A force of nature and her flim-flam man meet their mark. A true believer.
Bessie Tyler and Edward Young Clarke, together—the Southern Publicity Association, met the fervent William Joseph Simmons, saw an opportunity, and played on his many weaknesses. American history would never be the same.
A dark haiku
Advertising executives. Swindlers. Ku Klux Klan. American history. Fascisms. In my career as a book publisher, I’ve never seen the library cataloging data for a title so neatly sum up its story…
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It was the volatile, precarious terrain of Post–World War I America. Tyler and Clarke took Simmons’s dying and broke KKK, with its 2,000–3,000 members in Georgia and Alabama, and in a few short years increased its membership to nearly five million. Chapters were established in every state of the union, and the Klan began influencing American political and social life. Between one-third and one-half of the eligible men in the country belonged to the organization.
Even to modern sensibilities, the extent of their scheme is shocking: the limitlessness of their audacity; the full-scale and ongoing con of Simmons; the size of the personal fortunes they earned, amassed, stole in the process; and just how easily and expertly they exploited the particular fears and prejudices of every corner of America.
You will recognize in this pair a very American sense of showmanship and an accepted, even celebrated, brash entrepreneurial hustle. And, as their story winds down, the tainted and ultimately ineffectual Congressional hearings into the Klan’s monumental growth that fizzle into nowhere? They will also seem familiar.
Author Dale W. Laackman gives us a fascinating, powerful, and previously untold story based on original research, archival material never before published, Census records, and obscure books and letters.
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Years ago I published a book, “The Movies Are”: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays, 1920-1928, a collection of film writing the great American poet did as one of the world’s very first movie critics for the Chicago Daily News. What stands out is that he didn’t fumble around in this brand new genre—he shone; whether he knew it or not he was investigating and defining the broad parameters and finer nuances of the embryonic pastime of discussing motion pictures.
While reading Laackman’s book for the first time I couldn’t help but think…and this is what Joseph Pulitzer—and then Herbert Bayard Swope—with the NY World were doing for the newspaper business of the twentieth century. (This is wonderfully captured in the chapter devoted to the World’s 21-day exposé of the Klan, three straight weeks of searing front-page coverage.)
More ominously, this is also what Bessie Tyler and Edward Young Clarke were doing in their realm at this time—applying an intimate and brilliant understanding of the emerging fields of public relations and advertising, and discovering with their evil ingenuity a universe of possibilities.
Sandburg. Pulitzer and Swope. Tyler and Clarke. They all found themselves in a world disarranged by change and uncertainty, incredible new technologies, and polarizing political and cultural forces. They created as they explored and experimented…
For the Kingdom and the Power ends with an epilogue that tells the story of another flim-flam artist of the day, someone whose story runs parallel to Bessie and Edward’s and resonates with our own times: Charles Ponzi. Upon turning the last page of the enclosed book, you will have a sharper picture of twentieth—and twenty-first—century America.
Author Dale W. Laackman is a former ad man and award-winning television producer turned historian, teacher, and writer. The years of original research that went into this book were sparked from reading a few lines about Tyler and Clarke in a history of advertising course. He thought it would make a terrific screenplay (which he would eventually write before penning this book), but was surprised to discover there was virtually no published information on this nefarious duo.
For 20 years I’ve been a publisher of regional books, always intending to pick up my initial plan of publishing serious nonfiction on ideas, history, trends, and current events. This was the book that prompted me to return to that plan and I started a new imprint to do so.
Thank you for taking a look for yourself.