The Ku Klux Clan, or KKK, is a racist, terrorist group that began operating in Southern United States in early 1860th. Over the years, the Ku Klux Klan has considered itself a Christian organization founded on Christian beliefs. However, in contemporary times, its motivation comes from various political and theological theories. The Ku Klux Klan emerged in three different eras.
The first Klan was founded in 1865, by six veterans of the Confederate Army. This was in Pulaski, Tennessee. They called it after the Greek word ‘kuklos’ which means circle. This first Klan worked as a vigilante group and targeted mainly black people who had gotten their freedom. Any ally of these freed black men was equally a target for the Klan. The Klan sought to restore white supremacy in America, because they felt threatened by the black people, in fear that they would get stronger after their release from slavery. The first Klan had approximately 550,000 members.
The second Klan emerged in 1915 in Georgia at a time when the United States was experiencing national prosperity. As such, the numbers of Klan members grew in leaps and bounds and soared to approximately 4 million people. They called for purification of American politics, strict morality and better enforcement of prohibition. In this era, the Klan opposed the jewish and catholic immigration. They also had considerable political power in several states, which increased their popularity. However, a series of sex scandals and internal battles over power exposed by the media led to a quick downfall.
The third Klan arose during the 1960s in opposition of civil rights movements, and also to preserve segregation in the face of unfavorable court rulings. In this era, the Klan carried out many attacks, including bombings, rapes and murders, including the murders of four young girls who got shot when they were preparing for a Sunday service at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama.
The Ku Klux Klan opposed black men who had gained their freedom after the Civil War. The Klan members felt threatened and intimidated by blacks because they feared that they would become more powerful than white people. They were also angry at losing the free and cheap labor force they had gotten used to.
The group was among a number of secret, oath binding groups that were emerging during that era after the Civil War. Other groups were the Southern Cross based in New Orleans, organized in 1865, and the Knights of the White Carmelia, based in Louisiana, created in 1867.
In 1867, Klan members met in Tennessee, to create a hierarchical organization that would have a national headquarters. However, the Klan never got to operate in this centralized manner, since most local chapters and bands were independent and operated autonomously. Later, General Nathan Bedford Forrest claimed to be the national leader of the Klan. In a newspaper interview in1868, Forrest stated that the Klan opposed the Loyal Leagues Republican state. The Klan believed that blacks were voting for the Republican Party because of being hoodwinked.
Membership and recruitment
Most Klansmen were lower to middle-class white folk, trying to protect their jobs from immigrants, mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe. Most of these immigrants were Catholics and Jewish.
Kleagles were the individuals who were responsible for recruiting potential KKK members. Their appointment was by the Imperial or the Great wizard or his representative. Kleagles received a commission from each new member’s initiation fee. Klan policies favored Protestants, and as such, many Protestants got targeted by the Klan for membership. Recruitment was done in large scale through a system called Bloc Recruitment. This allowed the Klan to recruit members in large numbers from one place at once, instead of recruiting them individually from various places, which would have been a tedious process. This method of recruitment was also favorable to the Klan because it allowed them to build upon the solidarity already established by other organizations. Protestant ministers received free membership by the Klan as well as powerful Chaplain Status within the Klan. The membership fee paid by new members financed large purchases made by the Klan such as the Klux Krest, a home for the Imperial Wizard of the 2nd Klan.
Besides the recruitment drives and alliances with the Protestant churches, the KKK also used violent means to recruit members. Those who opposed the KKK members received threats and in many cases, ended up submitting to them. Violence also impressed future members. It ensured that there was a commitment to the Klan. The allure of an “invisible empire” and its public anonymity appealed to potential Klansmen. Klansmen also had a kinship-like bond from members.
They went out for picnics and other social family events. This fraternal bond appealed to potential Klansmen, wanting to experience a sense of brotherhood-like that of the Klansmen. Lastly, the KKK participated in charity events such as, contributing towards the Volunteers of America project and also towards the African Methodist Episcopal Church. These acts of charity demonstrated commitment to social welfare of the people in the society as well as to the nation as a whole.
The Klan is infamous because of its brutal and inhumane activities. First and foremost, they adopted masks and robes as their regalia. The hooded masks with ghoulish holes for the eyes added to the drama to their night rides. Another symbolic element of the group was a burning cross. The burning cross symbolized Christian fellowship. Its lighting preceded prayer, chanting, singing of hymns, pouring out libations and other religious symbolic activities.
They attacked black members of the Republican Party as well as their families. With masked faces, they used to invade people’s homes and kill them. Some of them used to burn people alive in their homes. As such, they successfully drove black farmers off their lands. More than 2000 black people died in the presidential election of November 1868. The Klan killed innocent voters to suppress black people from voting. The KKK killed and wounded more than 200 black republicans by hunting and chasing them into the woods. Captives were either shot or half buried. The KKK forced people to vote for the Democratic Party and even issued certificates to confirm this. Eric Foner (425) observed that KKK was a military group that served the interests of the Democratic Party.
During mobbing, the Klan would yell out racist slurs. They used to capture innocent black people either by invading their homes or just attacking them when they walked by. Later, they kidnapped people, tortured and later hanged. They also committed numerous cases of rape and other defilement and brutal activities (Eric 23).
The first Klan was disbanded after the introduction of the Jim Crow laws that secured the domination of the Southern whites. The Jim Crow laws accepted de jure racial segregation in all public facilities, in the Southern states, with a supposedly separate, but equal status for blacks. Blacks received services that were much inferior and mediocre compared to those of their white counterparts. The disbandment of the second Klan came about as a result of numerous sex scandals and internal battles over power. This reduced its influence and made many people lose faith in the Klan. In addition, union army veterans formed the anti-Ku Klux. This was a campaign that sought to end the violence caused by the Klan, by threatening Klansmen with reprisals, if they did not stop whipping union members and burning black churches and schools. Soon after, in 1871, Benjamin Franklin Butler, former Union General and congressman, introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The President signed the bill that same year and the government implemented it to prosecute arrested Klansmen. The Klan also received resistance from the media. For instance, in 1953, Horace Carter, who was a newspaper publisher, received a Pulitzer Price for reporting on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
Despite its weakening over the past years, the KKK is still present and has ongoing activities in several states. The formation of independent chapters within the Klan has literally made it impossible to infiltrate it. It has also proven to be difficult to estimate the numbers of people in the Klan. However, research figures show that about two-thirds of the Klansmen are concentrated in the southern United States. Many KKK groups have formed strong alliances with other supremacist groups such as neo-Nazis.
The KKK is still active though it went underground. It is slowly but surely continuing with its recruitment activities. For example, it has been discovered to have spread in Australia as well as in Britain. It is the responsibility of the government to curb all KKK activities, in order to ensure a peaceful and equal society, whereby nobody is segregated due to their color, race, religion or political preferences.