The Ku Klux Klan or KKK is one of America’s oldest and most feared groups. Driven by the dream of a world with only one master race, the KKK often uses violence and takes the law into their own hands in order to promote their cause. They did not start as a violent group, or to promote white supremacy. At the end of the War between the States in April of 1865, some felt it marked the beginning of a terrible time of trouble for the white citizens who remained loyal to the southern states. This infamous chapter of American history is known as the Reconstruction period.
Although large portions of the South were untouched by military action during the war, the problems after the war touched all and were severe. Private homes and farms were burned and personal property seized. Some of the seized property was given to some of the newly freed slaves, who many feared would rise up in revolt at any moment. Many individual cases did occur, and the law turned a blind eye too often to be tolerated. It was a lawless time when street justice prevailed.
It was out of these dismal conditions that just and “decent men” of honor came together forming the Ku Klux Klan. Led by Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee, by 1877 these “courageous” men had driven the federal troops back north. For a time they saved the white south from the tyranny of the federal government, the extortion of the carpetbaggers, the treason of the scalawags, and the hatred of the numerous renegade Negroes. The “Ku Klux Klan, or KKK as known today, was started in the spring of 1866. Six Confederate veterans formed a social club in Pulaski, Tennessee.
The group adopted the name Ku Klux Klan from the Greek word kuklos, meaning circle, and the English word clan. They chose the circle because they felt it was the best symbol of creativity and also because it’s the oldest symbol of unity. This KKK only lasted a short six years, but left tactics and rituals that later started in generations. The Klan was a small group very much in secrecy at first. The exact date of the beginning is unknown. Despite all of the secrecy the six KKK members initiated new members to join their social club.
A year after the creation of the KKK, the one time social club joined the raising campaign against the Republican Reconstruction. The “new” direction of the Klan was well planned and organized. The Klan was now ready to expand to a bigger group. The Klan adopted a prescript. This was an organizational structure permitting the Klan to spread across the South. New members had to be over eighteen, pay one dollar, swear to secrecy, recruits also pledged to “protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless, from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal.” The highly centralized plan for expanding the KKK, spread so rapidly that most chapters operated alone.
The founders of the KKK lost control, and it became impossible to talk about a single KKK. Yet Klan activities still followed a common pattern throughout the south. The Klan now started to spread across Tennessee. At first the Klan used tricks to keep blacks “in their place”. At first, the Klan would ride around on horses, and with their white robes, and white pointed masks, try to scare blacks.
They would try to act like ghost with their white uniforms. In the beginning, the men wanted to do nothing more than play pranks on people. However, the people were more frightened than they were cheered up. They soon realized what they could do with these fear tactics. Unfortunately, the Klan quickly moved to more violent pranks. The Klan would now suppress blacks.
The Klan leaders proved unable to control their followers. Although the violence was often random, there was a method in the madness. The victims were almost always black or if white, associated with the hatred of the Republican party. The Klan had fear of black equality and sparked attacks on schools setup for freed slaves. The Klan would warn the blacks not to attend school, and would scare the teachers, most from out of state, to leave town. These new tactics of the Klan introduced a new breed of the Klan.
The new breed of Klan differed from the old version in many ways. The old Klan wanted to set things back to the old ways. They wanted their freedom back and wanted nothing more. Being prejudice was only an effect. In the eyes of the modern KKK, prejudice was the cause.
The new Klan was now far more violent than before. People were tarred and feathered, lynched, and beaten for the sole purpose of being a certain race, nationality or religion. Many groups started forming around the south called the Ku Kluxers. The Klan was being noticed as “The Invisible Empire”, due to the fact that they tried to hide their identities. However, wherever Klan’s were formed they all followed the same pattern set by the Tennessee Klan.
The Klan became the greatest terror in 1868, when their attacks were against Republicans and elect democrats. Thousands of blacks and whites fell victim to the murders and beatings given by the KKK. In 1869, because of an increase in the number of kidnappings and murders, General Forrest, the Grand Wizard of the KKK ordered Klansmen to restrict their activities, but local groups remained active The Klan was getting out of control, and Congress passed a Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871. By the end of 1872, the federal crackdown had broken the back of the KKK. Because of the restriction and the Act passed violence was isolated but still continued.
The KKK was dead, and Reconstruction lived on in southern legend . This would not be the last of the KKK. On the night of Thanksgiving in 1915, sixteen men from Atlanta, Georgia climbed to the top of Stone Mountain and built an altar of stones on which they placed an American flag. They then stood up a sixteen foot long cross and burned it. One week later, this group applied for a state charter making it “The Knights of the KKK, Inc.” This was put in effect during the Reconstruction. The new Klan at first received little attention.
Only in time, it became the biggest and most powerful Klan in history. The Klan was not an “open membership” organization. Only those who met 100% of the qualifications were able to join. Only those who pledged themselves to the protection, preservation, and advancement of the white race could join. Also no one was allowed who could not practice real brotherhood.
Only pure white Christian people of non-Jewish, non-Negro, non-Asian descent and who were at least eighteen years old and who pledged to dedicate their lives to the Klan could join. Those under the age of eighteen could join the Klan youth movement. Also every member of the Ku Klux Klan had to be a law-abiding citizen although, many times they broke they law. The Klan message was clearly to appeal to people who were troubled by abrupt changes in American Society. The Klan was reorganized in 1915 near Atlanta, Ga., and its popularity peaked in the 1920s when its membership exceeded 4 million nationally, with strong organizations in the Midwest as well as in the South.
The new Klan began to persecute Roman Catholics, Jews, foreigners, Communists, and organized labor. Soon the Klan began to primarily stress white Protestant supremacy, and the Klan enjoyed a spurt of growth which carried on into the 1920s. In the 1920’s, the KKK prospered. Unlike previous revivals, the members had spread much farther than just in the South. The Klan was scattered all across the country. Many believe that the biggest growth of the KKK began when Colonel Simmons, considerably the founder of the new KKK, linked up with Edward Young Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler.
In June 1920, Clarke and Simmons signed a contract that guaranteed Clarke a share of Klan profits. Clarke and Tyler would receive a good amount of money for every new KKK member. The fee was ten dollars, four dollars went to the Kleagle (an official in the KKK), one dollar went to the King Kleagle (state leader of the Klan), fifty cents to the Grand Goblin, and two dollars and fifty cents to Clarke and Tyler. The final two dollars went to Colonel Simmons. This promotion brought over 85,000 new Klan members, and over $85,000 in Klan profits.
The KKK was still due for more publicity, in the 1920s many Americans felt threatened by the variety of recent changes , and in 1920 most Americans were living in cities. Many Americans were scared that cities would be dominated by Jewish and Catholic immigrants. Americans also thought their country was coming apart at the seams. The KKK presented itself as the “100 percent Americanism.” This slogan proved popular because it meant everything to the frightened man who flocked into the Klan. By the end of 1922 there were approximately 1,200,000 members in the Klan. This was supposedly the highest number of Klan members ever.
As many feared many towns were being secretly run by the Klan . They elected many officials. However, in the late 1920’s, many politicians who once remained quiet then spoke out and fought against the Klan. This was their downfall. The Klan has never regained the “power” and “prestige” it had before.
One of the greatest Klan strengths came in 1925 when Klan members from all directions poured into the nations capitol, Washington DC on August 8th, 1925 a mammoth parade began. At the head the Imperial Wizard Hirem Wesley Evans, and 40,000 Klan members followed in their robes and hoods, but no masks. Two-hundred thousand friendly spectators lined the parade route and applauded as the Klan made their way to a rally at the Washington Monument. The impressive demonstration was intended to show the Invisible Empire neve …