The Modern Ku Klux Klan • Peter van Agtmael • Magnum Photos

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The Modern Ku Klux Klan

Peter van Agtmael offers a glimpse into the secretive world of America's modern day KKK

Peter van Agtmael

Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan The wedding of two members of the KKK in a barn in rural America. Tennessee, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos

In 2015, Peter van Agtmael traveled to Tennessee and Maryland to document Ku Klux Klan meetings and rituals; including a wedding and ‘cross lighting’, forever identified with the terror tactics of the KKK.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, as of 2015 there were 190 KKK groups in the US with their combined membership numbering between 5,000 and 8,000. Klan chapters maintain an anti-immigrant, white supremacist stance but are greatly fractured in their approach – some groups are openly militant while others have attempted to enter the mainstream by substituting overt hate-speech with mention of racial ‘pride’ or ‘white rights’.

Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan A member of the KKK is interviewed by a British television journalist. 2015. Maryland, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan The wedding of two members of the KKK in a barn in rural Tennessee. Tennessee, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan The wedding of two members of the KKK in a barn in rural Tennessee. Tennessee, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan A cross lighting after the wedding of two members of the KKK. Tennessee, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos

The Ku Klux Klan is the world’s oldest and most identifiable right wing extremest organization. The original KKK was formed shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War by radical Confederate Army veterans opposed to Reconstruction policies administered by Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party.

Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan 2015. Maryland. USA. A member of the KKK (R) shoots his handgun on a neighbor's property. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan 2015. Maryland. USA. The wife of a member of the KKK at a gathering for a BBQ and cross lighting/burning ritual in Maryland. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos

From 1865 to the early-1870s the Klan terrorized recently freed blacks and white Republicans with goals of maintaining white supremacy and overthrowing local pro-Federal governments but were suppressed. The KKK saw a massive resurgence in the 1910s and by 1925 claimed 5 million members. This incarnation of the Klan operated as a nation-wide fraternal organization opposed to African Americans and the influx of European immigrants, notably Jews and Catholics, but this organization faded away during the 1930s and 1940s.

During the 1950s and 1960s numerous local radical groups opposed to the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation adopted the name Ku Klux Klan. True to their adopted label, these scattered groups perpetuated the use of violence and intimidation to counter government policy. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, many of these Klan chapters operated without threat of arrest or prosecution since they occasionally operated with the approval of local government officials.

Peter van Agtmael | Ku Klux Klan A KKK cross lighting/burning ritual in Maryland. For the KKK, the cross symbolizes Jesus Christ lighting their path (though burning the cross is taboo in most sects of Christianity). Through the hi (...)