The White Hoods terrorized the whole of America some 50 years ago until the U.S. authorities managed to turn the tide in their favor. The clandestine association, which had common traits with the Masons, was founded by immigrants from the Southern United States after the Civil War of 1861-1865. In one version, the title of the organization originates from the Greek term κύκλος – circle, wheel. The society’s name was first known as the “Knights of Cyclos”, but then it was changed due to an association with a comparable name at that time, such as the “Knights of the Golden Ring”. Initially, the Ku Klux Klan did not impose any extremely revolutionary ideals. For instance, they wrapped themselves in white sheets and terrified individuals by riding horses. However, later the Ku Klux Klan transformed into an organization that held all of America in awe.
This occurred principally due to the fact that many racist Union associations and Confederate veterans’ organizations had coalesced around the Southerners. Poor economic conditions in the then U.S also preceded the emergence of the Klan. South. From 1861 to 1865, the global context in the United States of America was defined by the American Civil War between the Northern Unionists and the eleven Southern Confederates. This war was preceded by a compound political and economic conflict between the present industrialized Northern states and the rural South, which relied on Northern manufacturing. For the South, slaveholding had been a matter of course and a guarantee of workable land, which was a controversial opinion for the more innovative Northerners. After some time of latent congressional tension, the crisis rose to its highest point when the Confederacy announced its departure from the Union in March 1861 with the establishment of the Confederate States of America. A month later, the U.S. Civil War began. The first Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, a rural town in Tennessee.
In the pre-war years, slavery was typical in this region. When the 13th Amendment said that all enslaved people were to be freed, it caused a considerable change. For Southerners, it meant the creation of a new social order that included about 50 percent African Americans. The dark-skinned portion of the population was now freed from their former owners, who were not thrilled with this unfamiliar situation. The end of the Civil War also acquired other intense difficulties for Southerners: farmland was devastated, commerce and the economy were destroyed, and, consequently, there were no jobs for the people left behind. After the war, returning former Confederate soldiers often had no prospects. The founders of the Klan did not want to accept a poor and unpromising life and created a club for themselves in which they could distract themselves. The hardships of impoverished life led the six Klan founders to create a society that would, in the future, strike fear into the entire black population.
One of the main executions for black Klan members was lynching. The term means to lynch a person and sentence them as the self-appointed judge saw fit. Often, Ku Klux Klan lynchings ended with the hanging of innocent black people. Since the practice was inhumane, it was only natural that an anti-lynching movement would emerge. It was precisely because of the inhumane death sentences imposed on innocent black people that the anti-lynching movement emerged. This earliest resistance to lynching was defined by black congresses assembled after the specific episodes that occurred. The movement received broader national support in the 1890s. During this period, the movement was led by the African American League and the National Council for Equal Rights. The activity consisted primarily of African Americans who attempted to convince politicians to culminate the course, but after the defeat of this approach, they forced an anti-lynching ruling. African American women helped form the movement, and much of the movement consisted of women’s organizations.
The Ku Klux Klan movement provoked the emergence of various social movements and directly influenced state governments. Following closely its founding, the Klan was active in almost every Southern state. The intensity of clan operations was different in every one of them. In North and South Carolina, for example, the organization was mainly preoccupied with the persecution of blacks. In April 1867, a secret meeting was held in Nashville, Tennessee, which arrangements were made for the essential reorganization of the Ku Klux Klan. The leading reason for Klan associates was to protect the U.S. Constitution and affiliated organizations, such as constitutional laws. The political influence of the organization began to emerge gradually.
Additionally, the elimination of the previous pre-war administrations enabled the Klan to hold control in the southern states. Since Klan sympathizers were united politically with the Democrats, they overcame the Republicans, Reconstruction, and its administrations. Some very powerful individuals, such as newspaper makers, political figures, and members of the U.S. Congress, joined the Klan and enhanced its impact on review and everyday events in the South. The Klan radicals were not even shy about destroying their political enemies to achieve their primary goal, the expansion of white rights and the sidelining of African Americans. In their view, African Americans were a human race of inferior quality. This is why they did not see themselves as an illegal movement but as law enforcers. The organization members acted in small groups of a few dozen to a couple of hundred persons. While their actions were frequently illegal, they struggled to separate themselves and their institution from the ordinary gangsters that operated only for their own benefit. The purpose of the clan was nobler and could do much good to society in the opinion of its members.
Therefore, a real hunt was launched against the bandits. Nevertheless, the authorities were disinterested in this. They associated all law and order disturbances with the Klan, and the organization was declared an illegal entity. Military confrontations between government troops and community representatives occurred. By 1869, the situation had become even more complicated. The leadership or the administration of the clan remained beyond its control. Soon the legislation was issued to arrest and even conduct those members of its community who violated the principles set by the order’s alliance. Only in 1871, when the authorities started proceeding with the mass detention of clan figures, that the problem was slightly stabilized. At the same time, the oppression of black people continued, but by officially sanctioned methods. The racists gained political power and took a majority of seats in the legislature. As a result, there were many documents that, while not contradicting the U.S. Constitution, restricted the political rights of blacks.
The decline of the Klan coincided with the Scottsboro Trial. In April 1931, in Scottsboro, a jury of white Americans convicted nine young black men of raping two white women. All of the defendants were sentenced to death. Attorneys for the Communist Party USA appealed to the Supreme Court, which determined that the defendants had not been afforded due process of law. The Supreme Court overturned the verdict because the jury had deliberately excluded blacks. This trial was a turning point in overcoming the tensions between the legislature and the struggle for equal racial rights in America. This case showed that the Klan’s radical racist provisions could not always be relevant. Racial equality would inevitably be established, and such ideas would become a thing of the past. Realizing this, the Klan began to disintegrate, splitting into small radical groups that had nothing to do with the larger organization.
To summarize, the Ku Klux Klan was, in fact, a terrorist organization that put fear into the black people of America. There were many events in the history of the Klan that proved the failure of radical racist ideology. These included police harassment, the emergence of an anti-lynching movement, and several Klan breakups. All this shows that any movement radicalized against a section of the population is doomed to failure. Nevertheless, the existence of such an organization is a good lesson for those who will write history in the future and a vast field for research.
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