Emergence of the second Klan

Though the Ku Klux Klan did not become a palpable presence in New Brunswick until 1923, wide-spread public fascination with the Klan emerged at the start of the twentieth century. Much of the country’s revised interest in the Klan can be traced to the publication of Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansman in 1905. The novel propagated white supremacy by glorifying the nineteenth-century Klan as the moral guardians of the nation and depicted African Americans as morally degenerate criminals. In 1905, the immensely popular novel was adapted into a stage play of the same name.

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Even though the production incited protests across the country, New Brunswick welcomed the controversial play into the New Brunswick Opera House in March 1906. Like many contemporary white commentators, the New Brunswick Times praised the play’s overtly racist depiction of the Civil War and Reconstruction as historical truth, writing, “It is a powerful melodrama and both an education and an entertainment, for while it holds one’s closest attention as a drama, it reveals the truth of the horrors of negro domination in South Carolina and the real reason for the organization of the Ku Klux Klan.”

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In 1915, Dixon’s novel was adapted by director D.W. Griffith into the film The Birth of a Nation. The film retained the novel’s deeply racist and violent content, and despite fierce condemnation from the NAACP, it achieved unprecedented success. The Birth of a Nation began a run at the New Brunswick Opera House in March of 1916. A review of the show reported how the local audience applauded enthusiastically during “the gallant fight of the Klans.”

As late as February 1923, the New Brunswick Daily Home News said of the Klan, “If it exists here, it is so quiet that it is not worth considering.” Yet even without an organized Klan presence, New Brunswick’s black residents still had to navigate a tense racial atmosphere that glorified the Klan’s anti-black sentiment.