Ku Klux Klan
Origins And Initial Growth
Ex-Confederate soldiers established the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866. They developed the first two words of the group's name from the Greek word kuklos, meaning "group or band," and took the third as a variant of the word clan. Starting as a largely recreational group, the Klan soon turned to intimidating newly freed African Americans. Riding at night, the Klan terrorized and sometimes murdered those it opposed. Members adopted a hooded white costume—a guise intended to represent the ghosts of the Confederate dead—to avoid identification and to frighten victims during nighttime raids.
The Klan fed off the post-Civil War resentments of white southerners—resentment that centered on the Reconstruction programs imposed on the South by a Republican Congress. Under Reconstruction, the North sought to restructure southern society on the basis of racial equality. Under this new regime, leading southern whites were disfranchised, while inexperienced African Americans, carpetbaggers (northerners who had migrated to the South following the war), and scalawags (southerners who cooperated with the North) occupied major political offices.
Shortly after the KKK's formation, Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former slave trader and Confederate general, assumed control of the organization and turned it into a militaristic, hierarchical entity. In 1868, Forrest formally disbanded the group after he became appalled by its growing violence. However, the KKK continued to grow, and its atrocities worsened. Drawing the core of its membership from ex-Confederate soldiers, the KKK may have numbered several hundred thousand at its height during Reconstruction.
In 1871, the federal government took a series of steps to counter the KKK and its violence. Congress organized a joint select committee made up of seven senators and 14 representatives to look into the Klan and its activities. It then passed the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT of 1871, frequently referred to as the KU KLUX KLAN ACT, which made night-riding a crime and empowered the president to order the use of federal troops to put down conspirators by force. The law also provided criminal and civil penalties for people convicted of private conspiracies—such as those perpetrated by the KKK—intended to deny others their civil rights.
Also in 1871, President ULYSSES S. GRANT relocated troops from the Indian wars on the western plains to South Carolina, in order to quell Klan violence. In October and November of that year, the federal Circuit Court for the District of South Carolina held a series of trials of KKK members suspected of having engaged in criminal conspiracies, but the trials resulted in few convictions.
The Klan declined in influence as the 1870s wore on. Arrests, combined with the return of southern whites to political dominance in the South, diminished its activity and influence.
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