The Ku Klux Klan
"Honorary" Ku Klux Klan
"Honorary" Ku Klux Klan formed in 1919 by some of the biggest movers and shakers on the
University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Honorary societies on the campus in the 1920s
were sort of super-fraternities. It should be pointed out that the honorary society
was in no way tied to the "real" KKK.
It is unclear why the group decided on Ku Klux
Klan as the name.
Members were selected from the outstanding juniors in each of the campus
From 1920 to 1924 four of the five UW senior class presidents were
members of the KKK honorary society.
Two intertwined events led the group to reconsider its name after four years. First,
chapters of the real Ku Klux Klan were being organized throughout Wisconsin, including
one in Madison. Second, the national Klan made its appearance on campus by organizing a
Kappa Beta Lambda
which stood for Klansmen Be Loyal. That left the
campus with an organization named Ku Klux Klan that had no real ties with the real Klan,
and a fraternity with real Klan ties with no relationship to the Klan in its name.
The honorary society announced in the fall of 1922 that it was changing its name to
Tumas. The real KKK's foray into the world of fraternities was also proving to be
short-lived. With a low grade point average they were put on probation. The fraternity's
rapid rise and fall mirrored that of the adult Klan, which had a resurgence beginning in
1920 but was quickly losing membership by 1924. Kappa Beta Lambda was denied permission
to stage a Klan rally in the
UW Field House
in 1926, and in the fall of that year had only four new pledges. The next semester it
changed its name to Delta Sigma Tau.
The Real "Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan"
The Ku Klux Klan operated openly in Madison between 1922 and 1927 with a headquarters on
William McCormick, who held every important law enforcement position in the county during
Prohibition, including sheriff and Madison police chief, is quoted in Goldberg's article in the
Wisconsin Magazine of History as saying that “pretty near all the men in the Madison Police
Department were Klansmen.” The Klan was undoubtedly growing.
In 1924 the Klan made its first public appearance when 2,500 hooded and robed
Klansmen assembled on the shore of Lake Mendota
to burn a cross and initiate several men. Klan stickers showed up on store windows
on the Square, and even the door of the governor's office.
he Ku Klux Klan took it upon itself to clean up the “Bush.”
They sought to have their members deputized so they could make police raids. On Oct. 4, 1924,
the Klan staged a huge parade in Madison with an estimated 2,000 members marching around the
Capitol Square to the music of a fife and drum corps, and down West Washington Avenue to
Brittingham Park at the edge of the very neighborhood it promised to clean up
Although the Bush had a diverse ethnic, religious and cultural tone that included blacks and Jews,
it was the primary home for Madison's Italian immigrants. Many of them arrived here in the late
1800s to work as stone cutters on the State Historical Society
But by the end of 1927, the Klan had run out of money and recruitment was down. Meanwhile,
a branch of the NAACP formed in Madison in the early 1920s in response to the KKK marches.