The History and Political Impact of the Ku Klux Klan
July 18, 2003
The “Invisible Empire” of the Ku Klux Klan was an empire that evolved from the fear of change and from the hate of one’s fellow man (Alexander xxii). Following the U.S. Civil War, the South was left desolated and destroyed, with the people of the South being gripped with fear and frustration over the bleak conditions and the drastic changes in the political power structure of the Deep South (Indiana University 1). “Cities, plantations, and farms were ruined; people were impoverished and often hungry; there was an occupation army in their midst; and Reconstruction governments threatened to usurp the traditional white ruling authority” (Indiana University 1). The Federal Government was directly linked with the governments of the Southern states as the radical members of Congress attempted to “destroy the white power structure of the Rebel states” (Spartacus Educational 1). The Freeman’s Bureau was established by the Federal Government in March of 1865, the goal of which was to protecting the interests of former slaves by providing schools, hospitals, and housing (Spartacus Educational 1). The South was turned upside down, with a culture of people being given their natural born rights for the very first time. The scene was set in the mid 1800’s for the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The origins of the Ku Klux Klan have been traced back to December of 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee where six Confederate veterans sought out a new form of amusement (Chalmers 8). The organization was not originally intended to be a hate organization; rather it was a secret club, or secret society, founded on small-town boredom (Indiana University 1). The six originators were scholars and derived the name “Ku Klux Klan” from the Greek word for circle, kuklos, representing their unbridled unity (Chalmers 9). The original members rode through the streets on horseback covered in white sheets terrorizing the local populations for entertainment. The Klan soon attracted much attention and appeal due to their secretiveness and spread rapidly throughout the South. In 1867 the “loose allegiance” of Klan members met in Nashville, Tennessee with the intention of gaining unity, purpose, and a proper authority structure (Chalmers 9). It was at this time that the Klan’s actions turned from childish pranks to extreme violence against freed black slaves. This transformation occurred soon after, and directly because of, the first Reconstruction Act of 1867 (Spartacus Educational 1). The first Reconstruction Act displaced state governments and divided the South into five military districts as well as gave black males the right to vote with the ratification of the fourteenth amendment (Spartacus Educational 1). This Act allowed for states to reenter the Union only upon their ratifying the fourteenth amendment and guaranteeing of adult male suffrage. President Johnson immediately vetoed the bill; yet, the Radical Republicans re-passed the bill the same day (Spartacus Educational 1). As blacks gained the right to vote and therefore a voice and degree of influence in Southern politics, the Klan turned its attentions to destroying “the basis of Negro political effectiveness by driving out its leaders, white and black” and to securing “the political impotence and social subordination of the Negro” (Chalmers 14). The fundamental creed of the Klan became white supremacy. Nighttime “ghost rides” were used to intimidate and terrify blacks that wanted to exercise their “new rights and freedom” (Indiana University 2). The main goal of the Klan quickly became keeping blacks from voting and further toppling over the political system that had been advantaging white males for decades. “During the next two years Klansmen wearing masks, white cardboard hats and draped in white sheets, tortured and killed black Americans and...
Cited: Alexander, Charles C. Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest. University
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Chalmers, David M. Hooded Americanism. Durham: Duke
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Spartacus Educational. July, 16 2003. July 23, 2003.
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