On August 8, 1925, more than 50,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan paraded through Washington, D.C. Some walked in lines as wide as 20 abreast, while others created formations of the letter K or a Christian cross. A few rode on horseback. Many held American flags. Men and women alike, the marchers carried banners emblazoned with the names of their home states or local chapters, and their procession lasted for more than three hours down a Pennsylvania Avenue lined with spectators. National leaders of the organization were resplendent in colorful satin robes and the rank and file wore white, their regalia adorned with a circular red patch containing a cross with a drop of blood at its center.
Nearly all of the marchers wore pointed hoods, but their faces were clearly visible. In part, that was because officials would sanction the parade only if participants agreed to walk unmasked. But a mask was not really necessary, as most members of the Klan saw little reason to hide their faces. After all, there were millions of them in the United States.
Most Americans today likely think of the Ku Klux Klan as an organization whose heyday came in the civil-rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, and of its members as lower-class white Southern men—ones who concealed their identities while waving the Confederate flag at pro-segregation rallies, burning crosses on the lawns of their enemies, or brutalizing their innocent victims. Others are perhaps familiar with the Klan of the 1860s and 1870s, which was a white and distinctively Southern terrorist organization composed of men who tortured and murdered people under cover of darkness in an effort to undermine the political and economic freedoms accorded to formerly enslaved people during Reconstruction.