The Klu Klux Kla — Its 1800’s Rise and Fall

By Anessa Lee, Kyle Chen, and Liam Rothschild (SMHS ‘20)

In our AP US History class, we learned that during the time period 1844–1877, segregation, violence, Supreme Court decisions, and local political tactics progressively stripped away African American rights.

After having learned the above, the three of us, Anessa Lee, Kyle Chen, and Liam Rothchild, decided to take our learning one step further and, in this regard, produced the Exploration into America’s Past appearing below.

This exploration is entitled The Klu Klux Klan in the 1800’s and it describes one way in which segregation, violence, and local political tactics progressively stripped away African American rights after the Civil War and during the Era of Reconstruction.

___________

After the Civil War and during the Era of Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan was born. This Exploration into America’s Past details exactly when the KKK was born, where it was born, and how it was given the name Ku Klux Klan. It also describes some significant acts of violence involving the Klan in the late 1800’s.

April 9, 1865 marked the beginning of a new age when General Robert E. Lee surrendered his rebel army troops, which lead to the end of the Civil War and the start of the Reconstruction Era.

For the first time in U.S. history, black people gained the same rights as white people. The ratification of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments following the end of the Civil War gave black people equal rights. This led to the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization with the purpose of keeping newly freed slaves from enjoying equal rights and restoring white supremacy in the South.

The Ku Klux Klan was born in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865 by a small group of ex-Confederates. The group was born in order to retaliate against big Reconstruction policies enforced by Radical Republicans in Congress. These policies granted African Americans equal rights. The name “Ku Klux Klan” was given by conjoing the two words, “kyklos”, a Greek word for circle, with the Gaelic word, clan. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General, was chosen to be the main leader of the KKK.

The KKK From 1866–1871
The group started by wearing white robes and masks to induce terror and hide their identities. In 1866, a quarrel between whites and black ex-soldiers erupted into a huge fight in Memphis, Tennessee. Corrupt white policeman helped the mob riot through black communities in the town.

Following these riots, the Ku Klux Klan grew in strength. By 1868, the Ku Klux Klan had evolved into a large organization, and earned the name “The Invisible Empire of the South”, because of their political power and control they held over the southern states. Many white southerners who had owned slaves joined the secret organization. In an attempt to keep white superiority in the southern states, the organization acted against people of color and those who supported and assisted them. They whipped the teachers of freedmen’s schools and burnt their schoolhouses. They also hurt African Americans who attempted to get an education and had relations with white people. However, their main priority at this time was to reduce the control of the Republican party, who attempted to establish equality between black and white men, in the South. The KKK’s goal during 1869 and 1871 was to destroy Congress’s attempts at Reconstruction by using violence against those who supported Republican politics. In an attempt to reduce the power of the KKK, Congress passed the Force Bill in 1871, giving the federal government the power to prosecute the Klan because of local officials’ unwillingness to take action themselves. Although relatively few people were punished, federal action did put an end to most Klan activities happening around this time.

The KKK From 1871–1899
In 1871 Congress also passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the government to act against the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations.This law was not heavily enforced, although Ulysses S. Grant did order the arrest of hundreds of Klan members. However, the KKK’s strong hold in the South proved to strong to reduce and the financial panic of 1873 diverged attention away from these efforts to stop the KKK. Nine South Carolina counties were placed under martial law and thousands arrests ensued due to the Ku Klux Act. In 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Ku Klux Act unconstitutional, but by that time Reconstruction had ended and the KKK had faded away.

By 1882, the Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional, but Reconstruction had already ended and the KKK was fading away. Also, JIm Crow laws had re-established white superiority, so the there was no need for the Klan anymore.

The KKK After in the 1900s
However, the Ku Klux Klan did make a reemergence in the 1920’s. White protestant people burned crosses and harrassed Catholics and Jewish immigrants. Popularity from the group died down, due to court rulings and battles over power. Yet again, the group made a third emergence in the 1960’s. Klan members opposed the African American civil rights movement and wanted to keep segregation alive during supreme court rulings. The Klan bombed and murdered so many innocent people during this period of time, including, four little girls in an Alabama church.

The Klan has evolved over the years and since 1970, the Ku Klux Klan has been weakened by government and court rulings. The Southern Poverty Law Center states that,” Today there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members, split among dozens of different — and often warring — organizations that use the Klan name”(Ku).

THINK

How did the Force Bill in 1871 affect the Klan and their efforts to terrorize the African American Community?

