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AppliKKKation: A 1920s History of the KKK in America

Before the Internet, the question might cross one’s mind: “How does one become a member of the Ku Klux Klan?” Is it by invitation? Do you apply? Are you just chosen and told you are now a member? These would be legitimate questions to ask in a day and age when information was not at your immediate fingertips.

One way to join would be to fill out an application. If you reasonably infer “8–2–21” at the head of this unused form is shorthand for August 2, 1921 then an application such as this makes sense.

You can assume there’s a fair amount of xenophobic sentiment and anxiety about the waves of immigration to America, in 1921, post World-War One.

On May 9, 1921, this was evidenced when Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act, aka, the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 to counter the increased immigration to America.

Europe was in distress, reeling from war’s destruction, the Russian Revolution had caused chaos, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire had fallen.

A 1921 Application to Join the Ku Klux Klan

This application – at its basic element –is a partly-printed form. In this instance, a single sheet printed recto only. If you look closely to the lower left you’ll see it even bears an official Knights of the Ku Klux Klan printer’s slug: Printed by the Ku Klux Klan Press. (Ian Brabner, Rare Americana)

Partly-printed forms are not easy things to compose and not always successful in their execution, especially if you’re trying to keep the content to one single 8½ x 11 sheet.

Are your questions too long for the form? Is there enough length for your potential form-filler-outer to enter in the data you’re trying to collect? Is your line height adequate? Too short? Too tall? Not enough lines? Too many lines?

This form tries to  accommodate for error by the tried and trued method of asking for the blank side of the sheet to be used to carry over further, or additional, information. Simply “Number the answer to correspond with the question.”

The KKK’s form mainly gets it right, with some problems.

Question 1. “Is the motive prompting your inquiry serious?” seems flawed.

The opening content – meant to look like an opening paragraph straight off a ribbon typewriter – informs the anonymous male that one of his “personal friends” has sought out the Ku Klux Klan to contact him. (The reason for the individual receiving the form in the first place.) Upon successfully completing the form, the potential candidate is promised by the Klan that they will  “…impart to you the information your friend desires you to have.”

Question 1. seems to be a fail, as the Millennials say, but perhaps only from the point of logic. Otherwise, there is plenty of room to handwrite “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe”.

Question 18. asks what secret or fraternal orders the individual belongs to. Just enough room. Not enough room. Perhaps time to turn the sheet over.

Question 19. seems like it could go beyond a  “Yes” or “No” depending how loquacious with the pen your candidate was feeling, on that particular day: “Do you honestly believe in the practice of REAL fraternity?”  (As opposed to…?)

That’s the form. Twenty questions for 1921.

• • •

Nowadays, you can apply for membership to the Invisible Empire on the internet.

But in some ways, and perhaps this is true of many forms – whether partly-printed or digital –  as a result of the changing technologies intent upon capturing data or information, the format has still not diverged that widely.

The digital examples we see online are similar to the single sheet printed version we present here from the 1920s. These are not kissing cousins. They are brother and sister.

The questions are kept short. Each question is upon its own line. The geographical location to enter in the information is to the right; the size and dimension for each area of input is not cogitated upon, or designed upon, or engineered upon, at great length or in great detail.

Whether paper or digital, the real estate of available horizontal space adds an aspect of constriction and limitation for what is—in both scenarios—a method of collecting information which is not meant to be engraved into marble and sanctified for the Ages.

The Invisible Empire’s form from 1921 is like most partly-printed forms of the 20th century, and our present century. It is not elegant. It’s not pretty, but it works.

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