Just before midnight on Oct. 16, 1915, Methodist minister William Joseph Simmons and at least 15 other men climbed Stone Mountain in Georgia. They built an altar, set fire to a cross, took an oath of allegiance to the “Invisible Empire” and announced the revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
Beneath a makeshift altar glowing in the flickering flames of the burning cross, they laid a U.S. flag, a sword and a Holy Bible.
“The angels that have anxiously watched the reformation from its beginnings,” said Simmons, who declared himself Imperial Wizard, “must have hovered about Stone Mountain and shouted hosannas to the highest heavens.”
“Without confession of the sin of white racism, white supremacy, white privilege,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the progressive Christian group Sojourners, “people who call themselves White Christians will never be free.”
Wallis didn’t refer directly to the Klan, which terrorized Black people during Reconstruction before being dismantled by President Ulysses S. Grant. It was “born again” that night in 1915 on Stone Mountain, and Christianity was used to justify a second wave of terror.
Restricting membership to White Christians, the Klan wore white robes to symbolize “purity,” burned crosses to signify “the Light of Christ” and picked selective scriptures from the Bible to preach white supremacy. The Invisible Empire’s comeback was aided by Hollywood’s first blockbuster, D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” which glamorized the Klan.
By the early 1920s, the Klan boasted 5 million members and had infiltrated thousands of churches with its hateful doctrines.
Many Protestant ministers would openly declare their Klan membership. And creepy photos would capture Klan members in white hoods standing in churches and sitting in choir pews.
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