The Civil war left bitterness in the hearts and minds of many southern people. Prejudice, racism and hatred boiled. Six men from a small town in Tennessee in 1865 had a dream. That dream was to have only one master race. From that dream, The Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK for short, was born. Feeding on the hate and destruction of the world, the KKK grew strong. The Ku Klux Klan is one of America’s oldest and most feared groups. The name comes from the Greek word kuklos, meaning circle because it contained some of the unique characteristics of the White (or Aryan) race, they chose to adopt this name. Klan members dressed in hooded robes and rode on hooded horses.
The KKK, which was formed in the south, began accidentally because of the effects of the Civil War. At first, the group of six men only wanted to play pranks on people. These pranks caused intense fear. Realizing how much fear their tactics and pranks caused, they quickly decided to use it to their advantage. The KKK began to ride through political rallies of Carpetbaggers, (A Northerner who went to the South after the Civil War for political or financial advantage. (So-called because they carried their belongings in carpetbags)) causing these rallies to disperse because of fear of death or torture. Word of these masked men spread very quickly, to the point that more and more people wanted to be a part of the KKK. Growing to a massive size the KKK now needed a strong leader. The first choice was Robert E. Lee, but he was too sick and not up for the task. The second choice was Nathan Bedford Forrest, who accepted the position. Forrest was not very well known, but he had the respect of many great Confederate leaders such as Lee.
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Forrest was born in Mississippi, owned a plantation, and fought for the Confederate army for a long time. After the war he was infuriated by the Carpetbaggers and needed a way to fight back, he found the KKK as a way to do just that. Forrest was deemed the “Grand Wizard”, and the men were eager to do whatever he said, they trusted him explicitly. Under the leadership of Forrest, in 1868 the Klan really began to take control. Their vengeance upon the people caused fear and warned that their vow would be fulfilled. The vow to rid the south of Carpetbaggers, blacks and anyone who supported these groups.
In the 1890s a movement tried to build a coalition of blacks and poor whites against the mill owners, large landholders and the elite of the old south. The answer to this was the old cry of white supremacy combined with the manipulation of black voters, and the movement was substantially turned back in every deep south state except Georgia and North Carolina. The result was a feeling across the South shared by both rich and many poor whites that blacks had to be frozen out of their society. Thus the 1890s marked the beginning of the Deep South’s most violent attempts to keep blacks politically, socially and economically powerless. Most segregation laws date from that period. It was also the beginning of a series of lynchings of blacks by white mobs.
In the early 1900s, the U.S. Government removed its troops from the south, and the Klan achieved its goal of ridding the cities and towns of Carpetbaggers. The combination of legalized racism and the constant threat of violence eventually led to a major black migration to northern cities. Even after the ‘Grand Wizard’ Forrest disbanded the Klan; other leaders tried to set up a more centralized and hierarchical organization. They would try to use better coordination and control this time, but their success was very limited. The local dens proved uncontrollable and continued to operate for private as well as political ends.
Then in 1915, a series of events occurred in the South that helped breathe life back into the Klan. The Klan had brought about new goals. Now it wanted to rid the world of all non-white Christians. The KKK was reorganized, and more violent than ever. In the fall of 1915, William J. Simmons, a Spanish American War veteran, decided to put his plans of a fraternal organization into action. Although Simmons had a stronger objective and more defined problems to work against, the tribulations of the original Klan were slowly creeping up behind him. By the 1920s the Klan was all across the nation. The KKK secretly ran many towns.
Membership in the Klan was kept anonymous for the most part, only other members knew who belonged. The Klan had grown so strong in numbers that it got its members elected into political positions in towns and cities. If a member of the Klan was accused of a crime, it seemed the justices could not convict them for anything. The KKK had grown more powerful than the law, and the wrath of the KKK was much more frightening than prison. In the late 1920’s many politicians that were once quiet spoke out and fought against the KKK, this marked the beginning of the Klan’s fall.
For the past 130 years, the KKK has had many rebirths and falls. 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 are differences between people in this world, there will always be hate. They are “The Invisible Empire” and will always be hiding in the dark side of the world. The Ku Klux Klan was created and driven by a dream, a dream fueled by hate. Hate breeds more hate, hate breeds violence.
Best said by Dr. Martin L. King Jr., in his I Have a Dream speech, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…The chain reaction of evil; hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken… Or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
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