"I sees de closing eyes; sees Mary jump up, sees de sojer face: We gwine to kill! We gwine to kill! We gwine to kill yo little Jesus!"
Massacre of the Innocents
Public DomainMassacre of the Innocents - Credit: Fra Angelico

The gospels relate how Herod, then King of the Jews, orders the assassination of every boy child under the age of two after learning of the birth of Christ. Christ himself escapes intact after an angel of the Lord appears to his father Joseph in a vision and instructs him to smuggle Mary and the infant messiah out of Egypt (Matthew 2). However, he is persecuted throughout his life, culminating in his crucifixion.

 

The image of a wild mob baying for murder ties into very real fears surrounding the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan first formed in 1865, directly after the Civil War, and had waged a campaign of terror over both African Americans and white Republicans, carrying out attacks and lynchings and destroying property. In 1915, a second wave formed in a context of escalating racial tensions induced by growing industrialization and urbanization. It was this new incarnation that adopted the familiar iconography of white hooded uniforms and cross-burning, motifs it stole directly from Birth of a Nation (1915), a film which glorified the exploits of the original KKK. With an agenda not merely confined to African Americans but inclusive of other threats to the dream of white purity, such as Catholics, Jews and bootleggers, the new Klan attracted an unprecedented amount of support. By the mid-1920s, membership totalled between four and five million, with some states having as many as 30 per cent of their white male citizens involved. A third wave accompanied the Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s. The Klan exists today in small independent chapters which devote themselves to opposing any number of minority groups and progressive initiatives.

 

Since records began in 1882 up to 1965, at least 3,445 African Americans were lynched by KKK members. 

 

Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit (1939) provides a harrowing testimony to black fears surrounding lynching.

 

A copy of the Mississippi Kloran, the KKK’s guidebook.

 

An excerpt from Birth of a Nation (1915) which, with its portrayal of the KKK as noble retainers of peace in the face of a savage onslaught by freedmen, laid the foundations of the second Klan.