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 fraternities. 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 fraternity called 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 the Square.

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 library.

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.