "Racial Cleansing: Everyday Violence and Social Purity in the Laundries of the Second Ku Klux Klan" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657084_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: In December of 1923, a laundry service offering to “Keep Klothes Klean” placed an advertisement in Indiana State edition of The Fiery Cross, a weekly newspaper produced by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Many Midwestern businesses strategically demonstrated their ties to this popular organization through multiple modes of advertisement, but the “Kareful Klothes Kleaners” advertising in The Fiery Cross demand particularly close analytical attention because their services were so directly tied to the acts of violence at the heart of Klan activity. My larger dissertation project tracks both the symbolic resonance and material production of Ku Klux Klan robes in the early 20th century in order to address the deployment of these garments in the construction of exclusionary politics rooted in the display and manipulation of the human body. Starting with advertisements for cleaning services directed towards Klansmen, this paper will consider how the organization’s violent ideology materialized in activities as quotidian as laundering clothes. I will argue that keeping white robes clean was necessary to preserve the uniformity that characterized the public image of the organization in the early 20th century.

Garments record everyday gestures through stains of sweat and marks of wear that arise from contact between flesh, fiber, and other foreign matter. As such, the purpose of cleaning is to remove these traces, excising evidence of the individual body from a garment. Between 1915 and 1931, Ku Klux Klan robes were mass-produced in an Atlanta factory and shipped to the millions of members that the organization claimed nationwide. The early 20th century Klan operated as an ideological project on a national scale, activated through a complex commercial network. Local structures of maintenance for these industrially produced robes show the imbrication of ideological and material circulation, revealing the alarmingly quotidian character of violence perpetuated by members of the early 20th century Klan.

The white, Protestant, native-born, “100% Americans” who made up the early 20th century Klan sought to “purify” national politics through the deployment of physical violence, implicit and explicit threats, and a careful performance of bureaucratic respectability. My paper will use the Klan’s engagement with local commercial cleaners to demonstrate how the organization’s ideology of social purity was imbricated with an aesthetic of cleanliness. For the early 20th century Ku Klux Klan, cleaning effaced the labor of violence from individual garments, just as the mundanity of everyday commercial practices masked the brutality of social control.


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