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The Ku Klux Klan
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The Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, is the common name of a number of racist organizations in the United States. They believe in white supremacy and nativism. They’re also strongly opposed to Catholicism and homosexuality. The KKK has often promoted use of terrorism and violence, and other acts such as cross burning, to oppress and intimidate the groups of people they oppose.
The very first branch of the Ku Klux Klan was founded in May 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee. Most of the leaders were veterans from the Confederate Army. In 1867, a general organization was effected, making Nathan Forrest the first “Grand Wizard” (The title of the leader of the original KKK). The original KKK was in fact not a racist organization, just a group of young men who wanted to play pranks on people and give them a scare. But it turned into a group that terrorized blacks and members of the union, and also resisted reforms forced upon the Southern States regarding treatment of former slaves. Many similar groups were formed around the same time, when goverment in the South was weak. But the Ku Klux Klan was the biggest and best known, and absorbed many of the smaller organizations.
Their first goal was to stop black Americans from voting. This was largely accomplished. The Ku Klux Klan systematically kept black men away from the polls, gaining ex-Confederates political control in many states. Aside from keeping blacks from voting, they continued to undermine black American’s rights. Their main weapon was terror. Dressing in white robes meant to symbolize the ghosts of the Confederate dead, they rode through the streets at night, playing upon people’s fear and superstition. But they also used violent methods, such as whipping, lynching, murder and arson. Violence was not only used against blacks, but also white republicans.
Radical Republicans urged president Grant to take action against the Klan, and in the early seventies, legislation was passed against the KKK. In reality though, it had been in decline for some years. Partly because there was not much to do. The Southern States were already dominated by whites. Also, the Klan was not all that well organized. The control of the local groups (“Dens”) was poor, and local leaders acted in ways the leaders could not permit. Already in 1869, Nathan Forrest had ordered the disbandment of the Klan, and resigned as Grand Wizard. But several local groups had continued after this.
In 1915, another organization using the name Ku Klux Klan was formed by William J. Simmons. Unlike the original KKK, the new Klan was a formal membership organization with real structure and paid “employees” organizing local gatherings. The new Klan also added anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism to its Nativism. The KKK reached its peak in the 1920s. It should speak for itself of the situation in America that about 15% of the eligible population were official members of the KKK at this time. Though the Klan claimed itself nonpolitical, it held considerable political influence, and helped elect sympathetic candidates to national offices in many states. Lynching and violent activities still took place, carried out by local groups. The KKK’s popularity sank during the great depression, toward the end of the 1920s. Many states passed laws that made it illegal to wear masks hiding the bearers identity. Also, members’ interest was on decline. It also sank further again during World War 2, when the Klan supported the Nazis.
Another third revival of the Klan began in the 1950’s, in opposition of Civil Rights in the South. Their goal was not accomplished.
During the 1970’s, the KKK began to take on a more respectable image. They applied women for the first time, and some set up youth groups. But there were still some extremists committing violent acts.
It is stated by the Anti-Defamation League has stated that there today is no such thing as the Ku Klux Klan. This is in the sense of one big Ku Klux Klan, covering the entire nation. The Klan is no longer the structured organization it used to be, but a number of different right-wing extremist groups still use the Ku Klux Klan name, or parts of it, in their titles. Most of the groups are unrelated to each other, there is no longer one nationwide Klan, but several local groups. No mainstream media or religious or political leaders today support the KKK. Though the democratic senator of West Virginia was formerly a member. Robert Byrd says he deeply regrets joining the Klan when he was about 24. No other known members or former members hold a federal office.
Some of the larger KKK organizations today:
- Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- Imperial Klans of America
- Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
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