Pulaski, Tennessee, 1866: the Civil War in the United States of America just came to an end. The bloody battles that mainly took place in the Southern states were over. Slavery had been abolished, Black men and women were granted citizenship: Reconstruction of the South had begun. The American government was rebuilding a society ravaged by war and deeply devised, passing new bills and laws that would help the newly freed African Americans. Ex-confederate soldiers were bored; they had time on their hands and money to spend.
Six of these soldiers had what they thought was a brilliant idea – why not start a club, give it some weird name and go around town in the middle of the night on horses, wrapped in white sheets with a white mask, and terrify Negros into believing they were the ghosts of the dead confederate soldiers. Thus began the Ku Klux Klan. Had there been no deliberate oppression in the South bound by the Reconstruction, corrupt carpetbaggers – Northerners who came to the South during the Reconstruction to abuse of the situation – misrule and violence, secret societies such as the Ku Klux Klan would not have come into existence.
Initially created for the sole purpose of albeit perverse form of amusement, the Klan quickly spread and its aims shifted from amusement to repression. Formally opposed to the Reconstruction of the South, the Klan fought against it by gaining political power. Members of the Klan were elected into political parties across the Nation, and influenced more and more people into joining their club. This shifted the Ku Klux Klan from a simple club to a nation wide social movement. It was such a secretive society that it caught the attention of everybody.
People wanted to know what it was, what it was doing, who these people were, that the number of memberships to the group grew exponentially. By as early as 1868, the Klan had begun to play a major role in the political life of the South. By making it extremely difficult for African Americans to obtain their citizenship in the southern states, these African Americans couldn’t vote in elections and therefore allowing the Ku Klux Klan to gain more and more power in the political parties, which resulted in the near absolute influence of the Southern States, especially in Tennessee, Georgia, Texas and Alabama.
The Klan would kill anyone who would get in the way of their quest for White Supremacy: from hanging men from trees to killing an entire village. Meanwhile, in Washington DC, Congress was establishing bills in order to fight racial groups in the South, especially the KKK. By 1871, the Force Act was adopted under the Jackson Administration, which was specifically aimed at “trouble makers” who repressed Blacks and created climates of terror. The Force Act granted the federal government the power to use the military to force all states to respect the 14th amendment that granted automatic American citizenship to anyone born on American soil.
This involvement of the federal government leads to the dismantlement of the first wave of Ku Kluxism in 1871. Even though the Ku Klux Klan was gone, or at least driven underground, the climate of terror, fear, and violence remained. In 1877, newly elected President Rutherford Hayes retracts the government issued troops in the South in return for support from the Democratic Parties. Gradually governments opposed to racial integration gain power in the South and segregation is installed in states where the Klan’s influence was most felt.
Almost half a century after the first dismantling of the Klan, in the early years of World War I, the second Ku Klux Klan was founded. Their first meeting was held in Stone Mountain, Georgia near Atlanta. It was 1915 and the quest for white supremacy had evolved. It no longer wanted the discrimination of Blacks only but as well as the Jews, the Catholics and all the newly installed immigrants. It was no longer a southern movement seeking Black segregation. Its influence expanded to the North; gaining significant influence in states such as Maine, Oregon, and Indiana.
Its success was linked to prohibition (ban of alcohol) and the American Isolationist policy following World War I. Though the growth of this newly re-invigorated Klan was spectacular (4-5 million members by 1925), its decline was even more so. By the 1930s, the number of members had dropped drastically to a mere 30 000. People came to realise that the Klan had nothing more to offer than sheer ideas of what should be; that it was more threats than action. This drastic drop leads the Klan to complete and udder chaos.
Following the Second World War and during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, they become increasingly violent. The deaths of numerous important figures of the Civil Rights movement were reported in the daily newspaper. The Ku Klux Klan had resulted to terrorism, bombing an African American Church in Alabama in 1963, resulting in the death of four girls, as well as firebombing the leader of the North American Association of Colored People (NAACP), Vernon Dahmer Sr. n Mississippi in 1966, not to mention the assassination of Martin Luther King. These acts of violence were for the first time ruled by the Supreme Court of the United States, and all the murderers were convicted for their crimes and sentenced to life in prison. Thus began the downfall of the Invisible Empire of the South, and nowadays it has become a more underground organization that hardly makes public appearances, with the vast majority of Americans believing it is for the best.
Bohn, Frank. “The Ku Klux Klan Interpreted.” The American Journal of Sociology 30.4 (1925). Daniel, Clifton. Chronicle of America. Dorling Kindersley, Limited, 1997. Horn, Stanley F. Invisble Empire, the story of the Ku Klux klan, 1866-1871. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939. Martin, Roger. Amerikka, Voyage dans l’international néo-faciste. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1995. Mourre, Michel. Dictionnaire Encyclopédique d’histoire. Vol. 2. Paris: Bordas, 1978. 5 vols.