Teaching 100 Percent American
Note: The resources on this site were selected for educators to use to teach about the relationship between the Ku Klux Klan’s white supremacist ideas on immigration and the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act). To use these resources responsibly, please view our teaching ideas, some of which are included in our Reflection Questions and Teaching Suggestions below.
The primary source was culled from the collection of the Indiana State Library by Historian Jill Weiss Simins.
- How did the KKK influence immigration policy in the 1920s?
- How did they market their white supremacist agenda?
- And, what are the echoes of their agenda (and language) that are present today?
The resources on this website can be used to:
- Build an understanding of public messages about migration through U.S. history.
- Inquire about the way public messages about migration influence how people think and act.
- Identify patterns of prejudice and prepares students to assess whether available public stories about migration are reliable and representative.
United States immigration laws reflect a long history of debate over who should be included and excluded in differing visions of American identity. In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act or the Immigration Act of 1924, “a measure which was a legislative expression of the xenophobia, particularly towards eastern and southern European immigrants, that swept America in the decade of the 1920s.”This legislation drastically limited immigration to the United States through a quota system that targeted specific groups for exclusion. While the annual quota for German immigrants was set at over 51,000 people, the quota for Syrian immigrants, for example, was 100 people. Thus, U.S. policy officially distinguished between races and backgrounds of people included or excluded as future Americans. The Ku Klux Klan influenced the passage of this legislation, which had dire consequences for those seeking asylum in the U.S. over the following decades in which the quota system remained in place.
In the 1920s, the Klan spread across the United States and especially thrived in Indiana. Historian James Madison explains that the Klan was especially successful at recruiting Hoosiers (a term for people from Indiana). As many as one in four white Protestant men born in the state were Klan members, including men in positions of political power. In considering past debates over immigration, it’s worth re-examining the Klan’s stance on the subject. Why? Because the Klan of the 1920s was an influential mainstream movement. And those Hoosiers who put on robes and lit up the night with their fiery crosses were representative of the feelings of much of the population of the state.
For additional context, please see the historical essay Jill Weiss Simins of the Indiana Historical Library drafted for this resource.
Because the Klan published their newspaper, the Fiery Cross, for several years in Indianapolis, historians know a lot about who joined, what exactly they believed and feared about immigration and race, and what they did to prevent people from certain countries from becoming Americans. The Fiery Cross served both as an official mouthpiece of the national organization and as a source for local Klan news. The Indiana State Library also has a large collection of Klan documents. In conversation, these sources paint a clear picture of Klan beliefs and influence on both Indiana and national policy.
Follow this link to access the primary sources we have selected for this collection.
Reflection Questions and Teaching Suggestions
Many of the sources on this site are drawn from the Ku Klux Klan’s newspaper as well as their propaganda. It is essential that students recognize that the Klan’s newspaper, the Fiery Cross, as well as their pamphlets, were not intended as objective journalism. They were published to disseminate the Klan’s perspective and promote their racist and xenophobic vision. The questions and activities below are intended to build an understanding of the role the Klan played in the 1920s in shaping attitudes about immigration, encourage reflection on the way that Klan sought to promote their ideas, as well as consider why so many people found their racist ideas appealing.
- There are several ways you might use the site. One way we might use it is to organize an inquiry using the primary source documents. We suggest the following questions that we adapted from our learning arc: What messages was the 1920s Ku Klux Klan spreading about what it meant to be American? How did they hope to influence the way people thought and acted in response to immigrants and immigration?
- Consider using the following thinking routines to frame a close read of the primary sources:
You might use the following thinking routines to encourage reflection and communication about the resource including the perspectives and insights that students bring to the document and take away from their close read. Recognizing that not all of us bring the same perspective and experiences to a study of anti-immigrant racism and its influence on policy, it is extremely important to encourage thoughtful communication across differences. You might begin by either reinforcing any contract you have set up for communication or creating one now. The following routines might be helpful for creating respectful dialogue and reflection: