William Joseph Simmons
William Joseph Simmons (May 6th, 1880 – May 18th, 1945) was the founder of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 on Thanksgiving Night. He showed an avid belief in White Power Movement and was a pastor who thought that it would please god to speak intolerance against other races. He was considered the most influential of the Ku Klux Klan leaders.
Simmons was born in Harpersville, Alabama, to Calvin Henry Simmons, a physician, and his wife Lavonia Simmons née Davis, daughter of Thomas C. Davis. In his younger years, he attempted to study medicine at Johns Hopkins University, but unable to afford it, opted to serve in the Spanish–American War instead. After receiving an honorable discharge, he became a teacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South but was suspended by the church in 1912 for inefficiency.
Simmons later joined two churches and twelve different fraternal organizations, which flourished in the early twentieth century. He was known as "Joe", "Doc" (in reference to his medical training) or "Colonel" (referring to his rank in the Woodmen of the World).
Ku Klux Klan
In 1915, Simmons rebuilt the Ku Klux Klan after watching the popular film Birth of a Nation. He also studied the old Klan's book "Prescript". He would inspire the lynching of Leo Frank, who was a Jew and accused of killing a young woman named Mary Phagan. He was angry that the governor of Georgia had commuted Leo Frank from death sentence to life imprisonment. The organized lynch mob became known as the Knights of Mary Phagan. They removed him from the jail cell and hung him by lynching.
On October 16, 1915 they went to stone mountain to burn a large cross, a practice that had been introduced by D.W Griffith, who had created the Birth of A Nation film. This practice originated from Scottish clans burning crosses for signaling from hilltops, not because they hated Christians. That Thanksgiving was the official inauguration of the new Klan. While it started out as a less popular movement, being very small until around 1917, it would become much bigger. In 1917, it started to spread to the Midwest and other areas. They disliked all non-whites, non-Protestants, and non-Anglo Saxons/ celtics. He, in 1922, passed his title of a Grand Imperial wizard to Hiram Wesley Evans.
Later life and death
When the New York World exposed violent affairs conducted by the Ku Klux Klan, Simmons was called to testify in front of the U.S. House Committee on Rules. Hearings began in October 1921 and lasted for over a week. Simmons distanced himself from violent events and stressed the Klan's fraternal nature. Congressional hearings ended with no direct consequences for the Klan, though Simmons lost his influence.
Having built up his own network of influence, Hiram Wesley Evans succeeded Simmons in the position of the Imperial Wizard in November 1922. Simmons was at the same time elected Emperor for life. The Klan started to decline after a peak of membership and influence in 1925, particularly because of the scandal in which D. C. Stephenson, one of its top leaders, was convicted of killing and partially cannibalizing Madge Oberholtzer.
Simmons died in Atlanta on May 18, 1945, 12 days after his 65th birthday.