A Brief History
On December 24, 1865, six former Confederate veterans of the recently concluded US Civil War formed the first known chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization largely founded on the principles of White Supremacy and violence against African Americans and those not in agreement with Klan beliefs. Klansmen were characterized by their scary apparel that hid the identity of the individuals, evolving into the familiar white robes and hoods.
As disaffected Confederate veterans across the South formed other chapters and similar organizations, a loose umbrella organization developed with former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest as Grand Wizard in 1867, with the goal of resisting Northern reforms upon former Confederate states, and against “carpetbaggers” and other Northerners (or Southerners that cooperated with the Northern Federal government).
African Americans that tried to exercise their new found rights were attacked and sometimes killed for usurping the perceived role of the White man.
In 1870, Congress labeled the Klan a “terrorist organization” and Forrest claimed over 500,000 Klan members, of which he could raise an army of 40,000 within 5 days. With no real national organization or membership roles, these numbers are impossible to verify. The first edition of the Klan ebbed and faded away in the 1870’s under pressure from government agencies and prosecution for crimes. Extraneous other White supremacist organizations remained scattered throughout the country.
The 1915 movie film, Birth of a Nation, perhaps the first real blockbuster film, revitalized the memory of the original Klan and resulted in a resurgence of anti-Black pro-White sentiment and a rebirth of the Klan.
This time around more than just African Americans were the target of Klan hate, and Catholics and Jews, immigrants, and communists also felt the wrath of the Klan. Oddly enough, during Prohibition the Klan also opposed bootleggers.
This second birth of the Klan moved North into former Union states as well as the South, and a common threatening activity was the characteristic burning of a cross. This Klan was adamant about their own brand of “Christian” (Protestant) morality. Although some churches condemned the Klan and no national church organizations endorsed it, many churches and other civic operations chose to silently endorse Klan activities by failing to speak out against them. This time women were allowed to form a sort of auxiliary organization, and members were claimed to number around 4 million in the US, mostly in the South and Midwest, but also in other areas and even Canada. Indiana was perhaps the most heavily invested in the Klan, with perhaps 30% of White men as members, including (1942) the governor of the state.
The Klan started to decline in the mid-1920’s after a precipitous rise after 1915, with condemnation by mainstream politicians and religious organizations and prosecutions for crimes. By 1944 at the height of World War II, the Klan had greatly diminished once again.
Since World War II the Ku Klux Klan has devolved into scattered and independent chapters, much smaller than before and heavily infiltrated by FBI and other law enforcement informers. The secrecy and anonymity of the past is largely gone, as is tolerance for membership. These splinter groups still espouse White Supremacy and a Protestant Christian religious cover.
Question for students (and subscribers): Will there be a substantial resurgence of Klan or Klan type organizations and activity? Will the backlash against illegal immigrants and against Muslims (in light of recent years terrorism and political unrest) cause such a resurgence? Will the FBI and Homeland Security prevent any such rebirth of the Klan? Let us know what your predictions are about the future, if any, of the Ku Klux Klan in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell, Dion Graham, et al. They Called Themselves the KKK. Audible Studios, 2010.
The featured image in this article, an emblem of the Ku Klux Klan – a cross in a circle with the ‘blood drop’ in the center; sometimes turned by 45°, has been in use since at least the 1960s. KAMiKAZOW, the copyright holder of this work, published it under the following licenses: permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. This file is also licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.