The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is one of America’s oldest and most feared groups. Driven by the dream of a world with only one master race, the KKK often uses violence and moves above the law to promote their cause. They didn’t start of violent, or to promote white supremacy. They have been in the shadows for over 130 years and continue to thrive in America’s society today.
The Ku Klux Klan began almost accidentally during the reconstruction period after the civil war in the Southern United States. The southern people had suffered greatly from the effects of the great war. Many of them lost their homes and plantations. Many also lost friends and loved ones to the war. The people needed a release from the sorrow of everyday life.
In 1865, six men from a small town in Tennessee accidentally began what has grown to be the largest and most feared “hate group” in the country. The men decided to make a club to help release the stress of the times. The men were poor and could not afford to make gowns or great costumes for the group, so they decided to use linens. They wore the linens over their backs and put pillowcases on their heads. They also draped the linens over their horses. The Ku Klux Klan was going to ride for the first time. In the beginning, the men wanted to do nothing more than play pranks on people. However, the people were more frightened than they were cheered up. They soon realized what they could do with these fear tactics.
The South had turned into a place that was no longer theirs. The slaves were now free (many of these men were slave owners) and carpetbaggers were coming from the North to take advantage of the southern people. They saw the opportunity to set back the South to what it had been. The KKK soon began to ride through political rallies of the carpetbaggers. People often fled the rallies out of fear. Word quickly spread across the South about these masked men. Many people loved the idea and wanted to be involved. The Klan quickly grew. A leader was soon needed to control the large group. Their first choice was Southern General Robert E. Lee. Although he supported the group and its cause, he was very ill and could not handle the task. Their next choice was a man named Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Forrest, although he wasn’t as well known as General Lee, he was a great leader. He was born in Mississippi and owned a plantation. He fought for the confederate army for a long time before they recognized his abilities. Although he didn’t arrive early enough to greatly impact the war, he gained the respect of the top confederate leaders. After the war he was infuriated by the carpetbaggers and needed a way to fight back. He saw the Ku Klux Klan as a way to do it.
He was quickly accepted as the “Grand Wizard”. He had absolute power over the Klan members. The men were eager to do what he said, they trusted him. Many of the men were in need of a sense of belonging. The KKK gave them this. The Klan was very secretive, all of the members were safe from people knowing their real identities (if that was their wish). Because of this secrecy, they gained the alternate name of “The Invisible Empire”.
The Klan really began to take control in the year of 1868. They vowed to rid the south of carpetbaggers, blacks and any person who supported them. They stole the oppositions goods, beat them and even killed them. These murders were known as “lynching”. They would drag the person to the center of the town and hang them in front of everyone. This method was very effective, people feared it would happen to themselves if they had anything to do with the carpetbaggers or blacks.
After the U.S. government removed troops from the South in the late 1800’s, the Klan achieved its goal. Many of the groups disbanded and Forrest left. After the turn of the century, it started again. This time the goal was much larger, freeing America of all non-white, Christian Americans. This is the Ku Klux Klan we know today. The new breed of Klan differed from the old version in many ways. The old Klan wanted to set things back to the old ways. They wanted their freedom back and wanted nothing more. Being prejudice was only an effect. In the eyes of the modern KKK, prejudice was the cause. The new Klan was far more violent. People were tarred and feathered, lynched, and beaten for little reason more than being a certain race, nationality or religion.
In the 1920’s, the KKK prospered. Unlike previous revivals, the members were in more than just the South. The Klan was spread all across the country. Many towns were also secretly run by the Klan. They elected many officials. Town justices couldn’t seem to convict accused members for anything. Their power was stronger than the law and wrath of the hooded was for more frightening than jail. However, in the late 1920’s, many politicians who once remained quiet spoke out and fought against the Klan. This was their downfall.
The Klan hasn’t been as powerful since that time. For the past 50 years, it has had many rebirths and falls. During the times of the World Wars, they used their patriotism appeal to gain peoples trust. The Klan was also much different in its organization than previous rebirths. The new KKK are separated into many small organizations. There are many internal struggles, most divisions claim to be original descendants and follow the old ways. This is never true.
In the past few years with the birth of at home Internet service, the Klan has found a way to push its propaganda into homes across the country. All of these sites seem to have the same things in common. They contain information that undermines other races and religions. A majority of these sites also appeal to adolescents, teenagers and younger children by boasting such slogans as “Cool Hate Music.” Cartoons are also found on many pages. These cartoons demonstrate the “enemy” races in displeasing situations that often elaborate the points and views of the KKK.
In the end, the KKK is a problem that won’t go away for long. As we have seen, the KKK will be active for a period and then disappear. As long as there is differences between people in this world, there will always be hate. And the Ku Klux Klan will be there to feed on this hate and exploit it in every way possible. They may be silent for many years, but you can count on the fact that they are there. They are “The Invisible Empire” and will always be the dark side to American History.