Ku Klux Klan The Ku Klux Klan: The First Era With the ending of the Civil War in 1865, the period of American history known as the Reconstruction began. It was during this era that the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group, spunoff from the freemasons, first came to power.
The Freemasons usually tended to attract people in the upper-middle class, while the KKK and Knights of Labor, another racist group, attracted the working class. The KKK was formed mostly to restore the “peculiar institution” of slavery to America and to reinstate the Caucasian race as the most superior race in the world. A former Confederate general and Freemason, Nathan Bedford Forrest, founded the Klan in 1866 because Negroes were being allowed to enter the brotherhood of freemasonry.
He served as the Klan’s first Imperial Wizard, and Albert Pike, another freemason, held the office of the Chief Justice of the KKK. He held this office while he was simultaneously Sovereign Grand Commander of Scottish Rite, Freemasons, Southern Jurisdiction. His racism was well known, and in justifying his actions, he stated “I took my obligation to white men, not to Negroes. When I have to accept Negroes as brothers or leave Masonry, I shall leave it.” (1) The bare facts about the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and its revival a half century later are baffling to most people today. Little more than a year after it was founded, the secret society thundered across the war-torn south, sabotaged Reconstruction governments, and imposed a reign of terror and violence that lasted three or four years.
And then, as rapidly as it had spread, the Klan faded into the History books.After World War I, a new version of the Klan sputtered to life and brought many parts of the nation under its paralyzing grip of racism and bloodshed. Then, having grown to be a major force for the second time, the Klan again receded into the background. This time it never quite disappeared, but it never again commanded such widespread support. The origin of the Ku Klux Klan was a carefully guarded secret for years, although there were many theories to explain its beginnings. One popular notion held that the Ku Klux Klan was originally a secret order of Chinese opium smugglers. Another claimed it was begun by Confederate prisoners during the war.The most ridiculous theory attributed the name to some ancient Jewish document referring to the Hebrews enslaved by Egyptian pharaohs.
In fact, the beginning of the Klan involved nothing so sinister, subversive, or ancient as the theories supposed. It was the boredom of small-town life that led six young Confederate veterans to gather around a fireplace one December evening in 1865 and form a social club. The place was Pulaski, Tennessee, near the Alabama border. When they reassembled a week later, the six young men were full of ideas for their new society.It would be secret, to heighten the amusement, and the titles for the various officers were to have names as preposterous-sounding as possible, partly for the fun of it and partly to avoid any military or political implications. Therefore, the head of the group was called the Grand Cyclops. His assistant was the Grand Magi; there was to be a Grand Turk to greet all candidates for admission, a Grand Scribe to act as secretary, Night Hawks for messengers, and a Lictor to be guard. The members, when the six young men found some, would be called Ghouls.
But the remaining question was what to call the society itself.The founders were determined to come up with something unusual and mysterious. Being well-educated, they turned to Greek. After tossing around a number of ideas, Richard R. Reed suggested the word “kuklos”, from which the English words “circle” and “cycle” are derived. Another member, Captain John B.Kennedy, had an ear for alliteration and added the word “clam”. After tinkering with the sound for awhile, the group settled on calling itself the Ku Klux Klan.
The selection of the name, chance though it was, had a great deal to do with the early success of the Klan. Something about the sound of the name aroused curiosity and gave the fledgling club an immediate air of mystery , as did the initials KKK, which would soon take on a terrifying significance. Soon after the founders named the Klan, they decided to do a bit of showing off and so disguised themselves in sheets and galloped their horses through the quiet streets of little Pulaski.
Their ride created such a stir that the men decided to adopt the sheets as the official attire of the Klan. They later added to the effect by making grotesque masks and wearing white pointed hats. The founders also performed elaborate initiation ceremonies for new members. Their ceremonies were similar to the hazing popular in college fraternities and consisted of blindfolding the candidate, subjecting him to a series of silly oaths and rough handling, and finally bringing him before a “royal altar” where he was to be inducted with a “royal crown”. The altar turned out to be a mirror and the crown to be two large Donkey’s ears. Ridiculous though it sounds today, that was the high point of the earliest activities of the KKK.
If that had been all there was to the KKK, it probably would have disappeared as quickly and quietly as it had been born. But at some point in early 1866 the club, enlarged by new members, began to have a chilling effect on blacks. The intimidating night rides were soon the centerpiece of the hooded order: bands of white-sheeted ghouls paid late-night visits to black homes, telling the terrified occupants to behave themselves and warning them that they would come back if their orders were not obeyed. It didn’t take long for the threats to be converted into violence against blacks who insisted on exercising their new rights and freedom. Before its six founders realized what had happened, the Ku Klux Klan had become something they may not have originally intended, something deadly and serious.Much of the Klan’s early reputation was based on mischief.
However, over time, the malicious mischief turned to outright violence. The presence of armed white men roaming the countryside at night reminded many blacks of the pre-war slave patrols. the fact that the Klansmen rode with their faces covered intensified blacks’ suspicion and fear. Whippings were the primary forms of violence between the two groups, but within months there were bloody clashes between Klansmen and blacks, northerners who had come South, or Southern Unionists.By the time the six Klan founders met in December 1865, the opening phase of reconstruction was nearly complete.
All eleven of the former rebel states had been rebuilt on astonishingly lenient terms which allowed many of the ex-Confederate leaders to return to positions of power. Southern state legislatures began enacting laws that made it clear that the aristocrats who ran them intended to yield none of their pre-war power over to poor whites and especially not over to blacks. These laws became known as the Black Codes and in some cases they a …