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The first organization of the Ku Klux Klan was organized in Pulaski, Tennessee during the summer of 1866. Most members and leaders were former soldiers in the Confederate Army. Klansmen are known mainly for wearing white masks with a pointed tip and dressed in white sheets. “The Ku Klux Klan is a racist, anti-Semitic movement with a commitment to extreme violence to achieve its goals of racial segregation and white supremacy.” The Ku Klux Klan tortured and killed black people and also white people who stood up for them because they didn’t believe they were equal beings. The main objective of the Klan was to keep black people from being able to vote.
“The Klan was run by a grand wizard and a pecking order of grand dragons, grand titans, and grand cyclopses. The name of the organization came from the Greek word ‘kyklos’, which means circle, and the English word ‘clan’.” When Klansmen would torture the black people, they would often whip them and kill the freed blacks during their raids of towns. Often the black people and whites that sympathized with them were driven out of town because many houses and crops were being burned down. “Successful black businessmen were attacked and any attempt to form black protection groups such as trade unions was quickly dealt with.”
After taking advice from his members in Congress, President Ulysses S. Grant decided to investigate the organization. After a year of investigating, the Grand Jury reported that the Klan has a constitution and bylaws, which include each member must possess a pistol, a Ku Klux gown, and a signal instrument. It latter states that their actions include invading many homes late into the night, dragging black people out of their beds, ruthlessly torturing them and in most circumstances murdering them. In response to these actions, the Congress passed the Force Act in 1870 and the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871. This gave the president the authority to suspend the writ of corpus and hand out heavy penalties to terrorist organizations. After this the organization primarily disappeared on a national scale but was still coherent in local areas.
In the beginning of the 20th Century, Thomas Dixon authored a novel, The Clansmen, and D. W. Griffith directed a movie, Birth of a Nation, which influenced William J. Simmons to reform the Klan organization. The Klan started to become very popular during the 1920’s and the members rose to about 3 million and was spreading across the nation rather than just being in the south. Many of these followers were lower-middle-class people who felt threatened by a drift of religion from the Protestant culture that they were comfortable with.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) became the number one organization that threatened to Klan. The NAACP wanted to send a message by having its 1920 annual conference in Atlanta, GA, known to be one of the most active Ku Klux Klan cities. The Klan began to treat Roman Catholics, Jews, Communists, and socialists simply because they viewed them as being foreigners.
In 1922, Hiram W. Evans was elected as the Imperial Wizard of the Klan and under his leadership the Klan grew tremendously. During this time, some members of the Klan were elected as political leaders in their respected states, which included Maine, Oregon, Indiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. This gave the members of the Klan the power to be able to do whatever they pleased because they had members that were in control politically. After the conviction of the Klan leader, David C. Stephenson, for second-degree murder, and evidence of corruption by other members such as the governor of Indiana and the mayor of Indianapolis, membership fell to around 30,000. This trend followed during the Great Depression and World War II, which eventually led to the group’s disappearance.
Hugo L. Black was a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, a U.S. Senator, and a trial attorney but also was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1923, Black was a trial attorney in Birmingham, Alabama and decided to join the Klan during the same year. He later claims that he left the organization after several years. There were allegations that he signed an undated resignation letter to release to the press if the news ever got out publicly. In some accounts he tries to make it seem like it was a mistake but in others he talks about the group in similarity with a fraternity. Despite his denial of holding any prejudices, he participated in many Ku Klux Klan events throughout Alabama and read the Klan Oath, which clearly states; “to most zealously and valiantly shield and preserve by any and all justifiable means â€¦ white supremacy.” These facts became known to the public after he had met with the Supreme Court in 1937 and was confirmed by Senate.
The Klan regrouped in the 1960’s because of the Civil Rights Movement that was going on in the South. The members of the Klan participated in many acts to try to intimidate the leaders and participants in the movement. “KKK adherents were responsible for acts such as the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four young African-American girls were killed and many others injured, and the 1964 murder of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, in Mississippi.” There were many cases in which J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI knew of the things that the Klan was doing, however, they did little to stop these acts.
In 1964, the NAACP, the CORE, and the SNCC organized a Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi. These organizations provided Mississippi with 30 Freedom Schools and about 3,000 black students attended these schools. The Klan often targeted these schools and the people who were involved in the campaign. “During the summer of 1964, 30 black homes and 37 black churches were firebombed; over 80 volunteers were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers. These deaths created nation-wide publicity for the campaign.”
In 1981, Henry Hays and James Knowles kidnapped and killed nineteen year old Michael Donald by lynching him. They did this because an African American was acquitted of murdering a white man. A brief investigation was held in Mobile and they determined that the death was over a disagreement over drugs. Michael’s mother knew that he wasn’t into drugs and called Reverend Jesse Jackson to lead a protest, which led to the FBI investigating the case. It did not take long for the FBI to convince James Knowles to admit to the murder. He was eventually sentenced to life and Henry Hayes was sentenced to death. Beulah Mae Donald, Michael’s mother, filed a civil suit against the Ku Klux Klan to try to destroy the organization. The Klan was ordered to pay 7 million dollars, which meant that they would have to hand over all of their assets.
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