Knights of the White Camellia

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The Knights of the White Camellia was a secret organization of white men formed in the lower Southern states in the Reconstruction period. They were considered much more conservative than the Klan and they were generally less violent. Its members were pledged to support the supremacy of the white race, to oppose the uniting of the races, to resist the social and political seizing of the carpetbaggers, and to restore white control of the government (Cantrell, 2005). The Knights of the White Camellia was organized in New Orleans in May 1867 by Col. Alcibiade DeBlanc and soon spread throughout the lower South, reaching as far west as Central Texas and as far east as the Carolinas. Though similar in some respects to, and frequently confused by the public with, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Camellias denied any connection whatsoever with that order. Their activities were confined to the southern parts of the Southern states; a region farther south in general from that occupied by the Klan. The White Camellias operated with less publicity but with perhaps even more effectiveness than did the Klansmen, although they did not employ such violent methods. They were thought to have been even more numerous than the Klansmen, and their secrets better kept. They were typically better organized than the Klan, and their membership, which was generally from a higher social stratum, included newspaper editors, physicians, lawyers, law-enforcement officials, public figures, and even a few former officers of the Union army living in the region. Many of the members freely admitted their membership, and officers sometimes identified themselves as members before congressional or legislative committees and detailed their organization and some of their activities. Though some renegade members committed atrocities, many others left the order because of its lack of militancy (Long, 2002). "The Ku Klux Klan was founded on Christmas Eve in 1865. It was six former Confederate military officers that started it all in Pulaski, Tennessee. The Civil War had been over for eight months, and men were looking for a way to relieve their postwar boredom. Someone suggested that they form a club. They decided on a Ku Klux Klan and then designed outfits made of white robes. As the Klan spread, its members began attacking blacks"(Bridges, 1994, p.36). "The Ku Klux Klan consisted of a grand wizard and ten genii at the top; the order was governed by such officers as grand dragons, hydras, titans, furies, and night-hawks. The activities of the KKK took less form of a general conspiracy than of local efforts to destroy radical political organizations by intimidation and terrorization. Night rides of white robed and hooded men on sheeted and masked horses went out as pranks and partly as ghostly intimidation of superstitious Negroes. The victims, seeing through the disguise, were terrorized by the real danger of violence rather than the ghoulish affect of supernatural power. Klansmen occupied themselves in destroying Union League councils, breaking up bands of Negroes, whipping Negro militia men, forcing victims to pledge non-support of the Radical politicians, scaring black men away from the polls, and bribing individual carpetbaggers and scalawags" (Randall & Donald, 1969, p.682). Like the Confederate army, in whose ranks many Klansmen has served, the Knights of the White Camellia secretly recruited members from all classes of Southern white society. Among its leaders were two dozen or more Confederate generals and colonels headed by Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Klan's "Grand Wizard." By 1868, the Klan had evolved from a harmless fraternal order into a hooded terrorist organization dedicated to the preservation of white supremacy. It punished freedman who left their employers or complained of low wages or acted in an insolent manner toward whites. The Klan and similar groups, such as the Knights of the White Camellia, became in effect "the military arm...
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