KKK Essay, Research Paper
A living organization changes with time. Some parts of it may remain identical to that which was first constructed. Most parts will adapt to changes in the world, in society, and in mankind itself. If it does not change, it withers and dies. Organizations which fail to adapt to changes, whether they like it or not, tend to become shrunken relics of their original selves. They become mummified images of a once living creation. Such an organization is the Ku Klux Klan, better known as the KKK. The Ku Klux Klan is one of the most hateful groups that still exists today. They are not as strong as they once were, but still pose a threat. I believe that the KKK should have never been formed because of the pain and increased racial tension that it has caused in our society today.
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 belief held that the Ku Klux Klan was originally a secret order of Chinese opium smugglers. Another claimed that it began by Confederate prisoners during the war. No matter what people thought it was, its formation is still the blame for the deaths of many innocent blacks in the South.
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 on 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 men were full of ideas for their new society. It would be a secret, to heighten amusement, and the titles for the various officers were to have names as ridiculous sounding as possible, partly for the fun of it and partly to avoid any military or political implications.
Soon after the founders named the Klan, they decided show off a bit. They disguised themselves in sheets and galloped their horses through the quiet streets of little Pulaski, Tennessee. Their ride created such a stir that the men decided to adopt the sheets as the official costume of the Ku Klux Klan, and they added to the effect by making grotesque masks and tall pointed hats. The founders also performed elaborate initiation ceremonies for new members. Their ceremony was similar to the hazing popular in college fraternities, in which consisted of blindfolding the candidate, subject him to a series of silly oaths and rough handling, and finally bringing him before a “royal altar” where he was to be invested with “royal crown.” The altar turned out to be a mirror and the crown two large donkey’s ears. Ridiculous as though it sounds today, that was the high point of the earliest activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
Had that been all there was to the Ku Klux Klan, it probably would have disappeared as quietly as it was born. But at some point in early 1866, it enlarged with new members from nearby towns, and began to have a chilling effect on local 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 threatening more visits if they failed to behave. It didn’t take long for the threats to be converted into violence against blacks, whom 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 – a deadly uncontrollable organization.
The Klan grew out of white Southern anger over the Civil War defeat and the
Reconstruction that followed. Northerners saw the Klan as an attempt to win through terrorism what they had been unable to win on the battlefield. Such a simple view did not totally explain the Klan’s sway over the South, but there is little doubt that many Confederate veterans exchanged their rebel gray for the hoods and sheets of the invisible empire. The conditions in the South, immediately after the war, added to Southerners’ fears and frustrations. Cities, plantations and farms were ruined; people were broke and often hungry; there was an occupation army in their midst; and Reconstruction governments threatened to seize the traditional white ruling authority. In the first few months after the fighting ended, white Southerners had to contend with the losses of life, property, and in their eyes, honor. The time was ripe for the Ku Klux Klan to ride. Blacks, having won the struggle for freedom from slavery, were now faced with a new struggle against widespread racism and the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan.
Why was the formation of the KKK accepted and not stopped? An obvious
explanation of the South’s widespread acceptance of the Klan is found in the institution of
slavery. Freedom for slaves represented for many white Southerners a bitter defeat – a
defeat not only of their armies in the field but of their economic and social way of life. It
was an age-old nightmare come true, for Southern whites in general and plantation owners in particular had begun to view the large number of slaves living among them as a potential threat to their property and their lives.
During the demise of the KKK, as the violence escalated, it turned to general lawlessness and some Klan groups even began fighting each other. In Nashville, a gang of outlaws who adopted the Klan disguise came to be known as the Black Ku Klux Klan,
for several months middle Tennessee was plagued by a guerrilla war between the real and bogus Klans. The Klan was also coming under increased attack by Congress and the Reconstruction state governments. The leaders of the Klan realized that the order’s end was at hand, at least as any sort of organized force. Whatever the actual date, it is clear that as an organized body across the South, the KKK had ceased to exist by the end of 1869.
It did not end the violence, however, and as violence became more widespread. Radical legislatures throughout the region passed harsher laws, imposed martial law in some Klan-dominated counties, and actively hunted Klan leaders. In 1871 Congress held hearings on the Klan and passed a tough anti-Klan law modeled after a North Carolina
statute. Under the new federal law, Southerners lost their jurisdiction over the crimes of assault, robbery and murder and, the president was authorized to declare martial law. Night riding and the wearing of masks were prohibited. Hundreds of Klansmen were arrested but few actually went to prison due to the power of money that bought them freedom. These laws probably dampened the enthusiasm for the Klan, but they can hardly be credited with destroying it. The fact was, by the mid- 1870’s white Southerners had retaken control of most Southern state governments and didn’t need the Klan as much as before. Klan terror had proven very effective at keeping black voters away from the
polls. Some black officeholders were hanged and many more were brutally beaten. White Southern Democrats won elections easily, and passed laws taking away many rights that blacks had won during Reconstruction.
The result was a system of segregation, which was the law of the land for more
than 80 years. This system was called “separate but equal,” which was half true – everything was separate, but nothing was equal. Even with the demise of the KKK, segregation often started fights between blacks and whites. Blacks had separate schools and restaurants from the whites, but the white facilities were far more in greater condition. The new law of segregation increased racial tension among blacks and whites.
If the Ku Klux Klan was never formed, there wouldn’t be as much racial tension as there is today. The KKK took many innocent lives and caused many families to suffer many white men who were helping the blacks gain social status. This hateful group never took the time to try to work or socialize with blacks, but rather tried to exile them.
The bare facts about the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and its rebirth half a century later, are still baffling to most people today. Little more than a year after it was founded, the secret society thundered its way across the war-torn South, sabotaging Reconstruction governments and imposed a reign of terror and violence that lasted three to 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 obtained such widespread support.
While the menace of the KKK has peaked and waned over the years, it has never vanished. I am sorry to say that the KKK is still around today. It may not be strong as it use to, but there are still a couple of idiots that believe that the blacks should still be
Ahuja 6 slaves. It saddens me to see people, whom speak out against blacks, but never take the time to get to know any of them. I don’t know how they can still have clan rallies, like the one in Memphis that just creates more racial tension. It may be a constitutional right, but there should be some exceptions. I live in the small town of Holly Springs, Mississippi, where the black population is far greater than the whites, and have received a KKK invitation letter in my very own yard. I still can’t believe that they are even around today. Even in our University, there is vandalism that is racially motivated. When will people learn not to hate?
I am happy to see that there are not any places that I know of that still segregate against blacks. Black people have come a far way and have fought hard to gain the social status that they have today. It is hard for me to realize that the University only allowed admissions to blacks in the 1960’s, but I am proud to see that Ole Miss has finally voted in its first black president. The KKK built up racial tension and it will take the students to tone it down. The only way to get rid of it is to talk about it.