At first glance, few groups seem less similar than the Black Legion and the Moorish Science Temple of America. Where the former was a secretive Ku Klux Klan splinter group designed to terrorize African-Americans through violent “nightrides,” the latter was a quasi-Islamic spiritualist movement that preached Black separatism (and would eventually provide the seeds for the Nation of Islam). One terrorized, the other represented a reaction to centuries of such terrorism. Despite these nearly-diametrically opposed ideologies, however, closer examination reveals remarkable similarities between the two organizations. Both communal organizations not only flourished at the same time and place–the midwest of the early 20th century–but each adopted a similar set of rituals and symbols at the center of their competing ideologies.
This inquiry module seeks to understand why. Where did these groups come from? What was it about the midwest in this era that made two groups with contradictory goals seek out such similar organizational structures and symbols? What made these groups so attractive to their members?