  • The Force Bill in 1871 put the Klan and their efforts to a halt until the 20th century.
  • The Force Bill in 1871 completely eradicated the Klan without any revival.
  • The Force Bill in 1871 stopped most of the Klan’s activities but was unable to completely eradicate the Klan.
  • The Force Bill in 1871 had little to no effect on the Klan whatsoever.

What sparked the growth of the Klan during its birth in the 1860s?

  • A rise of African American children in schools which began to worry White parents.
  • The rise of the Civil Rights Movement worried white southerners and as result many men began joining the Klan.
  • A brawl between African Americans and white southerners during a protest started by the African Americans to put an end to Jim Crow laws.
  • A quarrel between whites and black ex-soldiers which erupted into a full-fledged riot in Memphis, Tennessee.

What incident/situation diverged the government’s attention that caused a lack of effort to use of the Klu Klux Klan Act to break the KKK.

  • The Election of 1876
  • The Compromise of 1877
  • The financial panic of 1873
  • The building of the transcendental railroads

The preeminent reason for the formation of the KKK was to:

  • Prevent former slaves from exercising their rights
  • Prevent immigration from Europe
  • Discourage women’s suffrage
  • Eliminate sharecropping

True/False: The Ku Klux Klan Act, was so strongly enforced that it completed eradicated the Klan in the 1800s.

True/False: President Ulysses S. Grant neither supported nor opposed the existence of the Klu Klux Klan.

True/False: The Klu Klux Klan made a great emergence in the 1900’s.

True/False: All Southern States were placed under martial law due to the Ku Klux Act.

True/False: The Ku Klux Klan Act was passed during the Era of Reconstruction.

True/False: The Ku Klux Klan supported Republican Party politics and policies

WRITING AND DISCUSSION

  1. How big a threat is the KKK in the U.S. today?
  2. Has the KKK had any lasting political impact?
  3. Is the KKK a movement mostly in the rural South?
  4. Why do you think KKK members wear white hoods and burn crosses?
  5. Has the KKK always functioned as a violent terrorist group?
  6. Should the KKK be allowed to place a cross on an state-house plaza during the holiday season?

APUSH KEY CONCEPTS

APUSH Key Concept 5.2; II (E) Segregation, violence, Supreme Court decisions, and local political tactics progressively stripped away African American rights, but the 14th and 15th Amendments were used as foundations for multiple Civil Rights movements in the 20th century.

SOURCES

Boissoneault, Lorraine. “The Deadliest Massacre in Reconstruction-Era Louisiana Happened 150 Years Ago.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 28 Sept. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/story-deadliest-massacre-reconstruction-era-louisiana-180970420.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ku Klux Klan.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 10 Jan. 2019,

www.britannica.com/topic/Ku-Klux-Klan.

Bryant, Jonathan M. “Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 31 January 2019,

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ku-Klux-K lan

Glass, Andrew. “Ku Klux Klan Founded: Dec. 24, 1865.” POLITICO, 24 Dec. 2016, www.politico.com/story/2016/12/ku-klux-klan-founded-dec-24-1865-232856.

“KKK Founded.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 4 Mar. 2010, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/kkk-founded.

“Ku Klux Klan.” Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/ku-klux-klan.

Mr. Raymond’s Civics and Social Studies Academy, director. YouTube. YouTube, YouTube, 7 July 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhZAcOIlPbA.

“The First KKK.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/civil-war-era/reconstruction/a/the-first-kkk.

“The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/flood-klan/.

YOUR TURN ACTIVITY

It’s now time to create your own Exploration Into America’s Past. To do so, first produce a working title that in some way relates to the title and/or topic of this exploration. Some suggestions:

  • TheK Klux Klan in the 1900's
  • The Klu Klux Klan in the 1920's
  • The Klu Klux Klan in California

Next draft your exploration using the GoogleDoc EIAP template at http://bit.ly/2GoQKk3.

Then when your draft is completed, move it to the EIAP PDF template found at http://bit.ly/2ZBngbM.

Contact @PeterPaccone if you have any questions.

ADEMIC HONESTY STATEMENT

We declare that this work is our own work and that we have correctly acknowledged the work of others. We also desclare that this work is in accordance with SMHS Academic Honesty Policy and its guidance on good academic conduct and how to avoid plagiarism and other assessment irregularities.

  • Anessa Lee
  • Kyle Chen
  • Liam Rothschild

High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.