History: December 24, 1865: Birth of the Ku Klux Klan

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A Brief History

On December 24, 1865, 6 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.

Digging Deeper

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).

A cartoon threatening that the KKK would lynch carpetbaggers from the Independent Monitor, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1868.

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.

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.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

KKK: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan (Kindle Edition)

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They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group (Paperback)

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.